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Kisenosato boosts case for promotion to yokozuna

Kyodo

Ozeki Kisenosato came one step closer to becoming yokozuna as he twisted down hard-shoving Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho on Sunday, the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

The win was the icing on the cake for Kisenosato (14-1), who had secured his maiden championship the previous day, and gave an added boost to the 30-year-old Ibaraki Prefecture native’s chances of reaching sumo’s pinnacle rank.

The Yokozuna Deliberation Council, an advisory panel to the Japan Sumo Association on yokozuna promotion, is scheduled to meet Monday, and the association’s board of directors will hold an extraordinary meeting Wednesday to discuss Kisenosato’s case.

Hideshige Moriya, the council’s chairman, said Sunday he does not expect any panel members to oppose Kisenosato’s promotion, adding, “I hope he will become a great yokozuna who is respected by the people.”

Sumo elder Nishonoseki, director of the association’s judges division who asked JSA chairman Hakkaku to call the board meeting, said all members of his division agreed on Kisenosato’s promotion as the ozeki notched the biggest number of bout victories last year before winning the New Year meet.

In Sunday’s final bout at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, Hakuho drove Kisenosato to the edge with forceful thrusts but the ozeki withstood the attacks and calmly countered with a decisive arm throw.

Hakuho, who missed out on a championship for four straight tourneys for the first time since being promoted to yokozuna in 2007, fell to his fourth loss of the 15-day meet.

“It took a long time, but I was able to come this far thanks to the support from various people,” said Kisenosato, who had the second-best record in a basho 12 times since debuting in the top makuuchi division in November 2004 before he finally clinched the Emperor’s Cup.

“I will train harder and become stronger and work hard so that I will be able to be in good form,” he added.

With his promotion all but decided, Kisenosato would be the first Japanese-born wrestler to become yokozuna since Wakanohana was promoted in 1998.

In a battle of two ozeki with dismal 4-10 records, 2016 New Year champion Kotoshogiku edged out Mongolian Terunofuji but will be demoted to sekiwake having finished the November meet in Fukuoka at a lowly 5-10. Terunofuji will need at least eight wins in March to avoid relegation.

The Outstanding Performance Prize went for the first time to Mongolian No. 10 maegashira Takanoiwa (11-4), who defeated Hakuho on Saturday, handing the yokozuna his third loss of the tourney that sealed Kisenosato’s first-ever championship.

The Technique Prize went to 10th-ranked Sokokurai (12-3) from China’s Inner Mongolia, praised for his strength when in a grasp lock with his opponent, and top maegashira Mitakeumi (11-4), who beat two yokozuna and two ozeki during the New Year tourney. Both won the honor for the first time.

At 33 years and 13 days old, Sokokurai became the fourth-oldest wrestler to win one of the three special prizes in the top flight for the first time.

In Sunday’s bouts, Sokokurai defeated Takanoiwa while Mitakeumi beat No. 8 maegashira Chiyonokuni (9-6).

Komusubi Takayasu (11-4) earned his fourth Fighting Spirit Prize after defeating two yokozuna and three ozeki this month, and went on to wrap up his tourney with a win over fourth-ranked Endo (7-8).