Estonian Baruto aims for sumo’s top rank

by and

Kyodo News

When you think of sumo wrestlers with killer instinct, perhaps no one was more venomous inside and out the ring than retired former yokozuna Asashoryu.

Estonian man-mountain Baruto has a different philosophy altogether: Win at all costs, but keep a sunny smile.

After becoming only the second European after Bulgarian Kotooshu to reach sumo’s second highest rank of ozeki last month, the 25-year-old faces his biggest test yet as he aims to reach the ultimate rank of yokozuna in the near future.

“If I can’t make yokozuna this year then I intend to make it next year. I’m really not sure but I just plan to work really hard,” Baruto said at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Wednesday.

Unlike Asashoryu, who occasionally gave opponents an extra shove for emphasis even after winning a bout, this gentle giant said such horseplay can only lead to trouble.

“I’ve had my share of injuries and I know how it feels to suffer. In that respect, I don’t want to do anything to cause other wrestlers injuries. That’s very important to me.”

Baruto, whose real name is Kaido Hoovelson, debuted in sumo in May 2004 and claimed a title in the second-tier juryo division with a perfect 15-0 record two years later.

He amassed 35 wins in three consecutive tournaments, beating Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho in January before posting an impressive 14-1 record at the spring basho in March.

“I never expected to become ozeki so quickly. I was surprised that I could win 14 bouts. There is a lot of pressure but I want to work hard to respond to my fans’ expectations. The next step for me can only be grand champion.”

Baruto’s stablemaster Onoe, who became an “oyakata” in 2006 after his retirement two years earlier, said the ozeki’s sunny disposition is a quality he should never lose.

“All wrestlers have their unique personalities. Baruto is friendly and gentle and he shouldn’t change that. He has to win to get promoted but outside the ring I don’t want him to forget to smile,” Onoe said.

Baruto, who stands at 197 centimeters and is the heaviest in the elite makuuchi division at 187 kilograms, said in order to reach his next goal he will have to add more techniques to his arsenal and get a better jump at the all-important “tachiai,” or face-off.

“The first thing is the tachiai. I also have to learn more techniques. Hakuho is big but he is also very light on his feet.”