(AFP) – Jan 27, 2008
TOKYO (AFP) — Controversial grand champion Asashoryu on Monday dominated the attention of sumo watchers even in defeat after he failed to prove that he was still at the top of the game.
Asashoryu, back in the ring from a half-year suspension, was downed Sunday by Hakuho in the first tournament-closing showdown between two tied "yokozuna" grand champions in more than five years.
"Asashoryu was strong for a wrestler who was banned from two tournaments," said Mamoru Takahashi, 57, as he combed through Monday morning's sports newspapers.
"Having a bad guy like him makes the good guy shine through, doesn't it?" he said.
Asashoryu and Hakuho are sumo's only current yokozuna and are both Mongolian, but they differ in nearly every other respect.
Asashoryu, 27, whose name means "morning blue dragon," is the fifth-ranked wrestler in sumo history but has never won acceptance among Japanese fans who see him as too brash and unrefined for the ancient sport.
Baby-faced 22-year-old Hakuho -- or "white big bird" -- is seen by contrast as calm and prudent.
Before the face-off, colossus Hakuho sat still, with eyes downcast at the ground, while the more muscular Asashoryu defiantly looked straight ahead.
Hakuho beat the grand champion with 21 career titles through a left overarm throw to win his third straight tournaments.
"I went into the bout thinking only that I must not lose," said Hakuho, whose real name is Munkhbat Davaajargal, after his victory.
"I have worked hard since summer. I must not lose to a yokozuna who wasn't here for some time," he said, revealing his suppressed rivalry with Asashoryu.
Asashoryu, whose real name is Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, was banned from the last two tournaments after infuriating the sumo authority in July.
He had skipped a regional exhibition tour citing injuries but then was caught on camera cheerfully playing a charity football match at home in Mongolia.
Citing depression, he went back to Mongolia in late August, but even in his home country his personal life was severely restricted by orders of the Japan Sumo Association.
Much of the Japanese media was critical of Asashoryu throughout his comeback tournament, with some writing him off after he was thrown out of the ring by lower-ranked Kisenosato on the second day.
But he triumphed in the remaining matches, surviving to face off Hakuho.
The Nikkan sports newspaper kept its focus on Asashoryu on Monday, with its front-page photo angled on the fallen champion and not even showing Hakuho's face.
"Yokozuna Asashoryu was teary, silent, resigned and angry," said the newspaper.
The Sports Nippon newspaper hailed Hakuho, saying he gave up a trip home next month for the Mongolian New Year to give priority to a Sumo Association event.
"Hakuho has a different mindset from another yokozuna who always makes a fuss over travelling back home," the newspaper said.
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