Hakuho moved one win from capturing his 29th career title after beating yokozuna debutant Kakuryu with an impregnable attack to improve to 13-1 on the penultimate day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on Saturday.
Ozeki Kisenosato (12-2) also remained in the running for his first career title and possibly a third shot at yokozuna, when he beat Harumafuji after the latter was disqualified for pulling his opponent’s topknot.
Hakuho, who is seeking his first yusho championship in two meets, will face Harumafuji (11-3) in the finale and can claim the Emperor’s Cup hardware outright with a victory.
Kisenosato must beat Kakuryu and have Hakuho lose to force a playoff.
Hakuho snapped a two bout losing streak in regulation matches against Kakuryu with an ironclad force out of his yokozuna rival in front of the ninth sell-out crowd at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Try as he might, Kakuryu (9-5) never got inside and Hakuho used his left hand on the mawashi for leverage to wiggle his opponent over the edge.
Ikioi, meanwhile, dropped out of the title race after he was sent backing out of the ring when sekiwake Goeido got his left hand on the top of the mawashi and charged the No. 5 maegashira over the straw bales to a third defeat.
Goeido (7-7), who has held the sekiwake rank for two years, is on the bubble and must win his final bout against Kotoshogiku.
Kotoshogiku (5-9), who fell to a losing record in a loss to Hakuho on Friday, was sent to his fifth consecutive loss after he was smacked down by Tochiozan (9-5). The ozeki will face demotion from sumo’s second highest rank at the Nagoya basho in July.
No. 14 maegashira Gagamaru, who debuted in the top makuuchi division in July 2010, was nearly in tears after falling to a losing record in a loss to Tochinowaka (8-6). With the loss, the Georgian all but assured himself a drop into the second-tier juryo.
Egyptian-born No. 10 maegashira Osunaarashi (9-5) crouched a few steps from the battle line to get a strong charge for an elbow to the head against Homasho (9-5) but was instead pulled forward by the bottom of his mawashi and shown the exit by “shitatedashinage.”
Endo (6-8), whose popularity continues to rise despite a sketchy record in the top class, recovered from a two-day losing skid but still took a beating from Yoshikaze (5-9) before he was able to twist his body on the edge and topple his opponent over the edge.