FUKUOKA – Grand champion Asashoryu dodged a bullet and made a winning start in his bid for an unprecedented seventh straight Emperor’s Cup by beating fellow-Mongolian Hakuho on the opening day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.
Ozeki Kaio and Chiyotaikai also posted victories but Bulgarian sekiwake Kotooshu got off to a nightmare start in the 15-day meet in Fukuoka with a shock loss to second-ranked Kakizoe.
In the day’s finale, Asashoryu looked in all sorts of trouble after being barged to ring’s edge. But he recovered well, spinning round and charging at Hakuho, who lost his balance and stepped over the straw ridge.
Asashoryu ousted main rival Kotooshu in a play-off to win the autumn tourney in September and is also looking to become the first wrestler to win all six tournaments in a year.
Kotooshu looked set to become the first wrestler from Europe to capture the Emperor’s Cup at the autumn meet but wilted under the pressure and surrendered a two-win lead before losing the playoff.
This time he suffered an early meltdown and looked lost as Kakizoe got hold of the sekiwake and slapped him down in a matter of seconds.
The 22-year-old Kotooshu posted an impressive 13-2 record last time out and will need a similar performance here to earn promotion to sumo’s second rank of ozeki.
In contrast, Kaio, who pulled out of the autumn meet with a hamstring injury, had little trouble in forcing out Futeno to record the first of eight wins he needs to save his ozeki rank for the eighth time in his career.
Chiyotaikai soaked up a series of thrusts and dragged down Hokutoriki and Tochiazuma completed an ozeki hat-trick, diving in low to send top-ranked maegashira Tamanoshima packing with a head charge.
In other bouts, popular maegashira Takamisakari was unable to match his comical pre-bout warm-up with victory and left his fans disappointed after being promptly marched out of the ring by eighth-ranked Toyonoshima.
Japanese teenager Kisenosato, who has risen to his highest ever ranks of No. 5 maegashira after an excellent showing at the autumn meet, also suffered defeat after being outclassed by fourth-ranked Iwakiyama.
It was a mixed day for eastern European wrestlers competing in sumo’s top flight as rugged Russian Roho and younger brother Hakurozan emerged victorious but Kokkai came unstuck after an entertaining bout with Ama.
Eighth-ranked Roho came out on top of a street brawl with Mongolian Tokitenku but Kokkai failed to execute a pair of leg trips and Ama came back to force the Georgian wrestler out to a first defeat.
In the lower echelons of the makuuchi division, Hakurozan opened with a slap-down win over Asasekiryu while Tochinohana overcame a false start to see of Shunketsu, the wrestler formerly known as Ishide.