OSAKA – The Japan Sumo Association approved the promotion of Mongolian Hakuho to ozeki Wednesday, making him the sixth foreign-born wrestler to reach sumo’s second-highest rank.
The promotion of Hakuho, 21, was finalized unanimously by JSA executives and officials who worked on the rankings for the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May, when he will step into the raised ring just one rank below compatriot and dominant yokozuna Asashoryu.
Hakuho, whose real name is Munkhbat Davaajargal, is the fourth-youngest wrestler in modern sumo history to be promoted to ozeki after Takanohana, Taiho and current JSA Chairman Kitanoumi, who all went on to become yokozuna legends.
“I’m pleased to accept (the promotion). I will devote my body and soul to sumo so as not to tarnish the rank of ozeki,” Hakuho said to the officials the JSA sent to the training site of his Miyagino stable in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, to convey the decision.
Hakuho told reporters that he will continue to strive for his goal of wrestling in the ultimate rank of the sport.
“I’d never thought I would become an ozeki this early but I still have one more rank to go,” said Hakuho, the first ozeki from the Miyagino stable in 94 years. “I chose those words in my reply (to the JSA officials) to show my determination to give my all to sumo.”
The son of Mexico Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Munkhbat Jigjid, Hakuho is the second Mongolian ozeki and first since Asashoryu was promoted after the Nagoya tournament in July 2002.
The Ulan Bator native is also the first wrestler to earn ozeki promotion since Bulgarian Kotooshu achieved the rank last November.
Asashoryu, Kotooshu and Hakuho follow in the footsteps of Konishiki, Akebono and Musashimaru on the all-time list of foreign-born sumo wrestlers who won ozeki status.
With a solid, straightforward wrestling style reminiscent of that of Takanohana in his heyday, Hakuho convinced JSA officials with a 13-2 record as a sekiwake at the spring meet that ended Sunday before losing to Asashoryu in a championship playoff.
Hakuho had the same impressive mark in January and posted a total of 35 wins in the last three tournaments, meeting the JSA’s loosely set promotion standard of 33 wins or more for ozeki candidates.
He has appeared in 31 tournaments since his professional debut in March 2001 — the seventh-quickest to achieve the ozeki rank since 1958, when sumo switched to the current system of having six tournaments a year.
“I hope he will brace himself to face the battle for promotion to yokozuna without being satisfied with his ozeki position,” JSA Chairman Kitanoumi said. “It took just five years for him to come this far and it has shown he has great potential to become yokozuna. Hopefully he will live up to it.”
In the summer tournament in Tokyo, sumo will have five ozeki wrestlers — Tochiazuma, Kotooshu, Chiyotaikai, Kaio and Hakuho — for the first time since January 2003. Asashoryu will be the sole yokozuna for a record 15th straight meet.