FUKUOKA – The Japan Sumo Association approved the promotion of Bulgarian wrestler Kotooshu to ozeki on Wednesday, making him the first European to reach the sport’s second-highest rank.
Kotooshu’s promotion was endorsed unanimously by the JSA executives and officials who worked on the rankings for the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January. The 22-year-old is the fifth foreign-born ozeki and the first wrestler to earn ozeki promotion since Asashoryu in July 2002.
“I am pleased to accept (the promotion). I will train vigorously to live up to my position as ozeki,” Kotooshu said to the officials the JSA sent to his Sadogatake stable in Fukuoka to convey the decision.
“I’m relieved to be released from all the pressure,” he told reporters afterward. “I’ll do my best to be a strong ozeki looking to move up one more notch in the rankings. The yokozuna and everybody else are all my rivals and I don’t want to lose to any of them.”
Kotooshu, whose real name is Kaloyan Mahlyanov, has appeared in 19 tournaments since his debut in November 2002, making him the quickest to reach the rank of ozeki since 1958, when sumo switched to the current system of having six tournaments a year.
Mongolian Asashoryu, currently wrestling at the highest rank of yokozuna, held the previous record of 22 tournaments.
“Moving up the rankings at such a quick pace shows he has great talent and hopefully he will try harder in order to meet everyone’s expectations and become a yokozuna,” JSA Chairman Kitanoumi said.
Kotooshu was virtually assured of ozeki rank after finishing the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday with an 11-4 record following his impressive showings of 12-3 and 13-2 in the previous two tournaments.
The combined 36 wins over the three meets surpassed the JSA’s loosely set promotion standard for ozeki candidates — roughly 33 wins or more in three meets. In the process, Kotooshu stayed in title contention until a very late stage in July and September.
His performance was particularly convincing in the autumn meet in September, when he looked set to become the first wrestler from Europe to capture the Emperor’s Cup before surrendering a two-win lead and losing to Asashoryu in a championship playoff.
In the Kyushu meet, he wrestled as a sekiwake, the third-highest rank on the sumo ladder, for the second time in a row and lost his first-day bout and failed to keep pace with eventual winner Asashoryu.