Kotoshogiku starts strong as Hakuho falters on opening day


Kotoshogiku made the perfect start in his bid for back-to-back championships and a promotion to yokozuna on Sunday with a comfortable opening-day win over Takayasu at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

Aiming to prove his maiden title win at the New Year basho was no fluke, the ozeki was in total control at Edion Arena, getting both arms around Takayasu and yanking the No. 1 maegashira around before finishing him off with a meaty shove.

The 32-year-old Kotoshogiku’s championship in Tokyo — the first by a Japanese-born wrestler in a decade — came as a major surprise.

In the January meet, he posted double-digit wins for only the eighth time in 26 tournaments at sumo’s second-highest rank of ozeki. He will need to win this tournament to have a chance of becoming the first Japan-born yokozuna since Wakanohana in 1998.

There were wins for all ozeki, but 35-time champion Hakuho and fellow Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu both crashed to upset defeats.

Kakuryu was sent out by sekiwake Toyonoshima, while Hakuho looked a pale shadow of his normally dominant self, getting easily shoved out by komusubi Takarafuji. Yokozuna Harumafuji came through in the day’s final bout with little trouble though, quickly dispatching komusubi Tochiozan over the straw bales.

In other bouts in the upper echelons, ozeki Kisenosato weathered a flurry of neck thrusts before taking down No. 1 maegashira Kotoyuki, while the kadoban ozeki pair of Terunofuji and Goeido scored crucial first victories.

Fighting with this rank on the line after withdrawing from the last tournament due to shoulder knee injuries, Mongolian Terunofuji got the first of eight wins he needs to remain an ozeki after heaving out second-ranked maegashira Tochinoshin.

Goeido got off on the right foot in the next bout, turning second-ranked maegashira Okinoumi around and bumping him over the edge.