Hakuho's retirement leaves sumo facing void at top

Japan Today -- Oct 08
Sumo will struggle to fill the "void" left by the retirement of its greatest-ever champion Hakuho, experts say, with few new stars emerging and public interest in the ancient Japanese sport likely to wane.

Hakuho helped usher in a new wave of sumo popularity with a record 45 tournament wins, drawing huge crowds to his epic battles with arch-rival Asashoryu in the late 2000s.

But the Mongolian-born 36-year-old handed in his retirement notice on Monday after persistent trouble with his right knee, leaving fans wondering how sumo will cope in his absence.

Sumo commentator John Gunning told AFP Hakuho was "one of those athletes that transcend their own sport", likening him to soccer's Pele or basketball's Michael Jordan.

His departure leaves just one wrestler, Terunofuji, at sumo's highest rank of yokozuna -- and even his long-term future is unclear.

"I don't see anybody that's going to fill the void," said Murray Johnson, another commentator. "Terunofuji is the only one that can take that role, but with his knees, how long does he last? If he lasts any longer than a couple of years, that would surprise me."

The 29-year-old Terunofuji only reached the yokozuna rank in July, after an injury-plagued career that saw him drop to the second-lowest division at one point.

By contrast, Hakuho was sumo's longest-serving yokozuna, with over 1,000 bouts at the rank.

His titanic tussles with charismatic bad boy Asashoryu were the stuff of legend, pitting the popular Hakuho against the man the crowds loved to hate.