Harumafuji gave ozeki Kotooshu a savage mauling to preserve his undefeated record at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Wednesday.

The yokozuna improved to an impressive 11-0 mark, while rival yokozuna Hakuho butchered ozeki Kotoshogiku to remain in the chase for his second straight title at 10-1. Ozeki Kisenosato and No. 7 maegashira Takayasu are two behind the sole leader.

Harumafuji has exceeded expectations and then some, his indefatigable exploits thus far proving his critics wrong after a public berating for becoming the only yokozuna debutant to lose his final five matches and finish with a 9-6 mark at the Kyushu basho in November.

In day’s next-to-last bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Harumafuji thwacked Kotooshu (6-5) with a series of slaps to the face before circling around from the left to get in position for a quick tackling maneuver. In his overzealousness to finish the Bulgarian ozeki off, Harumafuji appeared to tweak an ankle as he was slow getting up.

The Japan Sumo Association’s Yokozuna Deliberation Council has held Harumafuji’s feet to the fire, saying he needed to post double-digit wins here or face a “recommendation for early retirement.” Now the only question is will he clearly show that his failed yokozuna debut was merely a one-off.

Hakuho, bidding for his 24th career championship, got off on the wrong foot against Kotoshogiku but found a way to send the ozeki out in a frontal force-out. The yokozuna started off with his right hand outside but switched hand positions midstream for his favored migi-yotsu grappling technique to usher Kotoshogiku over the straw bales.

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