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PizDoff
6/17/2007 10:22pm,
Having a Grand time
Forty of Japan's best sumotori are in Hawaii to compete in the Mayor's Cup

The coordinators of the Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii had a simple solution to appease both the 40 top-ranked sumotori waiting for a mountainous buffet meal and the international horde of media that followed them.

Let the media scrum fire off some questions in either Japanese or English, then let the wrestlers eat.

Not surprisingly, the latter activity lasted quite a bit longer than the former.

The complete ensemble of sumo wrestlers, who are competing this weekend in the Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii, were on hand at Shanghai Bistro, including the Mongolian Yokozuna pair, Asashoryu and Hakuho. They were introduced for the first time as dual grand champions in public.

Hakuho defeated Asashoryu to cap a 15-0 record and claim the Emperor's Cup at the recent May Basho in Japan. That win clinched Hakuho's elevation to the 69th grand champion in the history of the sport.

When they compete for the Mayor's Cup tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. at the Blaisdell Arena, it will mark the first time since 2003 the sport will have two active yokozuna -- albeit no local grand champions since Musashimaru's retirement that year.

Only the most expensive ringside seats are currently sold out for tomorrow and Sunday. The remaining tickets run from $35 to $300, and are available at the Blaisdell Center Box Office, Times Supermarkets, Brigham Young-Hawaii and www.ticketmaster.com.

One by one, the five best wrestlers in the world of sumo -- Kotooshu, Hakuho, Asashoryu, Kaio, and Chiyotaikai -- were introduced to applause at Shanghai Bistro.

All of the featured wrestlers, complete in garb with robe and slippers, decided to stand and bow. All, that is, except Yokozuna Asashoryu, who decided that a simple wave was enough to acknowledge the media pack -- gathered for this weekend's Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii -- that ran five rows deep in a semicircle around the plush couches on which the elite sumotori sat.

A grand champion since March 2003, Asashoryu now must share the limelight with his Mongolian countryman, Yokozuna Hakuho, who defeated him on May 27, the final day of the May Basho, to claim the Emperor's Cup that allowed his elevation to the highest rank.

That lengthy bout lasted nearly a full minute as the two grappled for position, couldn't gain an advantage, then returned to a stalemate in the center of the doyho (ring) three times before Hakuho flipped Asashoryu around and out with a uwate-dashinage (pulling overarm throw) to win.

Asashoryu, clad in black, wasn't of a mind to do much talking yesterday, though he grinned at his competition as they were introduced.

The no-bow could have been some gamesmanship directed at the white-robed Hakuho, who was the previous sumotori to stand.

Hakuho, crowned the 69th grand champion in the history of the sport on May 30 because of his consecutive Emperor's Cup wins, explained later through a translator that despite their mutual country of origin, the two don't associate outside of their sport.

"We are rivals. We don't play around together," said Hakuho through a translator. "We have different styles. When we travel abroad, we will have more chances to play together. Back in Japan, we have distance."

Asashoryu didn't look like he exactly wanted to get up and give Hakuho a hug. Their relationship is closer to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Hakuho boasts a 194-70-21 career makuuchi (upper division) record over three years to Asashoryu's 452-116-17 over six.

Tomorrow's matches at the Blaisdell Arena (starting at 4:30 p.m.) mark something of a special occasion for Hakuho, the 22-year-old out of the Miyagino Stable, as it will be his first dohyo-iri (ring entrance) ritual as a full-fledged yokozuna -- even though this weekend's tournament is an exhibition and does not count in the rankings.

When asked of it, he smiled and played it down.

"It's the first ceremony for me here in Hawaii," Hakuho said. "We're used to the travel, it will be a very good experience in Hawaii. I will try my best."

The Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association) held its last international tournament in Las Vegas in 2005. Hawaii fans will have reached back 14 years to recall the last sumo tournament held locally, in 1993.

The upper echelon of the sport has a distinct international flavor, as one of the three current ozeki (second-highest level), Kotooshu, is from Bulgaria, making three of the five highest-ranked sumo foreigners to Japan.

Hawaii-born sumo legend Takamiyama, who now goes by the stable master name of Azumazeki, pioneered his way in as the first foreign-born tournament champion in the sport in the 1960s.

"Now, we have a lot of Mongolians," said Azumazeki -- better known locally as Maui's Jesse Kuhaulua -- as he signed autographs at the Japanese Cultural Center on Wednesday. "But the only time you're looked at any different is if you start making trouble, creating some problems."

That doesn't seem likely with Hakuho, who was described as "easy going" by attending members of the Japanese media. He seems to have handled his rise to grand champion with grace, as he paused to answer questions thoughtfully despite a nearby buffet feast that was stocked and ready for a raid of hungry sumotori.

"Mongolia is a very cold country, and here in Hawaii it's a very warm place. Both yokozuna are looking forward to having this (tournament) in Hawaii," he said, nodding.

He'll have to be a little quicker tomorrow; the rest of his competition had already dug in.

http://starbulletin.com/2007/06/08/sports/story01.html

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