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Sunday, July 4, 2004

NAGOYA GRAND SUMO TOURNAMENT

Asashoryu stands alone in a zone


By DAVE HUESTON

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Yokozuna Asashoryu proved last time out even an invincible force can buckle under pressure.

News photo
Yokozuna Asashoryu will be out to win his fourth straight basho when the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament begins on Sunday.

The Mongolian grand champion, who had shredded through opponents en route to winning 35 straight bouts, showed steely nerve in a playoff with Hokutoriki to capture his third straight title in May.

But after losing twice -- once to Hokutoriki -- in regulation bouts, the point had already been made.

Asashoryu is not only stoppable, but will confront a new nemesis in the form of recently promoted sekiwake Hokutoriki when the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament kicks off Sunday at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.

Asashoryu, however, is still determined to go undefeated as he shoots for his eighth Emperor's Cup and has warned all challengers that rendering unto Caesar may be the only choice when all is through at the 15-day meet.

"Winning in Nagoya is one of my top goals since I've never won here. I feel there's no reason why I can't go undefeated in Nagoya," said Asashoryu, who pulled out of last year's meet with an injured neck.

"The Nagoya Basho was a good experience for me last year. I'm focusing my attention as I ready myself for the tournament this time around," he said.

Criticized for his topknot-pulling tactics against countryman Kyokushuzan at last year's meet, Asashoryu has now become the poster boy for sumo with a freshly polished image.

And his record speaks for itself.

He captured his seventh title just 10 meets after winning his first Emperor's Cup. Sumo legend Taiho took 12 meets to achieve that, while former yokozuna Kitanoumi and Takanohana needed 18 meets to accomplish it.

The yokozuna has also recorded a career total of 302 victories since his professional debut, attaining the mark in 32 tournaments -- the same number it took Taiho to reach 300.

In a pre-tournament practice, Asashoryu, who favors a right-handed belt grip, won 11 out of 12 bouts against wrestlers at the Tokitsukaze stable in Nagoya.

He later left a path of destruction as he dominated in 14 bouts against elite wrestlers such as sekiwake Wakanosato and komusubi Tamanoshima at the Naruto stable.

"I'm having good practice sessions but it seems the other wrestlers aren't really up for the fight," said Asashoryu, who slammed Tamanoshima to the clay with his trademark forklift dump and finished off Wakanosato with a fierce shove out.

"I would like to stop him (Asashoryu) but he is too powerful," Wakanosato said. Tamanoshima, who was 12-3 in Tokyo, however, did beat Asashoryu twice in practice and could present an obstacle in their match on the first day in Nagoya.

A halfhearted attitude from Hokutoriki, who is 1-4 in career bouts against Asashoryu, including the playoff defeat, and was also 13-2 in May, will not be tolerated by the yokozuna.

"He was terrible, just awful," Asashoryu said after demolishing Hokutoriki in 10 out of 10 bouts in practice. "Does he deserve to be called a new sekiwake? He has to come at me harder."

Hokutoriki readily admits the power difference.

"He was too strong and I wasn't able to charge ahead. There's definitely a difference in strength," he said.

However, Asashoryu has been suffering with colds on and off leaving some concern over whether his body will have enough stamina as the meet reaches its final stages.

Meanwhile, ozeki Kaio and Chiyotaikai need to regain their thirst for blood and victory after failing in their bids for promotion to yokozuna with records of 10-5 and 9-6, respectively, in May.

Tochiazuma, who is still ailing with an injured left shoulder, will need to post 10 or more wins in Nagoya to reclaim his ozeki status after a drop to sekiwake, while ozeki Musoyama faces an uphill battle after a disappointing 6-9 showing in Tokyo and must notch at least eight wins to keep his rank.



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