NAGOYA – Sekiwake Kotoshogiku took a major step to filling the void left by Kaio and earning promotion to ozeki after condemning Hakuho to a shock first defeat at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Wednesday.
Kotoshogiku (9-2) charged into the Mongolian yokozuna and had him on the rails twice before brute strength and sheer determination prevailed in the finale at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.
“My mind is totally blank,” Kotoshogiku said after the win. “I knew I had to go on the offensive from the start and was so into the bout that I can’t even remember it.”
The result handed sole possession of the lead at the 15-day meet to Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji, who was always in control in the preceding bout, getting a firm left-hand grip on Kotooshu’s (8-3) belt and working the Bulgarian over the bales.
Despite the defeat Hakuho, who is seeking a record eighth consecutive title, is still the favorite to cart home the tourney hardware at the first regular meet to be held since a match-fixing scandal plunged sumo into crisis.
Kotoshogiku, meanwhile, can still not afford to lose any more of his remaining bouts if he hopes to secure promotion and replace all-time career wins leader Kaio, who decided to retire after a seventh defeat on Tuesday.
“I’m delighted with the win and hopefully I can get close to (being a wrestler like) Kaio,” said Kotoshogiku.
Kaio’s retirement leaves sumo without any Japanese occupying the top two ranks of ozeki or yokozuna for the first time since 1993. Americans Akebono and Konishiki reigned as ozeki at the time when there was no grand champion.
In other bouts, Baruto pulled down Aminishiki (1-10) and the Estonian behemoth demonstrated great balance at the edge of the ring to remain two wins off the pace.
Kisenosato rebounded after missing out on a third consecutive regular meet win over Hakuho, moving into the winning column at 6-5 after shunting out second-ranked Toyonoshima (5-6).
Veteran Kaio steps aside
Battle-worn former ozeki Kaio, the all-time career wins leader, said Tuesday it does not feel like he has retired but insists he can draw the curtain on an illustrious but injury-plagued career with no regrets.
“It still hasn’t sunk in. It feels a bit weird,” Kaio, who filed his retirement papers earlier in the day, said during a news conference.
“I see it (the news about my retirement) on television and it’s then that I think it’s for real. I’m glad I chose to be in the sumo world and I’ve met a lot of different people and experienced things I would not have been able to in a different line of work,” he said.
“I fought hard to move up the rankings and was able to keep going so long because of the support I’ve had,” Kaio said, adding, “I leave nothing behind. I might not have reached yokozuna or won the championship in front of my home fans in Kyushu but I’ve had a fulfilling career and have no regrets.”
The hugely popular Kaio suffered his seventh defeat of the ongoing Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Tuesday and decided to call time on his career after speaking with stablemaster Tomozuna.
He would have needed to win his remaining five bouts at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium to avoid facing demotion at the autumn basho in September.
The 38-year-old Kaio was the last remaining Japanese wrestler at sumo’s second-highest rank after Kotomitsuki was banned for life from the national sport for betting on pro baseball last summer.
It is the first time since the 1993 New Year basho that no Japanese will occupy the top two ranks of ozeki or yokozuna. Americans Akebono and Konishiki reigned at ozeki at that time when there was no yokozuna.
His body bruised and battered, Kaio won his career 1,046th bout on the fifth day to surpass former yokozuna Chiyonofuji as the all-time leader and added another win on the seventh day, but he suffered his third defeat in a row at the hands of rival ozeki Kotooshu on the 10th day on Tuesday.
Kaio, who will act as a coach at the Tomozuna stable, will assume the stable elder’s name Asakayama.