Giant killer Kiribayama defeated behemoth Ichinojo at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament on Wednesday, September 15 to stay undefeated at 4-0 and set up a tantalizing showdown with new yokozuna Terunofuji, who also kept a clean slate on Day 4.
Elsewhere, both ozeki grapplers won for the first time on the same day in an early indication the Autumn basho still has plenty of drama left.
Mongolian Terunofuji absorbed a furious charge at the face-off by Hokutofuji in the day’s final bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
But knowing he owned a 6-0 record against the No. 2 maegashira going into the bout, Terunofuji kept his calm and fought off a series of slaps and thrusts to the upper body.
After moving his opponent to the center of the ring, Terunofuji displayed some impressive footwork when he sidestepped Hokutofuji before swatting him down with his left arm.
Terunofuji, who was promoted to sumo’s highest rank in July after going 14-1 in the Nagoya basho, is tied for the lead with three other wrestlers.
With fellow grand champion Hakuho sitting out the 15-day meet after one of his stablemates was infected with the coronavirus, Terunofuji is the odds-on favorite, but it’s too early to pop the champagne corks.
He’ll face a stern challenge on Day 5 when he takes on Kiribayama who got a left-hand grip of Ichinoji’s belt and forced the Mongolian out over the straw ridge.
Komusubi Ichinojo, who holds a 66-kg weight advantage over Kiribayama, dropped to 1-3.
No. 2 maegashira Kiribayama has now beaten an ozeki, two komusubi wrestlers and a sekiwake.
He is a career 0-3 against Terunofuji but should be brimming with confidence for the showdown with the new yokozuna.
Elsewhere, No. 10 maegashira Myogiryu stayed tied for the lead at 4-0 when he used a series of powerful arm thrusts to overpower Georgian Toshinoshin, a 12th-ranked maegashira who dropped to 1-3.
Chiyonokuni also stayed in the pack of leaders when he was awarded a walkover win against fellow rank-and-filer Tsurugisho, who pulled out with an illness just before the start of Wednesday’s bouts.
It was a good day for the tournament’s two ozeki wrestlers.
Ozeki Shodai fought off an arm thrust to the neck and twisted down top maegashira Takanosho at the edge to improve to 3-1. Takanosho, who appeared to tweak his right knee, hobbled off the dohyo at 1-3.
Demotion-threatened “kadoban” ozeki Takakeisho finally got in the win column when he used a left-handed thrust to the back of Hoshoryu to send the top maegashira sprawling to the dirt surface.
Takakeisho improved to 1-3 but still has a considerable mountain to climb to reach the winning record he needs to maintain his ozeki status. Hoshoryu fell to 1-3.
Sekiwake Mitakeumi heaped more pain on winless komusubi Takayasu when he hauled his opponent down shortly after the face-off to improve to 3-1.
Takayasu came into the tournament hoping to challenge for the title but has had a dismal start and is all but out of contention at 0-4.
Sekiwake Meisei showed some deft footwork at the edge when he dodged to his side and bundled out No. 3 maegashira Kotonowaka out to give both grapplers a 2-2 record.
Further down the ranks, Shimanoumi handed Tobizaru his first loss with a perfectly executed pulling overarm throw.
Seventh-ranked maegashira Shimanoumi improved to 2-2 while No. 8 maegashira Tobizaru dropped to 3-1.
The Japan Sumo Association is limiting attendance at Ryogoku to 5,000 spectators as part of COVID-19 countermeasures.
First Star: Kiribayama. With a big win over the 206-kg Ichinojo, the undefeated No. 2 maegashira is literally a giant slayer.
Second Star: Takakeisho. After a dismal 0-3 start, “kadoban” ozeki Takakeisho showed resolve against a very tough opponent in Hoshoryu.
Third Star: Shodai. The ozeki needed a win to stay close to the leaders and got it with a fine effort against top maegashira Takanosho.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.