Sekiwake Tamawashi maintained his lead by beating No. 5 maegashira Aoiyama with one day remaining in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Saturday.
Tamawashi picked up his 12th victory and will go into Sunday’s bout at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan with a one-win lead over sekiwake Takakeisho.
Yokozuna Hakuho (10-4) earlier in the day pulled out with injuries to his right knee and left foot.
Aoiyama (7-7) seemed victory bound after the initial clash, shoving Tamawashi toward the edge of the ring by his face and neck. However, the sekiwake remained calm and turned the 198-kg maegashira around before pushing him from the ring.
Tamawashi will face No. 9 Endo (10-4) on Sunday in his campaign to claim his first top-level championship. He has won nine of 15 previous career matches against the fan-favorite maegashira.
Newly promoted sekiwake Takakeisho (11-3) kept his hopes of winning back-to-back top makuuchi division titles alive following his win over No. 4 maegashira Okinoumi (6-8).
The 22-year-old, who won the November Basho in Fukuoka, needed only 2.9 seconds to push the maegashira out. Takakeisho will fight ozeki Goeido in Sunday’s final bout.
Goeido (8-6) secured a winning record following a victory by forfeit over the injured Hakuho, who opened with 10 straights wins.
Along with Goeido, ozeki Takayasu also posted his eighth win after defeating komusubi Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi (8-3-3) entered the ring with a three-match winning streak after he missed four matches with injury.
Three remaining wrestlers — No. 8 Kaisei, Endo and No. 10 Abi — sit in third place with 10 wins.
Brazilian wrestler Kaisei defeated No. 13 Yago (8-6), who is making his debut in the top division at this tournament.
Up-and-coming youngster Abi overcame a 10-year age difference with No. 3 Shohozan (5-9), slapping the 34-year-old to the clay.
Endo made short work of top-ranked maegashira Tochiozan (5-9), quickly pushing out the 158-kg wrestler without giving him a chance to resist.