Nagoya 2021 Day Fifteen
Kotenage. It was an arm-lock throw that won it all for Hakuho over Terunofuji.
Match of The Day
Yokozuna East Hakuho versus Ozeki 1 East Terunofuji
They delivered. This had to be match of the day coming in, and then it was on the dohyo. Hakuho and Terunofuji took forever to start, first just staring at each other standing, then waiting a long time while squatting. Hakuho waited to put his second hand down, even, pulling out the mind games.
When they finally clashed, Hakuho began with a vicious right forearm to Terunofuji's jaw. Terunofuji still moved in and worked hard for a hold. They began to dance, moving each other around the dohyo. Terunofuji had the momentum at one point, seeming to take a yusho. But Hakuho is the best to ever do it for a reason, he changed up his gameplan and pulled out a powerful kotenage for the match and the yusho.
Hakuho zensho yusho. Two weeks ago, it would have seemed impossible, even though he is clearly the greatest rikishi of all time. It's his 45th championship and the 16th time he's done it without a loss. He is the Yokozuna who stands atop sumo. This is what he does, and what he has done since 2007.
Yet he wasn't doing it over the last year. The last basho he finished was March 2020 (he won it), and his injuries were so bad retirement seemed more likely than him mounting the dohyo. The medical statements pre-basho this time were not exactly encouraging. Plus, there were two serious contenders for joining him as Yokozuna sooner than later. Takakeisho had put together enough strong performances as Ozeki it seemed a matter of time. Terunofuji had been the best rikishi in sumo for the last year, and not only had reclaimed his Ozeki spot but put together back-to-back Emperor's Cups.
Takakeisho withdrew after two days, and it was just Hakuho and Terunofuji. Terunofuji's sumo looked better than Hakuho's. Hakuho wasn't dropping any matches, but he also wasn't dominating like, well, Hakuho. Terunofuji's knees feel like they could betray him at any moment, but they weren't. He had three yusho and two jun-yusho in the previous year, yet he might have been elevating his sumo. It wasn't just that Terunofuji was on the road to Yokozuna, but that he would claim it in style over Hakuho.
The rest of the division helped this narrative. No one was within two wins of the leaders after Day Ten. The rest of Sanyaku and upper Maegashira was beating each other up, and they all were losing to the two men at the top. Some matches gave Hakuho and Terunofuji a scare, but nothing too serious. This was a basho about two men. On Day Fifteen, Hoshoryu was given the Technique Prize, while Kotonowaka achieved the Fighting Spirit Prize with his victory. That's as much of a side story as this basho produced.
The Hakuho win was still somewhat stunning. Partly it was the way he did it, and partly it's the sheer implausibility of someone who looked on the verge of retirement doing this. He played head games, especially on the last two days, but that's what Hakuho has always done. At 36, with severe injuries behind him, Hakuho came back and proved he is still the greatest to ever mount the dohyo.