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  • Fantasy Basho

Better Know a Rikishi: Hattorizakura Futoshi

Every sumo wrestler joins the pro ranks with visions of becoming a Yokozuna. That is extremely unlikely, but a new recruit has a world of hopes. Even though most won’t even make it to the salaried ranks and the Juryo division, much less the top Makuuchi or any titled ranks, there is the thought in a young man’s mind when he joins a stable that he is destined for something bigger. He can see he won’t be the low-man in his heya for long and he’ll see some wins. Better things await.

Except for Hattorizakura. Better things have never come for Hattorizakura. In his four-plus years as an active rikishi, Hattorizakura has posted a career record of 3-179-1. He has never won more than one match in a tournament. His career highest rank is Jonokuchi 15, meaning he’s never gotten out of the bottom division. It is a level of futility that is hard to fathom.

Not only does he lose all the time, but he’s neverstood a chance. He is so scrawny that he doesn’t really have the ability to add weight, and he hasn’t in four years in a professional stable. That means when he mounts the dohyo, he is usually at a size disadvantage, even though he has typically faced brand new wrestlers. Of course, size isn’t everything in sumo, but Hattorizakura is also always a step slower than his opponents. That severe athletic gulf isn’t overcome by technical skill either. A Hattorizakura match is almost guaranteed to see him getting completely railroaded by some brand-new rikishi.

The railroading isn’t even usually that impressive. Interestingly, going into Haru 2020, Hattorizakura has 72 losses by yorikiri and 72 by oshidashi. Over 80 percent of his many losses have been by the two most basic kimarite. He either gets forced out or pushed out in a straight-ahead manner. Anything else is patently unfair.

More intriguing are Hattorizakura’s three wins. One was a yorikiri over Sawanofuji in May 2016. One was a yoritaoshi over Houn in January 2019. And one was a koshikudake, the kimarite describing the losing wrestler accidentally falling, over Soga in July 2018. He’s never had a streak or an impressive match or a signature moment. In fact, he is a combined 3-15 against those three opponents, none of whom has made it beyond the second lowest Jonidan division.

The natural question about Hattorizakura is why he is still competing. Obviously, Yokozuna-dom or the salaried ranks or even a promotion to Jonidan is just not going to happen, but he competes in every basho. An answer to why he is still in sumo is his stable, Shikihide-beya. Shikihide oyakata, the former Maegashira Kitazakura, actively recruits wrestlers who are not necessarily hot prospects. He values a desire to join the sumo lifestyle and a willingness to compete, with the only real requirement being that a recruit already has completed high school. Not surprisingly, Shikihide-beya currently has no rikishi competing above the fourth-highest Sandanme division.

But being in Shikihide isn’t about competing at the highest level, just competing in sumo. Hattorizakura, in all his failure and incompetence, but also his indomitable fighting spirit, embodies his stable. Maybe he should retire, but he doesn’t have to. His stablemaster is fine with him practicing all the time and competing when he’s scheduled on the torikumi.

Rooting for Hakuho means wanting to see the best of the best. Hoping Takakeisho or Asanoyama or some other hotshot are the next Ozeki means wanting to see the next generation emerge. Tracking the dominant youngsters at the Makushita level means wanting to see what the future may hold. Rooting Hattorizakura means something entirely different. On the other hand, very few of us will ever do anything in our lives that approaches what any current or future Yokozuna will achieve. But everyone has experienced failure, which means we all know a little bit what it’s like to be Hattorizakura.

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