Hakuho foils upset bid to maintain lead

OSAKA (Kyodo) Hakuho got an almighty fright before overpowering Kotomitsuki to retain his slender lead, while former nightclub bouncer Baruto came roaring back to keep alive his promotion hopes at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Thursday.

Estonian behemoth Baruto (11-1) quickly put Wednesday’s defeat to Hakuho behind him and blasted out ozeki Harumafuji (9-3) to keep the pressure on the yokozuna at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

Hakuho was given his toughest test of the tournament so far in the day’s finale where Kotomitsuki (8-4) threatened to stage an upset as he sent the yokozuna sliding toward the straw bales.

But Hakuho, who is widely expected to win his 13th Emperor’s Cup in the absence of recently retired former yokozuna Asashoryu, showed nerves of steel and dismantled the ozeki to stay on track for the title.

Baruto, looking to become only the second European wrestler after Kotooshu to win a championship title, could earn promotion to sumo’s second rank of ozeki by winning two of his last three bouts.