FUKUOKA – Let the real fireworks begin.
Undefeated yokozuna pair Hakuho and Harumafuji remained on trajectory for an explosive finale Thursday, while ozeki Kisenosato won the first battle of wrestlers two off the pace with a wrecking-ball act of Chiyotairyu to keep himself in the hunt with three days remaining at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament.
Ozeki Kakuryu, meanwhile, all but dropped out of contention when he was sent to a third defeat at the hands of Bulgarian No. 5 maegashira Aoiyama at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.
As it stands, Hakuho and Harumafuji are tied in the lead at 12-0, with nearest challenger Kisenosato at 10-2. Kakuryu, Chiyotairyu and Ikioi still have a mathematical shot at 9-3.
Hakuho got revenge for his defeat to Goeido (6-6) in September — dumping the sekiwake over the edge with a well-worked overarm throw after getting his left hand in perfect position on the top of the mawashi as Goeido tried in vain to execute an armlock technique.
For Hakuho, who is gunning for his 28th career title, the sky knows no limit; on Wednesday he surpassed former yokozuna Kitanoumi and Takanohana on the all-time list by becoming the only wrestler to post 80 wins in one year for the third time in his career. He faces Kakuryu on Friday.
Harumafuji, looking for his sixth career title, took a little longer but got the same result as his yokozuna rival, manhandling Tochiozan (4-8) after wrapping his hands around for an iron-clad frontal force out. His first big test comes Friday against Kisenosato.
Kisenosato lost to Chiyotairyu at the autumn basho in September, but this time it wasn’t even close as the ozeki went on the rampage with a vicious thrusting attack to throttle his opponent over the straw bales in matter of seconds.
Aoiyama (8-4) launched a relentless assault on Kakuryu, sending the ozeki fleeing over the edge by oshidashi.
“I was able to calmly wrestle today,” said Aoiyama. “I just tried to not let my opponent in and thrust forward.”
The last time Hakuho and Harumafuji were undefeated and duked it out on the final day, Harumafuji emerged as the winner in a landslide when he was still an ozeki at last year’s Nagoya basho.
When Harumafuji debuted at yokozuna at last year’s Kyushu meet, he went into the 11th day at 9-1, then lost five straight to fall out of contention.
He took the championship at the New Year basho with an undefeated mark but then fell on hard times, his best performance since being a 11-4 mark at the summer tournament in May. Now he appears more determined than ever to claim the tournament hardware.
In an early bout, Brazilian-born Kaisei (6-6) was seeing stars when Tokitenku (5-7) popped him with a slap across the face, sending him immediately to the dohyo surface.
As forecasts go, Hakuho will likely face Kisenosato on Saturday, while Harumafuji would meet Kakuryu on the 14th day before the pair face off in a final-day thriller.