OSAKA – Ozeki Kakuryu took one giant leap forward in his quest for yokozuna promotion on Thursday, sending yokozuna Harumafuji to his first defeat at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
Hakuho, who is seeking his 29th career title, took over as the sole leader as he improved to 12-0 after defeating longtime nemesis Kisenosato (8-4) with a bit of psychological warfare in front of the seventh sold-out crowd at Bodymaker Colosseum.
Harumafuji and Kakuryu are one behind at 11-1 with three days remaining at the 15-day meet.
In the day’s finale, Harumafuji, who had missed the entire New Year basho through injury but appeared to be back to his fiery brand of sumo, ran into a brick wall in the form of the ozeki, who hardly budged when the yokozuna charged at the faceoff.
Kakuryu, who will likely have to win the tournament with at least 13 wins to be considered for the top rank, shoved his rival out from behind for the win.
It took three false starts before Hakuho’s bout got under way against Kisenosato — the yokozuna appearing to toy with his opponent by his refusal to put his hand down to start the match and slamming the ozeki over the edge on the third false start.
Once it started, the yokozuna, who in recent tournaments has been unable to grab Kisenosato’s mawashi with his favored left hand, battered the ozeki with a barrage of slaps before plowing him hard over the edge.
Endo (6-6), who is quickly growing in popularity, gave a full house what they were waiting for against Shohozan (5-7) with another explosive battle and had the blood to prove it above his left eye, which has taken a beating since the opening day.
The No. 1 maegashira, who lost his first four bouts facing the two yokozuna and two of the ozeki, looked in trouble when he was brought twice to the edge, but fought his way out before getting a right hand on the komusubi’s mawashi and driving him over.
Injury-hit ozeki Kotoshogiku could do nothing against Tochiozan (6-6) with his feeble right shoulder and was quickly shown the exit to fall to his sixth defeat.
Kyokutenho (8-4), who will be 40 in September, heaved out Azumaryu (5-7) for his first winning record in three meets. It was also his 647th win in the top division that put him in a tie for 10th on the all-time list.
Egyptian-born Osunaarashi (7-4-1), who returned after missing two bouts due to an injured right thigh, slugged Aoiyama (7-5) like a man in a bar fight but was smacked down by his Bulgarian opponent, remaining one win from his kachi-koshi winning record.