Ozeki Kotoshogiku came roaring back to move within one win of becoming the first Japanese-born champion in a decade at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Saturday.
Handed a stunning first loss at the meet by longtime friend Toyonoshima on Friday, Kotoshogiku barged out Tochiozan to improve to 13-1. Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho, who was upset by Kisenosato, and seventh-ranked maegashira Toyonoshima have 12-2 marks.
But Harumafuji dropped out of contention with a third defeat against fellow Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu (10-4).
A day after the pressure appeared to take its toll, Kotoshogiku, who has beaten all three yokozuna here, was back to his best in his bust-up with Tochiozan (6-8).
Unruffled after Tochiozan jumped the gun and made a false start, Kotoshogiku tore into the sekiwake, dishing out an early slap to the face before getting inside his right side and bellying him out for a comfortable win.
Kotoshogiku faces fellow ozeki Goeido on Sunday. He has a 16-20 record against Goeido, but can take heart from having won the last three grand tournament bouts between the two.
Goeido, who will have his rank on the line at the next tournament, suffered a demoralizing 10th defeat after he was penalized for appearing to pull second-ranked maegashira Takarafuji (8-6) down by his hair.
Hakuho, seeking his 36th Emperor’s Cup, looked surprisingly off kilter in the day’s final bout and was easily shoved out by bogeyman Kisenosato, who secured a winning record with an eighth victory.
Both Hakuho and Toyonoshima will need to win their final bouts on Sunday against Harumafuji and Tochiozan, respectively, and hope Kotoshogiku loses to force a playoff.
No Japanese-born wrestler has won the Emperor’s Cup since ozeki Tochiazuma’s 2006 New Year basho victory.
Toyonoshima stayed alive with a hard-fought win over 33-year-old sekiwake debutant Yoshikaze.
Yoshikaze (7-7) seized control of the belt with a right-handed grip after the charge, but Toyonoshima regrouped and turned the sekiwake around before pulling him to the dirt.
Harumafuji’s bid to add the New Year title to his championship win at the last basho in Kyushu came to an end, when fellow Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu sent him sprawling with a kotenage (arm lock throw).