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Sunday, Nov. 10, 2002

Musashimaru favored again

Yokozuna out to defend Kyushu Basho title in Fukuoka

The news of Takanohana's withdrawal from the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament once again left fellow yokozuna Musashimaru as favorite after lifting his 12th Emperor's Cup in September in Tokyo.

However, a sore left wrist has restricted Musashimaru's preparations for the Nov. 10-24 meet at Fukuoka Kokusai Center and the title race could be wide open with a full slate of ozeki as well as a resurgent sekiwake Kotomitsuki waiting to pounce.

Musashimaru rebounded from an opening-day loss and outclassed Takanohana on the final day to win the autumn tournament with a 13-2 record, moving into a fourth-place tie with his nemesis with 697 career wins in the top makuuchi division.

The victory in the autumn grand finale was sweet for the Samoan-born giant especially after suffering a humiliating defeat by an injury-hit and near-crippled Takanohana with an over-arm throw in the championship playoff in May 2001.

"To be honest, I don't know how much further I can go with this wrist. But the food is good here in Fukuoka and I've had some luck here in the past," Musashimaru said earlier this week.

Despite nursing the injury, he looks as powerful and lively and is expected to be on track for a fourth Emperor's Cup of the year unless the usual lack of concentration against the rank-and-filers in the opening week derails his campaign.

Komusubi Kyokutenho is the first to roar against Musashimaru on the opening day, with fourth-ranked maegashira Takamisakari lining up next for a second-day date with the grand champion.

For Takanohana, wrestling in a pressure-packed, do-or-die tournament for his career after a record 15-month absence has apparently taken its toll on his knee and prompted him to stay away from the ring yet again.

"I want to return to the ring and be able to move my body freely as soon as possible. I really want to apologize to everyone who has waited for me to make a comeback," Takanohana said after announcing his decision on Friday.

Ozeki trio Kaio, Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu are among the likely candidates to upstage Musashimaru this time out.

In his return from injury, Kaio tripped up Musashimaru in September on his way to a 12-3 record, matching Takanohana just one win away from the title.

If his lower back stays strong throughout this month's 15-day meet, he could finally make his move toward yokozuna.

"It is the first time for a while that I have gone through pretty good workouts -- both in quality and quantity -- entering a tournament," said Kaio, who sets his sights on claiming a fourth Emperor's Cup in front of home fans in his native Fukuoka.

With many of the top wrestlers out injured in the summer, Chiyotaikai triumphed in Nagoya in July but lost five bouts in the autumn and will look to prove he can mix it up with the best this time around.

After heading into the second week unbeaten in the lead in his debut at ozeki, Asashoryu faltered down the stretch and also finished with a largely disappointing 10-5 record.

But the fiery Mongolian enjoys nothing more than upending the top wrestlers and will hope to grab his first-ever tournament victory.

Sekiwake returnee Kotomitsuki, who once came to the brink of promotion to ozeki, is considered a dark horse for the title after overcoming a broken jaw to turn in an impressive 12-3 showing as a seventh-ranked maegashira.

Fellow sekiwake Wakanosato is considered a long-shot but the upset-minded sekiwake could spring a surprise after posting back-to-back winning records in a tough, precarious position one rung below ozeki.

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