Surprise packet Atamifuji closed to within one win of a sensational first top-division championship with a gritty victory over fellow rank-and-file wrestler Abi at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament on Saturday.
Contesting just his second makuuchi division tournament as a No. 15 maegashira, the 21-year-old from Shizuoka Prefecture became the sole leader at 11-3 after joint overnight leader Takakeisho (10-4) lost his ozeki battle with Hoshoryu (7-7).
Sekiwake Daieisho, No. 7 Takayasu and No. 11 Hokuseiho joined Takakeisho on the second rung of the leaderboard as they improved to 10-4 on the penultimate day of the 15-day competition at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
No. 2 Abi (8-6) shifted sideways at the jump and tried to shove Atamifuji out from behind, but the young contender was able to regain his balance and secure a grip that he used to force the former sekiwake over the straw.
Atamifuji was left with a bleeding nose after the win, which followed losses to Daieisho and Takakeisho, respectively.
Needing to win all of his remaining bouts to avoid demotion-threatened "kadoban" status at the next meet, Hoshoryu showed off the grappling skills that propelled him to his first Emperor's Cup in July and ozeki promotion.
Takakeisho delivered a powerful opening charge, but the nephew of Mongolian great Asashoryu secured a grip and remained balanced just inside the straw bales as he toppled his opponent with an overarm throw.
Daieisho continued his outstanding second week of the tournament, staying in contention and racking up an eighth straight win via an arm-lock throw against ozeki Kirishima (8-6).
"(The winning streak) is a mental thing," Daieisho said. "I think my sumo is getting stronger and stronger. I will just keep doing my sumo, pushing and thrusting."
No. 11 Hokuseiho also racked up his eighth straight win, forcing out No. 16 Tsurugisho. Former ozeki Takayasu stayed in the race by pushing out komusubi Tobizaru (6-8), who faces demotion after being consigned to a losing record for the 15-day tournament.
New sekiwake Kotonowaka (8-6) earned his all-important eighth win by throwing Kazakh No. 10 Kinbozan (9-5) out of the title race, while sekiwake Wakamotoharu improved to 9-5 by forcing out No. 6 Onosho (8-6).