When he went undefeated at the New Year meet to kick-start his 2004 campaign, the message hit home like an 18-wheeler barreling full-throttle down a highway: Move out of the way, or get squashed like a grape. The choice was simple.
That was just the beginning for Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu, who pummeled the opposition en route to becoming the first wrestler in 18 years to win five of the six major tournaments.
It was a fabulous year, on a professional and personal level for the lone yokozuna, while the injury-prone ozeki struggled once again to stay afloat in the elite makuuchi division.
“It was an extraordinary year. It was the Year of the Monkey (my big year) and I set many records and even came from behind to win one title. I was also happy since my baby daughter got bigger,” Asashoryu said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.
What he savors most, however, are his victories on the raised-ring, where he won a phenomenal 35 straight bouts from January 2004 before he was stopped by Hokutoriki at the summer meet in May.
He eclipsed a 30-bout winning streak held by former yokozuna Takanohana, but failed to match sumo legend Taiho’s record of 45 consecutive wins back in 1969. Chiyonofuji is second with 53 while Futabayama holds the all-time record of 69 in a row.
“I regretted being stopped on 35 because I wanted to extend the record a little more. I’ll have to get started (on another streak) at the 2005 New Year meet,” he said.
Asashoryu got revenge on Hokutoriki in a playoff at the summer meet and, though he came from behind to finish with a 13-2 record, claimed the tournament hardware for the third straight basho.
Sumo’s Genghis Khan went undefeated twice and posted 13-2 records three times in his title victories, including the final meet of the year in Kyushu in November.
His only slip-up came at the autumn basho in September in Tokyo, where an apparent lack of training resulted in a disappointing 9-6 record while the title went to ozeki Kaio.
Kaio, one of only two remaining ozeki after the retirement of Musoyama and Tochiazuma’s relegation to sekiwake, will once again aim for promotion to sumo’s ultimate rank, which has been devoid of a Japanese yokozuna since Takanohana retired in January 2003.
“I wasn’t able to train for the autumn meet at all in August when I had wedding receptions in Japan and Mongolia. Everyone kept saying it’s going to be five straight titles for me, but I knew that it would be impossible even before the tournament got started.”
Even so, Asashoryu decimated the ozeki regime all year round and there were no wrestlers to rival him, though countryman Hakuho and rising stars such as Bulgarian Kotooshu and Russian Roho made their collective splash in sumo’s top flight.
“I’m still 24. I’m young, so I get stronger day by day. A lot of yokozuna in recent years have retired early, but I plan to fight for many years to come,” said Asashoryu, who will shoot for his 10th career title when the New Year meet kicks off in Tokyo on Jan. 9.
Looking ahead in 2005, Asashoryu believes the sky’s the limit, and if he keeps on the same trajectory he just might find himself off in another galaxy.
“If I try, I can do anything. I have big dreams for the future and many good things to come. I’m helping to train Hakuho and other young wrestlers, so sumo will only get more exciting.”
As for his goals in the Year of the Rooster?
“I’ll see how I do from the first day of the New Year meet, and decide while I pray. There’s nothing better than creating a mountain of dreams and climbing to the top. I also want to have a son.”