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Hakuho wins dramatic final

Kyodo News

Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho passed arguably his toughest test with flying colors Sunday, beating rival yokozuna Asashoryu in a final showdown to win his third straight title with victory at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

For compatriot Asashoryu, who was on a comeback from a two-tournament ban in the hunt for his 22nd Emperor’s Cup, an amazing 15-day effort just was not enough this time around against the junior yokozuna.

Hakuho, who finished with a mark of 14-1, won his sixth career title. Asashoryu finished his campaign on 13-2.

In an all-out rumble of yokozuna with even records, the suspension was built to the hilt as the both men glared at each other while slowly walking through the motions of the pre-bout ceremonial ritual.

Hakuho, who had determined that he could not lose to a rival who had been away from the raised-ring for so long, got an excellent jump at the face off with his right hand on Asashoryu’s “mawashi” belt for a firm grapple.

Asashoryu tried everything within his power, lifting his rival up twice in the air, but Hakuho never budged before deploying a perfectly timed overarm throw for the win at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

“I am so happy,” said Hakuho. “I knew that I couldn’t lose so this is a great victory for me. I knew that I couldn’t let down all my fans who were rooting for me. My next goal, of course, is to win four straight titles.”

In their previous two meetings, Hakuho beat Asashoryu to take the summer title in May last year before Asashoryu got revenge to win his 21st Emperor’s Cup title at the Nagoya meet in July.

Then Asashoryu was hit with the punishment for playing hooky from a regional summer tour and Hakuho won twice in his rival’s absence. But the true test was beating him after the blank.

Asashoryu was diagnosed with a stress disorder and spent three months back in his native Mongolia, recuperating from his depression and various injuries before his suspension was lifted at the end of the Kyushu meet in November last year.

It was the first time that two yokozuna met in a head-to-head final since Musashimaru beat Takanohana at the 2002 autumn basho.

In a battle of ozeki, Bulgarian Kotooshu ushered out veteran Kaio (8-7) to finish with a 9-6 record. Ozeki Kotomitsuki just passed the grade with an 8-7 mark after dispatching of sekiwake Aminishiki, who finished on 5-10.