"I Am My Own Rival"
Yokozuna Asashoryu finished off the year with a 15-0 zensho yusho (all-wins championship) in the Kyushu basho (tournament). He sewed up the trophies yesterday, so the only question today was whether he would get his fifth perfect record or not. He was up against Chiyotaikai an ozeki with a solid tournament going. (Not sure what the heck I'm talking about? Click the links, should be obvious.) Chiyo blasted out of the tachiai, had Asa back on his heels and reeling, and stuck his elbow in Asa's throat and starting pushing. Asa slid all the way back to the bales at the edge of the ring, teetered there... and for some inexplicable reason, Chiyo pulled his elbow out of Asa's neck and tried to wrap his arm around Asa's shoulders. That was all the opening Asa needed. He slipped under Chiyo's arm, came around the side, and picked Chiyo up and put him down outside the ring. Chiyo, at 160kg (350 pounds), is probably intermediate weight for a sumo wrestler, but picking up a guy that size who doesn't want to be picked up is quite a trick.
Asashoryu is the perfect sumo wrestler. If I could pick one adjective to describe him, it would be "fierce". He hates to lose, concentrates incredibly well, is never intimidated, and goes all out, every match. He has technique, he has strength -- his shoulders and legs are incredible. He has unreasonable amounts of speed for a guy 148kg -- lose contact with him for a fraction of a second, and he's around your side, and it's all over. But above all, he has that fierce will to win.
He said yesterday, after his win guaranteed him the Emperor's Cup, "I am my own rival." Some say he does so well because he has no competition; the ozeki are all bumblers, over the hill, or injured most of the time. I say Asa is just plain better than they are. I've watched Konishiki, Takanohana, Wakanohana, Musashimaru, and Akebono many times, and while it would be entertaining to watch Asa go up against one of them in his prime, my money right now is on Asa as the best wrestler of the last fifteen years. Koni-chan and Maru had that immovable bulk (and Maru a fierceness of his own), Taka that beautiful technique, Ake that long, long leverage -- but I'll take Asa. His strength is a clear step above Taka, who is perhaps next on the list, and I think his technique is as good (that page above lists nineteen techniques used in his last six tournaments (67 wins) -- great versatility, since the ozeki run nine to fifteen, albeit for smaller win totals). Both know how to win the big matches; Taka perhaps had more of them that Asa has had so far, but I think Asa is his equal in ability to win them.
In 2005, Asa's record was 84-6, and he won all six tournaments. In my opinion, he was sportsman of the year for the entire planet. 2006 has not gone quite as well due to an injury mid-year, but when healthy (as he usually is -- nothing seems to nag at him) he has no rivals. Except, of course, himself.