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Sunday, July 6, 2003

Asashoryu aiming for second consecutive title


By DAVID HUESTON
Kyodo News

Yokozuna Asashoryu will be out to expose Musashimaru as an aging and rusty grand champion when the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament kicks off Sunday.

The 22-year-old Mongolian powerhouse will be seeking to claim his second consecutive Emperor's Cup and fourth title overall while his burly Samoan-born counterpart will return to the raised ring after three straight absences still nursing a weakened left wrist.

For Musashimaru, who underwent surgery on his wrist last November for ligament damage, the decision to wrestle at the meet at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium is more a matter of impatience -- either put up or shut up -- than a realistic shot at capturing his 13th victory.

"I made up my mind. I wanted to compete as soon as possible. It will be my first tournament in a while, but I'm not nervous," said the 32-year-old Musashimaru.

He should be.

Asashoryu, who finished with an outstanding 13-2 record at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May, will not be pulling any punches, especially as both yokozuna will be appearing at a tournament for the first time since the Mongolian's promotion to sumo's highest rank in January.

Though hobbled by an ineffective left wrist, Musashimaru could make his presence felt if he gets off to a clean start, employing his trademark right-hand thrusts to smother his opponents.

Musashimaru's opening-day bout against newly promoted sekiwake Kyokutenho will provide the litmus test to determine if he can dominate or even hold his own in Nagoya. He has beaten the Mongolian wrestler in all of their nine bouts but a lot has changed while he was away recuperating.

The more likely threat to Asashoryu's stronghold will be ozeki Kaio. He beat Asashoryu on the penultimate day of the May meet but settled with a sub-par 11-4 record as the runnerup.

Kaio, who will be in pursuit of his first Emperor's Cup honors since Nagoya 2001, has defeated Asashoryu in their last three bouts. Having this mental edge on the yokozuna, Kaio could spoil the party when all is said and done, but he needs to remain healthy throughout the 15-day Nagoya meet.

It is the first time in 13 meets that yokozuna from both east and west camps, and the four ozeki cadres are appearing together.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai, who had a major setback to his chances at promotion to yokozuna after a 10-5 showing last time out, will have to perform at crunch time, especially against the higher-ranking maegashira, and komusubi and sekiwake wrestlers.

He is an awesome force when on a roll but in a tailspin, a consistent choke artist -- something Asashoryu and the other ozeki are unlikely to overlook.

In a pre-tournament practice, Kaio won 13 out of 21 bouts against Chiyotaikai, who said he had lost 14 kg at one point after the shock of failing to attain sumo's ultimate rank.

As for ozeki Musoyama and Tochiazuma, both of whom just passed the grade to retain their status with 8-7 records in May, the safe bet is not with them. It is unlikely either one will be in the running for the title as the competition heats up.

One big surprise may be Kyokutenho. The 29-year-old grappler appears to have gained a great deal of strength as well as confidence using his belt-pulling techniques.

Finishing the summer meet on a strong note at 10-5, look for Kyokutenho to be one of the wrestlers jostling in the eye of the storm as things wind down in Nagoya.

Elsewhere, sekiwake Wakanosato, who has remained in the three ranks below yokozuna -- or "sanyaku" -- for 10 straight tournaments and top-ranked maegashira Aminishiki will look to improve on their records.

Aminishiki, a technical wrestler who impressed with an 11-4 record in the summer meet, has a clear shot at reaching the sanyaku.



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