Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu began his bid for a 20th Emperor’s Cup with a classy win over Russian komusubi Roho on the opening day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.
Seeking to extend his reign as king of the castle with a fourth straight title, Asashoryu shrugged of a neck thrust and disposed of Roho with a perfectly executed over-arm throw in the day’s finale at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Asashoryu is hoping to become only the fifth wrestler in sumo history to reach the milestone of 20 title victories.
While former yokozuna great Taiho holds the record of accomplishing the feat in 57 meets from his debut, the 26-year-old Asashoryu is on course to do so in just 49 basho since starting sumo.
Though nursing a right shoulder injury, the yokozuna is still the red-hot favorite to take home the tournament hardware but could face some interesting challenges in 2007, especially against resurgent Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu.
However Kotooshu, who was plagued with chronic knee problems for much of 2006, left the ring with boos and jeers ringing in his ears and also left Kisenosato seething after craftily sidestepping the feisty young komusubi after the face-off for victory.
Elsewhere, Hakuho, who was Asashoryu’s chief rival last year but missed the Kyushu basho in November with a broken toe, marked his return to the raised ring in style by squashing second-ranked Aminishiki for the first of eight wins he needs to preserve his ozeki rank.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai deployed his trademark thrust-and-slap-technique to plow second-ranked Tokitenku into the front row of ringside seats.