My man Ama went 12-3 in the Kyushu basho, nearly winning the Emperor’s Cup, losing to Hakuho in a hard-fought playoff on the final day of the tournament. I just got the chance to see the playoff via bittorrent, and was certainly not disappointed.
I’ve now watched the match half a dozen times, and I’m amazed by Ama’s ability to stay alive in a match where he’s got half a dozen chances to lose. His grip after the tachi-ai isn’t a good one – he’s forced to compromise his right arm to prevent Hakuho from getting a two-handed grip on his belt. Hakuho has a good chance to force him out of the ring, then explores the possibility of lifting him out, taking him off his feet twice. Then he threatens a pulldown, and Ama ends up with his head under the Yokozuna’s chest. By the time Hakuho executes an overarm throw to end the match, I’m forced to conclude two things: Ama’s the most poised, patient, unpanicked guy I’ve ever seen on the dohyo, and Hakuho’s still a much more powerful rikishi.
The sumo association promoted Ama to Ozeki, and rewarded his basho with his fifth technique prize… but he still hasn’t won an Emperor’s cup. His stablemaster, former Yokozuna Asahifuji, had promised that wrestlers who reached the ozeki rank would change their names. (This is pretty common when rikishi reach the ozeki rank.) So Ama is now Harumafuji – literally “Sun-Horse-Plentiful-Warrior” – and the first ozeki in his stable since 1974.
The chattering classes in the sumo fan community are already arguing that Harumafuji is the second-strongest rikishi in sumo. That strikes me as overly ambitious – both Hakuho and Asashoryu are capable of giving Harumafuji a tough time, and he’s still got a tendency to lose to lower-ranked opponents early in tournaments. Here’s hoping that becoming Ozeki helps him focus in the January basho and we see evidence that he might one day become a Yokozuna.
(And let’s hope my Ama banner becomes a collectible. Thanks, Cyrus, for picking that up for me. Now I need someone to grab a Harumafuji one the next time they’re in Tokyo.)
Was Ama, was sekiwake.
Now Harumafuji, now ozeki.
Still Mongolian, still badass.