Yokozuna Hakuho and newly-promoted ozeki Asanoyama each captured their ninth straight win Monday at a July Grand Sumo Tournament which looks increasingly like a two-horse race.
Just two wrestlers remain a win behind the joint leaders to maintain the pressure after nine days of action at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan — sekiwake Shodai and former ozeki Terunofuji.
Hakuho slapped down No. 4 maegashira Aoiyama (3-6) to close out the elite makuuchi division bouts on Day 9. The Bulgarian was facing overwhelming odds, having fought the 44-time champion 23 times for just one win, which was the result of a withdrawal by Hakuho.
Asanoyama survived a scare against Okinoumi (4-5), tossing the komusubi down by the belt with an overarm throw in a rematch after they crashed down at the same time in their first bout.
The Mongolian-born yokozuna and the man tipped to be the next to reach the sport's highest rank are the only undefeated wrestlers in the tournament after sekiwake Mitakeumi dropped down the leaderboard on Day 8.
Mitakeumi and No. 5 Hokutofuji will look to unseat the joint leaders on Day 10 when they face Asanoyama and Hakuho, respectively.
Hokutofuji, the recipient of seven kinboshi prizes for defeating a yokozuna as a rank-and-filer, has beaten Hakuho three times in 10 meetings, while Mitakeumi holds a 4-2 head-to-head advantage over Asanoyama.
The returning sekiwake's chances at a third title diminished further, however, after his second loss on Day 9.
Mitakeumi met No. 3 Kiribayama (4-5) for the first time and locked up with the up-and-coming grappler, but was unable to find a hold as Kiribayama inched him out.
Shodai held his ground against No. 4 Kagayaki (3-6) to pick up his eighth win. Kagayaki drove the sekiwake back with a strong initial blast and had him on the ropes, but Shodai executed the reversal and pushed his opponent out.
Terunofuji (8-1) quickly pushed out No. 12 Sadanoumi (4-5) and secured a winning record in the top division for the first time since May 2017, when he was still an ozeki.
In other bouts, Takakeisho (6-3) shoved out No. 6 Enho (4-5) before stepping out and earned his sixth win of the meet. The kadoban ozeki needs to collect at least two more wins over the next six days to hold onto his rank.
Komusubi Daieisho fell to 5-4 after Hokutofuji (6-3) thrust him down at the last second while being drilled over the straw.
No. 10 Myogiryu, No. 15 Kotoshoho and No. 14 Kotoshogiku all recorded victories on Day 9 to remain in contention for the title at 7-2. Makuuchi newcomer Kotoshoho is one triumph away from earning a winning record in his top-division debut.
The July meet was moved from Nagoya to Tokyo in order to limit travel and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Only about 2,500 spectators are admitted each day to the Ryogoku Kokugikan, less than a quarter of the venue's capacity.