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Friday, Jan. 11, 2002

Tochiazuma bloodied but unbowed

Newly promoted ozeki Tochiazuma overcame a brutal charge from feisty sekiwake Asashoryu and a bloody nose to stay perfect on Wednesday at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Fellow-ozeki Chiyotaikai and sekiwake Kotomitsuki also moved into a six-way tie at the top of the field after safely negotiating bouts on the fourth day of the 15-day meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The tournament was thrown wide open overnight when the only yokozuna entry and pre-tourney favorite Musashimaru pulled out after aggravating a wrist injury in a loss to Kyokushuzan on Tuesday. The grand champion will be sidelined for a month.

In the ring, two of sumo's brightest young hopes locked horns in the final bout of the day and Mongolian Asashoryu (2-2) looked to have Tochiazuma (4-0) in trouble after unleashing a series of hard slaps to the face, which left the ozeki's nose bloodied.

The referee called a halt to the proceedings to treat the injury and at the restart Tochiazuma reacted quickest, getting a grip inside and maneuvering the sekiwake out.

Chiyotaikai, who missed the last tourney through injury, blew away a weak challenge from Akinoshima (0-4). The ozeki wasted little time in slapping the maegashira top-dog out of the raised ring and now needs just four more wins to avoid relegation.

Kotomitsuki looked every inch an ozeki with a no-nonsense win over Mongolian Kyokutenho (0-4). The sekiwake got a firm grip on the komusubi from the charge and muscled him out to stay unbeaten.

Kaio's challenge took a blow when he fell to his second loss against former ozeki Takanonami (4-0). The No. 3 maegashira showed some veteran savvy in twisting the ozeki at mid-ring and muscling him over the straw bales.

Joining the log-jam on four wins are two wrestlers from the lower ranks, Tochisakae and Tosanoumi.

Elsewhere, the third of the Mongolian trio in the top flight, Kyokushuzan, (1-3) went down to ozeki Musoyama (2-2).

Also Wednesday, No. 13 maegashira Takanowaka pulled out of the tournament after breaking a rib in his bout Tuesday. The injury from his loss to former ozeki Takanonami is expected to sideline him for a month.

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