• Kyodo

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Yokozuna Asashoryu got his campaign for a second consecutive title victory off with a bang Sunday, defeating Kyokutenho on the opening day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

All eyes fixed back on the raised ring after a wrestler was arrested and fired for possession of marijuana following the New Year meet in January, further tarnishing the already beleaguered image of the ancient sport.

The wrestlers will be out in earnest at the 15-day meet to prove their worth and dispel the ugly pall of drugs.

In the day’s final bout, Asashoryu barely broke a sweat as he swiftly moved in to muscle out the komusubi at Osaka Municipal Gymnasium.

The 28-year-old proved he still has the juice to compete at sumo’s highest level after beating rival yokozuna Hakuho in a playoff on the final day of the New Year meet.

He came into that meet with his career on the line, and a dismal showing would have increased pressure on him to bow out of the sport.

Victory at the Osaka meet would put Asashoryu in a tie for third with yokozuna great Kitanoumi with 24 Emperor’s Cup titles. Hakuho is seeking his 10th overall championship.

Hakuho made mincemeat of Goeido, getting his left hand in quickly and heaving the sekiwake out in a lopsided affair in the day’s penultimate bout.

It was a day of mixed blessings for sumo’s ozeki rank.

Harumafuji, formerly known as Ama, needed a wakeup in a decidedly sleepy bout against Kotoshogiku, who easily locked the ozeki’s arms up after the faceoff before toppling him over the edge.

After finishing with a sub-par 8-7 performance last time in his ozeki debut, Harumafuji is feeling the pressure and still has not settled comfortably into his new skin.

Veteran Kaio was the second ozeki casualty after backpedaling out against top-ranked maegashira Kakuryu.

But ozeki Chiyotaikai hit Hokutoriki with a salvo of his trademark slaps and thrusts before ramming him out in convincing fashion.

Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu, looking to improve on a solid 10-5 showing in January, manhandled Kisenosato with a textbook frontal takeout maneuver to pick up the win.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki, who is facing demotion from sumo’s second-highest rank for the first time, ushered out Tochiozan with minimal effort to move a step toward maintaining his rank.

Estonian sekiwake Baruto went for a fierce throat grab against Miyabiyama, shoving out the No. 3 maegashira in a matter of seconds to get in the winner’s circle.

In an earlier bout, the burly Yamamotoyama, a No. 13 maegashira, stopped Tamawashi dead in his tracks after the faceoff with his huge frame before power driving the 14th-ranked maegashira over the edge.

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