Hakuho was sent packing to a shock second defeat by ozeki Harumafuji on Thursday, handing over the sole lead to rival yokozuna Asashoryu with three days remaining at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
Constantly a fly in the ointment for the yokozuna, Harumafuji set up Hakuho with a series of hard shoves at the charge before darting sideways when his opponent ill-advisedly lunged forward in the day’s penultimate bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Hakuho, who is seeking his second consecutive Emperor’s Cup, was way too cautious at the tachiai, stumbling forward from Harumafuji’s (9-3) slaps before he was sent out from behind.
Asashoryu, meanwhile, had no problems handling Kaio (6-6), getting inside for his trademark left-leaning grip before shunting the veteran ozeki over the edge in dominant fashion to pick up his 11th win of the 15-day meet.
In a two-horse race with Hakuho until the 11th day, Asashoryu has now emerged the favorite to cart home his 25th Emperor’s Cup. Four wrestlers sit two off the pace with three losses.
Bulgarian Kotooshu was the victim of another sticky opponent in the form of little man Takekaze (5-7), who got both arms inside for an upward thrusting attack before ending the ozeki’s precarious title race with a fourth defeat.
Sekiwake Baruto snapped a two-day losing skid, heaving out Goeido in a forced effort by lifting up the No. 2 maegashira by the sash and twisting him over the straw bales.
The Estonian goliath improved to 9-3 to keep his slim title hopes alive.