Tochinoshin is one win away from claiming his first championship after dispatching Ichinojo at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Friday.
Grand champion Kakuryu suffered his third straight loss on the 13th day of the 15-day tournament at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan and now trails Tochinoshin by two wins.
"I'm out there to win," the yokozuna said. "I wasn't concentrating and that was the result."
Tochinoshin, a No. 3 maegashira whose only loss here was to the yokozuna, posted his sixth straight victory, defeating top-ranked maegashira Ichinojo (8-5). The two maegashira held onto each other's belts, but the 177-kilogram Tochinoshin lifted the 215-kg Mongolian toward the edge and forced him out.
"My heart was pounding, but I was still able to deliver good sumo," said the 30-year-old Tochinoshin. "He certainly isn't light."
He is poised to become the first maegashira wrestler to win a grand tournament championship since Mongolia's Kyokutenho won the May 2012 tourney.
"I'll be fine," Tochinoshin said. "If I keep wrestling the way I have been, I'll do it."
The Georgian, who seized the sole lead on Thursday, can secure his title on Saturday with a win against No. 9 Shohozan (9-4).
In the day's final bout, Kakuryu was shoved out by sekiwake Mitakeumi (8-5). The Dewanoumi stable sekiwake snapped his five-match losing streak to secure a winning record.
"I'm glad. I can't say I didn't feel pressure after having consecutive losses," Mitakeumi said.
The two ozeki won their respective bouts. Takayasu (10-3) bulldozed fourth-ranked maegashira Arawashi (6-7) out to secure his sixth straight win. Goeido (7-6) snapped his three-match losing streak when he dispatched No. 5 Okinoumi (4-9).
Fan-favorite No.5 Endo (8-5) secured a winning record at the meet after beating former ozeki Kotoshogiku (6-7). Endo forced out his opponent, who is now the second-ranked maegashira.
Earlier in the day, No. 10 maegashira Aminishiki (2-8-3), who missed three days during the meet due to injury, posted his first win since he returned on Day 10. The Isegahama stable wrestler held on to No.6 Ikioi (2-11) and pulled him down.
Aminishiki became the oldest wrestler, at 39, to return to the elite makuuchi division at last year's Kyushu meet and won the Fighting Spirit prize. However, he had only one win before hurting his right knee on Day 5.
"That went well for a start," Aminishiki said. "Every win is big. Now it's a matter of doing all I'm capable of on the final two days."