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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Asashoryu a major obstacle to Hakuho's hopes for promotion

After losing to ozeki Hakuho by a sneaky sidestep maneuver in a playoff in the spring, you can bet your bottom dollar yokozuna Asashoryu is ready to put his countryman through the proverbial wringer at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.

Mongolian-born Hakuho will likely be given the green light for promotion to grand champion with a second straight title win and third overall Emperor's Cup at the 15-day meet kicking off Sunday at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

But if pre-tournament sparring was any indication of the wrath to come from a fuming yokozuna, Hakuho could find himself out of his depth in his quest for sumo's ultimate prize.

Asashoryu, aiming for his 21st overall title, has made it clear that he will do everything in his power to stop his rival. The Mongolian yokozuna has reigned at the top as the sole grand champion for more than three years.

"In this final week I'm going to turn up the heat. I'll put everything I've got into it. I'm looking forward to the meet," Asashoryu said following an official practice before the members of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council.

Asashoryu, who has never missed winning a championship in two consecutive meets since being promoted to grand champion after the New Year tourney in 2003, showed his dominance at the public practice in front of a crowd of about 8,500 at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

He faced off against Hakuho just once, nearly tearing the ozeki's head off executing an overarm technique. He also handily disposed of ozeki trio Kotooshu, Kaio and Chiyotaikai and went into "Terminator" mode winning all nine of his match-ups.

Hakuho, for his part, left something to be desired. He finished the day winning eight out of 12 bouts but failed to leave a lasting impression with the sumo elders.

But the ozeki later shrugged off the negativity, saying he is more relaxed than ever with a completely different outlook than when he failed in his first attempt at yokozuna promotion at last year's Nagoya meet and his second try later that fall.

"I was so nervous both times, but I feel completely different now because I've gained experience," he said.

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