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Monday, Nov. 11, 2002

Maru kicks off Emperor's Cup campaign with easy victory

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Grand champion Musashimaru kicked off his bid for a fourth Emperor's Cup of the year with a no-nonsense win over Mongolian komusubi Kyokutenho on the opening day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.

The grizzly Samoan-born bulldozer, wrestling as the sole yokozuna following the eleventh-hour withdrawal of injury-plagued Takanohana, squirmed out of a stalemate at the center of the ring before finishing off Kyokutenho with a trademark shove.

In the only upset of the day, "kadoban" ozeki Tochiazuma slipped on a banana skin but the other four wrestlers at sumo's second-highest rank, including local favorite Kaio, all came through unscathed at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

Tochiazuma, who after missing the autumn meet though injury finds himself needing a minimum eight wins to retain his ozeki rank, uncharacteristically wimped out at the face-off, allowing former ozeki Miyabiyama to bump him over the straw edge with a simple thrust.

In contrast, Mongolian menace Asashoryu needed minimum effort in squashing maegashira top gun Tosanoumi while Musoyama, who scraped through with an 8-7 record in September, nonchalantly marched second-ranked Hokutoriki out of the ring for an easy win.

Chiyotaikai, who won a low-key Nagoya tournament but was handed five defeats in autumn, looked back to his best as he manhandled veteran Takanonami while Kaio, who is looking once again to make his move to yokozuna, gave his fans something to cheer about as he overpowered new komusubi Takanowaka.

Resurgent Kotomitsuki, back at sekiwake after going 12-3 as a seventh-ranked maegashira in September, ushered out third-ranked Tamanoshima and fellow sekiwake Wakanosato followed up with a bread-and-butter win over Tamakasuga, also a No. 3 maegashira.

In the lower echelons of sumo's top division, Mongolian Kyokushuzan appeared eager to get off to a winning start as the former komusubi quickly bundled out Shimotori before diving headlong into a startled Kotomitsuki in the ringside seats.

Crowd favorite Takamisakari, whose comical yet somewhat spooky facial expressions are as much a source of entertainment as his no-nonsense sumo, also opened with a hard-earned win in his first meeting with rank-and-filer Gojoro.

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