Asashoryu returns in dominant fashion

Kyodo News

Yokozuna Asashoryu fired rival Hakuho a warning shot on Sunday as he marked his return to the raised ring with a stylish win over Kotoshogiku on the opening day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Having served out a two-tournament suspension lifted at the close of last November’s Kyushu meet, the 21-time Emperor’s Cup winner came back with a bang, flooring his komusubi opponent with a routine throw in the day’s penultimate bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Fellow Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho also made sure he did not disappoint as the reigning Emperor’s Cup holder and shot down former ozeki Dejima to post his first opening-day win in three meets.

Asashoryu is looking to bounce back after he was banned for two tournaments last August.

He was punished for playing soccer in Mongolia when he was supposedly carrying injuries that allowed him to sit out a regional sumo tournament.

The suspension triggered a stress-related illness and Asashoryu spent until the end of November in his homeland receiving treatment for the illness and other physical injuries.

Although Hakuho posted a majority of wins in all six basho last year, he will invariably have to do better than his sub-par 12-3 mark when he took the Kyushu title in November now that Asashoryu is back in the picture.

In other major bouts, relegation-threatened ozeki Kotooshu and battle-weary veteran Kaio both made winning starts, with the only major upset of the day coming in the shape of Chiyotaikai’s loss to Kisenosato.

Battling to save his rank for the first time, Kotooshu dodged a bullet to beat Miyabiyama. Ringside judges met with each other briefly before calling the bout in the Bulgarian ozeki’s favor after he had landed outside the ring a split second after Miyabiyama touched the dirt.

Kotooshu needs a winning record to maintain his status as an ozeki at the next meet.

Thirty-five-year-old veteran Kaio escaped demotion for a record 11th time to yet again cast aside rumblings of his retirement in Kyushu and he showed glimpses of his old self when he crushed No. 2 maegashira Toyonoshima for a convincing opening day win.

Kotomitsuki did well to evade a cheeky leg trip attempt and sent top-ranked maegashira Tokitenku to the sandy surface with a pulling overarm throw but Chiyotaikai let the ozeki team down when he was beaten with alarming ease by feisty maegashira Kisenosato.

At sekiwake, wiry Mongolian Ama got torn down by third-ranked Tochinonada but Aminishiki spared sumo’s third rank further embarrassment when he followed up with victory over promising up-and-coming maegashira Goeido.