Asashoryu dazzles fans in comeback win

TOKYO (AFP) — Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu made a successful comeback Sunday, clinching his 23rd trophy in the ancient Japanese national sport despite months of nagging injuries.

Asashoryu, 28, whose real name is Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, defeated compatriot Hakuho, 23, in a playoff after initially succumbing to his younger rival in their first bout on the final day of the 15-day New Year tournament.

Asashoryu was returning to the sumo arena after skipping his last tournament and withdrawing from two earlier contests halfway through due to an injury to his left elbow.

Under sumo tradition, a grand champion, or yokozuna, never takes a demotion but retires when his scores start declining.

"Everyone, thank you very much. Really. I am back," an emotional Asashoryu said after his win.

Despite being the fifth most successful wrestler in sumo history, Asashoryu is known for his abrasive remarks and manners, which Japanese traditionalists say do not fit the ideal of a restrained grand champion.

Asashoryu came into the tournament's final day with 14 wins and no defeats to face Hakuho, whose real name is Monkhbatyn Davaajargal, who had won 13 times and lost once.

During their first bout of the day, Asashoryu lost his balance and was pushed out of the ring with "frontal crush out" or "yoritaoshi."

Had Asashoryu won the first bout, he would have taken the Emperor's Cup with a perfect victory record of 15-0.

However, several minutes later, the two Mongolians faced again in the playoff, when Asashoryu kept his body balance low and forced his head against the throat of Hakuho, pushing his opponent out of the ring with "frontal force out" or "yorikiri."

After the playoff victory, Asashoryu pumped his fists in jubilation.

"This is a victory after you overcame a number of difficulties. A yokozuna should stay strong," said Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who presented the trophy.

Despite the criticism he has faced, the return of Asashoryu to the sumo ring has excited many fans.

Ticket sales and television ratings surged as Asashoryu embarked on his tournament winning streak.