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Monday, Nov. 14, 2011

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Flying start: Ozeki debutant Kotoshogiku tosses Tochinoshin outside the dohyo on Sunday, the first day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament. KYODO PHOTO

Kotoshogiku off to flying start in ozeki debut


FUKUOKA — Kotoshogiku made a triumphant start to his debut at sumo's second rank of ozeki on Sunday, flattening Tochinoshin at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, the final tournament of 2011.

Kotoshogiku gave his home fans plenty to cheer about with an imperious performance, getting both arms around his second-ranked Georgian opponent and dumping him to the sandy surface at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

Jostling with Kotoshogiku for center stage, Kisenosato kick-started his ozeki promotion bid by squashing Kyokutenho and lone yokozuna Hakuho also won at the 15-day meet that draws to a close a year that will long be remembered as one of the darkest in sumo's long history.

Sumo has had its reputation repeatedly tarnished by a series of scandals, the worst a match-fixing racket that broke earlier this year, and the sudden death earlier this week of sumo elder Naruto has cast another sinister shadow over the dohyo.

Kisenosato looked to be in trouble as Kyokutenho took the initiative and worked him toward the edge of the ring. But the sekiwake dug in deep to turn the tables and crushed out the Mongolian to start his campaign on a positive note.

Kisenosato's mission to make ozeki has been made all the more difficult following the Nov. 7 death of his mentor and stablemaster Naruto.

Naruto passed away from respiratory failure just days after he was put under investigation by the Japan Sumo Association over a magazine report that claimed he once beat a former apprentice with a block of wood and injected Czech-born wrestler Takanoyama with insulin in an attempt to increase his body weight.

Having posted a total of 22 wins over the last two basho, 11 victories here should be enough to secure Kisenosato a move up to ozeki. Under the JSA's loosely defined guidelines, 33 wins over three consecutive tournaments are the minimum requirement for promotion.

Kotoshogiku is fighting in front of his home fans as the first Japanese wrestler to assume the ozeki rank in four years.

Disgraced former ozeki Kotomitsuki was the last Japanese wrestler to gain promotion to the rank after the 2007 Nagoya basho. He was banned for life from the national sport for betting on pro baseball in an illegal gambling racket in summer last year.

Hakuho, who won his 20th Emperor's Cup at the autumn basho, had an easy day at the office, pulling down Homasho by the back of the neck for a quick-fire win over the komusubi.

In other bouts, Harumafuji took out No. 1 maegashira Okinoumi and Bulgarian Kotooshu picked up the first of a minimum eight wins he needs to save his rank by beating top-ranked Goeido with a rear push down.

But ozeki Baruto suffered an upset loss when he was thrown down by komusubi Toyonoshima.

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