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Monday, Jan. 13, 2003

Asashoryu, Taka post first-day victories

Ozeki Asashoryu showed the confidence of a true warrior Sunday but yokozuna Takanohana needed some extra help from the sumo gods to join the winners circle on the first day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Asashoryu, the normally mercurial Mongolian, demonstrated some technical savvy moving in low on Tosanoumi with firm strikes to the throat and face of the top-ranked maegashira in the premier bout at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Asashoryu, who could get the nod for promotion to yokozuna with a tournament victory and at least 13 wins, was never in trouble as he firmly maneuvered his opponent over the bales with solid body mass.

Takanohana, who returned after missing the Kyushu meet in November because of a pesky knee injury, got the "gumbai" decision after toppling komusubi Wakanosato over the edge while flying headlong out of the ring himself.

The grand champion decided to wrestle mostly out of pride in the eleventh hour, but rumors still persist that a poor showing will all but ensure his retirement.

In one of the day's upsets, ozeki Tochiazuma, who avoided demotion with an 8-7 winning record in Kyushu, never had a fighting chance to get a hold of top-ranked maegashira Miyabiyama's belt.

Miyabiyama buried him in a hailstorm of powerful slaps and shoves for an all too easy win.

Musoyama also had a foul first day at the office. He fell to second-ranked Mongolian Kyokutenho in a weak-spirited attempt that saw him flailing helter-skelter into the front row seats.

Kotomitsuki got a big surprise from third-rank and former ozeki Dejima, who quickly bulldozed the sekiwake over the bales before he could muster a counterattack.

No. 14 maegashira Kasugao, a newly promoted makuuchi-division wrestler from South Korea, got rid of some first-day butterflies by dumping 13th-ranked Otsukasa to the clay in superb fashion.

The ever-popular Takamisakari thumped his chest like a wild man to pump the crowd in pre-match rituals and pulled off a last-second victory, twisting down Akinoshima on the edge of the raised ring.



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