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Sunday, Nov. 13, 2005

Asashoryu says Kotooshu is no threat at Kyushu basho


FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Bulgarian sekiwake Kotooshu will be looking to shed his "choker" label and make it third time lucky with victory at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament beginning in Fukuoka on Sunday.

Kotooshu looked set to become the first wrestler from Europe to capture the Emperor's Cup at the autumn meet but wilted under the pressure and surrendered a two-win lead before losing in a championship playoff to yokozuna Asashoryu.

Kotooshu also came within a whisker of winning at the Nagoya meet only to cave in on the final day.

With a shot at promotion to sumo's second rank of ozeki at stake this time around, the 22-year-old pin-up knows he can ill-afford another late collapse at the 15-day meet at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

The sekiwake posted an impressive 13-2 record at the Autumn Basho but was overlooked for promotion last time despite meeting the Japan Sumo Association's loosely set standard of 33 wins over his last three tournaments.

Double-digit victories would guarantee a move up to ozeki and Kotooshu is eager to win for his stablemaster Sadogatake, who retires after the Kyushu meet.

"I have produced good results the past two tournaments and I want to continue to do so," said Kotooshu.

"I know there will be pressure (to try and reach ozeki) but I won't be thinking about that in the ring and I want to wrestle in a way that will please my stablemaster."

Kotooshu stunned Asashoryu early in the autumn meet and although he was no match the second time around in the playoff, he still looks like the only wrestler capable of stopping the bully from Ulan Bator from taking an unprecedented seventh title in a row.

Cocky Asashoryu has dismissed Kotooshu as a threat, claiming he is "nowhere near" the finished product, and the Mongolian bruiser is confident he can continue his dominance of Japan's ancient sport.

"I have a really big goal to aim for and I'm not the slightest bit nervous," said Asashoryu, who is also aiming to become the first wrestler to win all six tournaments in a year.

"There aren't any wrestlers around me that I think are really strong and for me Kotooshu still has a long way to go," Asashoryu said.

The yokozuna kicks off the 15-day meet with an appointment with fellow Mongolian Hakuho, while Kotooshu faces Kakizoe.

Ozeki Tochiazuma and Chiyotaikai both went 10-5 in September but are unlikely to pose a serious threat to Asashoryu while underachieving Kaio, who pulled out of the autumn tournament with a hamstring injury after a disastrous 0-4 start, faces yet another battle against relegation.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old hope Kisenosato will be looking to reproduce the fine form he showed in going 12-3 in the autumn meet when he kicks off his campaign at his highest rank of No. 5 maegashira.

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