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Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008

Grand finale: Asashoryu, Hakuho ready for showdown on 15th day

Kyodo News

Get ready for an adrenaline-packed rumble. The Mongolian yokozuna pair is set to come out guns blazing on the final day to determine the title winner at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Grand champion Asashoryu discarded veteran ozeki Kaio, while his yokozuna rival Hakuho defeated ozeki Kotomitsuki on Saturday, leaving both men in a share of the lead with 13-1 records with one day left at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

For the first time in more than five years, two grand champions with even records will square off on the final day for the Emperor's Cup spoils.

The last time that happened, Hawaiian-born yokozuna Musashimaru beat yokozuna Takanohana on the final day to take the title at the 2002 autumn basho.

In the day's final bout, Asashoryu was never in real danger and got in for his favored right-handed grip before depositing Kaio (8-6) over the ridge in convincing fashion.

Hakuho, meanwhile, retreated against Kotomitsuki, but quickly regrouped for a perfectly timed overarm throw.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki (7-7) was left on the bubble and will have to win on the final day to post a majority of victories.

Asashoryu has had some close calls at the Tokyo meet, having to scrape off the rust along the way, but appears to have nearly regained the form he is feared and respected for.

The yokozuna, who is on a comeback after a two-tournament suspension for playing in a charity soccer match after claiming injuries to sit out of a regional sumo tour, appears determined to show that he can win his 22nd career title despite the blank.

Hakuho, the junior yokozuna, is aiming for his third straight title and it is now anyone's guess who will walk away with the tournament hardware on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu barely escaped against Mongolian Kakuryu, who charged full speed ahead but was dumped by an overarm throw on the ring's edge.

Kotooshu escaped demotion with his eighth victory, and Kakuryu, a No. 8 maegashira, fell out of the title race with his third defeat.

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