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Friday, Jan. 20, 2006

Hakuho battles back to hand Asashoryu second defeat

Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu was handed a second shock defeat at the hands of countryman Hakuho on Thursday, causing mayhem with just three days remaining at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

In the day's finale, Asashoryu appeared to have the sekiwake on the ropes when he pushed him immediately to the edge after the face-off at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

But Hakuho made a last-gasp maneuver on the edge, cranking the yokozuna's arm and flipping him into the ringside seats, leaving Asashoryu trailing leading duo ozeki Tochiazuma and rank-and-filer Hokutoriki, who improved to 11-1.

"I was able to hold on till the end. I tried to stay calm and I will just keep my concentration on the final three days," said Hakuho, who stayed in contention tied with Asashoryu at 10-2.

Though coming out the favorite to capture his eighth straight title after winning all six crowns in 2005, Asashoryu now faces an uphill battle against five hungry contenders in the remaining days.

Tochiazuma, who is aiming for his third career title after shrugging off relegation this time out, made quick work of Mongolian little-man Ama (7-5), who tried to stay low out of the crouch only to be swatted forward onto his hands and knees.

Bulgarian ozeki-debutant Kotooshu (10-2) also kept his title hopes alive with a strong victory over Iwakiyama (5-7).

The ozeki grappled at the ring's center with the No. 5 maegashira before using his trademark overarm throw to slam his opponent to the clay.

In his excitement, 11th-ranked maegashira Hokutoriki made four false starts before executing a "henka" maneuver after the face-off and slapping down Georgian Kokkai, who fell to 6-6.

Tokitsuumi, a 14th-ranked maegashira, moved quickly to his left after the face-off and got a grip on Russian Roho's belt before dragging his opponent to a fourth defeat to improve to 10-2.

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