After announcing his retirement in 2021, Hakuho Sho, believed by many to be the greatest rikishi in sumo history, said his farewell to the sport this weekend in an emotional ceremony at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.
As part of the traditional ceremony the outgoing 37-year-old yokozuna performed his final dohyo-iri, flanked by fellow wrestlers Takakeisho and Hoshoryu. Ozeki Takakeisho, a likely future yokozuna, is coming off a bruising championship victory earlier this month. Sekiwake Hoshoryu, who is working on an ozeki promotion, is Hakuho’s countryman—both of them hailing from Mongolia.
— さくらの木。 (@crane018511) January 28, 2023
The ceremony included a number of exhibition matches, climaxing in Hakuho’s final ever appearance in the ring. For his last bout, he took on his young son. Watch below to see a dad give his kid a moment he’ll never forget. It might also be a signal that the ‘White Bird’ may not be the last of his line to wear the mawashi.
After the fun and games it was time for the serious business of cutting Hakuho’s hair, thus symbolizing his exit from competition. Hundreds of people cut strands from Hakuho’s hair before his trainer, Chikubayama Masakumi had the ultimate honour of removing the top knot. Other hair-cutters of note included former yokozuna Harumafuji (whose involvement caused Hakuho to cry).
Later Hakuho was pictured with his new haircut and a suit (active rikishi can not be seen in public wearing modern/western clothing).
— 日本相撲協会公式 (@sumokyokai) January 28, 2023
Hakuho’s record in sumo is undeniable
Hakuho, born Monkhbatyn Davaajargal, debuted in sumo in 2001. Just six years later he was promoted to yokozuna, at 22-years-old. He was the second ever Mongolian yokozuna (after arch-rival Asashoryu — sumo’s ‘bad boy’ who reportedly did not attend the retirement ceremony) and the fourth ever non-Japanese yokozuna.
In 2015 Hakuho won his 33rd championship, breaking a forty-year old record for most championships. He went on to win 45 top division championships before announcing his retirement in 2021.
Other records held by Hakuho include most wins in a calendar year, most undefeated tournament championships, most wins in the top division and most career wins. He is also the longest serving yokozuna of all time.
On paper there is no doubt that Hakuho is the greatest rikishi to ever compete in sumo. However, his legacy is a complicated one. Hakuho’s career has been marked with a level of exuberance that would be totally at home (or even modest) in most mainstream sports. However, in sumo, where wrestlers are expected to uphold inhuman levels of decorum and stoicism, a mild fist-pump by a rikishi can be seen as blasphemous.
Outside of Japan (or the echo-chamber of sumo purism), it’s easy to recognize Hakuho as not just the greatest rikishi ever, but as also one of the best athletes ever. His combination of power, dexterity and guile made his bouts (and now highlight reels) must-see TV (and the odd fist pump didn’t hurt, either).
Hakuho is a holder of elder stock, meaning he is permitted to train other rikishi and own a stable. He has already been instrumental in nurturing talent at his current stable, which includes the wildly popular Enho and the teenage phenom Ochiai (who went undefeated this month in his pro tournament debut).
Despite him not appearing in the ring himself anymore, the name Hakuho will surely be synonymous for sumo for many generations to come.
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