Ozeki Kotoshogiku remained on course to become Japan’s first champion in a decade with a convincing ninth straight win at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday.
The Fukuoka-born grappler was never in danger of seeing his unbeaten start come to an end, quickly getting a left-handed grip on Kaisei’s (3-6) belt and shunting the Brazilian-born No. 3 maegashira over the ridge.
Hakuho, sumo’s most successful wrestler with 35 Emperor’s Cups, also maintained his share of the lead at 9-0.
The Mongolian yokozuna beat sekiwake Tochiozan (4-5) but did so by deploying a frowned-upon henka sidestep technique, much to the disappointment of a sell-out crowd at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Yokozuna rival Harumafuji was the only wrestler one win behind Kotoshogiku and Hakuho after the maegashira duo of Takayasu and Okinoumi both suffered their second defeats.
Harumafuji, seeking his second straight championship following his win at the Kyushu basho in November, weathered an early storm before squashing fourth-ranked maegashira Kotoyuki (5-4) with an uwatenage overarm throw.
Kotoshogiku is aiming to break a Japanese title drought that stretches back to ozeki Tochiazuma’s championship win at this tournament in 2006.
Ozeki Kisenosato was the man tipped to break the drought coming into the tournament, but he has struggled and left the ring nursing a fourth loss after getting muscled out by Bulgarian-born No. 2 maegashira Aoiyama, who scored his second win in a row after opening with seven straight losses.
In other bouts in the upper ranks of the makuuchi division, Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu brought the day’s action to a close by dodging a bullet to beat ozeki Goeido.
The yokozuna’s foot exited the ring first but didn’t hit the surface until after Goeido’s hand touched the dirt. Kakuryu is tied with seven other wrestlers at 7-2.
Yoshikaze rebounded from Sunday’s loss to Hakuho to move back into the winner’s column at 5-4. The 33-year-old sekiwake blasted top-ranked maegashira Shohozan (2-7) into the front row of ringside cushions.