Grand champion Asashoryu defeated Kisenosato on the opening day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament yesterday, clearing the first hurdle in is his attempt to prolong his career.
With most people in Japan predicting his imminent retirement, Asashoryu temporarily silenced his critics with a hard-fought win over komusubi Kisenosato at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Mongolian Asashoryu was pushed back at the initial faceoff but recovered to knock Kisenosato off the ring with an emphatic shove to the face.
Asashoryu sat out part or all of the last three tournaments because of injuries to his elbow and knee. The 28-year-old has won 22 Emperor’s Cup’s but is nowhere close to being as dominant as he was a few years ago.
He isn’t out of the woods yet and will need to stay in contention late into the 15-day meet to avoid more calls for his retirement.
In other major bouts, Mongolian grand champion Hakuho, the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, barely broke a sweat in the day’s final bout, forcing out komusubi Toyonoshima in a matter of seconds.
Newly promoted ozeki Harumafuji was upset in his debut at sumo’s second-highest rank.
No. 2 maegashira Yoshikaze dodged to his side shortly after the faceoff and swatted Mongolian Harumafuji off the raised ring.
Harumafuji, who was previously was known as Ama, posted a record of 13-2 as a sekiwake in the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, and was promoted to ozeki in November.
Veteran Kaio, who needs a winning record to maintain his ozeki status, spun Miyabiyama around at the faceoff and shoved the No. 2 maegashira out to open with a win.
Kaio has said he would retire after the New Year tourney if he is unable to post a winning record.