Tochiazuma leads ozeki quartet

Tochiazuma heads a quartet of ozeki in the east spot in the rankings for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka, where the New Year meet winner will take a shot at promotion to the highest rank of yokozuna.

The rankings for the March 12-26 tournament at Osaka Municipal Gymnasium, released Monday by the Japan Sumo Association, also put Mongolian Hakuho in position to be considered for promotion to ozeki as a sekiwake on the east side following a 13-2 record in January.

Tochiazuma won his third Emperor’s Cup with a 14-1 showing and denied Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu a record-breaking eighth straight tournament victory. He will be assured of yokozuna promotion with an equally strong performance this time out.

JSA Chairman Kitanoumi has reportedly demanded Tochiazuma win the spring meet or at least secure a place in the championship playoff with a 13-2 record or better as a condition for him to climb up to sumo’s ultimate rank.

At the top, Asashoryu will wrestle as a lone yokozuna for the 14th straight tournament. He is looking to rebound from a dismal 11-4 record that snapped his record streak of winning Emperor’s Cups.

Bulgarian Kotooshu went 10-5 in his ozeki debut and will step onto the ring in Osaka from the west side once again.

Fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai and Kaio, who both withdrew from the New Year tourney due to injuries, will face a battle against demotion from the second-highest rank for a record ninth time.

Wrestlers lose their ozeki rank if they fail to post a winning record — 8-7 or better — for two consecutive meets. At least one ozeki has been in such a demotion-threatened situation for nine straight tournaments, the longest in sumo history.

The latest rankings also saw Roho become the first Russian to break into the “sanyaku” ranks, or the three highest positions below yokozuna, after a 9-6 record in January moved him up from No. 2 maegashira to komusubi.

Former ozeki Miyabiyama returned to komusubi after wrestling in the maegashira ranks the previous three basho.

While there are no new faces in the makuuchi division, five wrestlers returned to the top flight. The top two divisions have a total of 15 foreign-born wrestlers, an all-time high.