Mongolian fire-brand yokozuna Asashoryu will be looking to put his nightmare in Nagoya behind him and get back to winning ways when the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament gets underway in Tokyo on Sunday.
With injury-ravaged fellow grand champion Musashimaru out of the picture for the sixth straight basho and no ozeki appearing capable of posing a serious threat, the 22-year-old bully from the land of Genghis Khan looks odds-on favorite to lift his fourth Emperor’s Cup in the 15-day meet at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Asashoryu landed himself in hot water when he was disqualified for breaking a sumo taboo by pulling the hair of compatriot Kyokushuzan in their tussle at the Nagoya tourney in July.
The yokozuna, who complained bitterly to judges after losing a decision to the same opponent in May, later engaged in a war of words with Kyokushuzan during a post-bout soak and the Japan Sumo Association even received a bomb threat and calls threatening an assault on Asashoryu. He eventually pulled out of the meet citing a sore neck.
“(Asashoryu) faces a crucial test in this tournament and if he comes through it (without any problems) it will be good for his confidence,” the yokozuna’s stablemaster Takasago told reporters earlier this week.
Asashoryu, who appears to be in tip-top shape, winning 11 out of 14 bouts in front of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council (YDC) on Monday, says he has “learned” from his mistakes in Nagoya. We’ll see.
Despite undergoing surgery last year, Musashimaru has failed to shake off a nagging injury to his left wrist and his sumo career could be on the line when he makes his probable comeback in Kyushu in November.
Perennial bridesmaid Kaio, meanwhile, will be out to ruin Asashoryu’s return and has the extra incentive of third crack at promotion to yokozuna.
Kaio ended a two-year title drought by winning the Emperor’s Cup in Nagoya with a 12-3 record but a repeat performance will not be enough to move the injury-prone ozeki up the final rung of sumo’s ladder.
The 31-year-old, who will need at least 14 wins to be considered for promotion, has not trained sufficiently since injuring his right upper arm last month and missed Monday’s YDC practice session.
That said, Kaio has a knack of performing well when he is not in is his best physical condition and the Tomozuna stable wrestler, who is also nursing a sore calf, has played down the importance of his latest push for promotion.
“Sure I’ll need 14 wins but I’m still just going to try and get on with the job the same way I always do,” he said.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai had a major setback to his own promotion chances in May and was edged to the championship by Kaio in a thrilling climax in Nagoya but is expected to do well if he can avoid any early slip ups.
Chiyotaikai faces a potentially tricky customer in the form of “Robocop” Takamisakari on Sunday.
Top-ranked maegashira Takamisakari, the most colorful and popular wrestler in the makuuchi division, beat Chiyotaikai in Nagoya on the way to a solid 9-6 showing and will be eager to show he has the mean streak to match his pre-bout circus routines.
Ozeki Musoyama is unlikely to be in the running although he is a safe bet for nine or 10 wins but Tochiazuma is up against it again and heads into the tournament with his ozeki rank on the line for the third time.
Elsewhere, look for sekiwake Wakanosato, 10-5 last time out, to be making a nuisance of himself heading down the final straight as he aims to make the long-awaited step up to ozeki.
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