Sumo | Rikishi Files

Baruto overcame obstacles to become ozeki

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

In early 2004, two massive Estonians moved to Japan to join professional sumo.

Ott Juurikas became a member of the Irumagawa stable but was complaining about feeling out of place almost immediately, and after just a single outing, he quit the sport and returned home.

Juurikas compiled a 5-2 record in that tournament with one of his losses coming to compatriot Kaido Hoovelson.

Initially finding a place in the Mihogaseki stable, Hoovelson went 7-0 in his debut, and rocketed up the rankings, reaching the paid ranks just over a year later.

Standing 198 cm and far outweighing most of the rikishi in the lower divisions, Hoovelson physically dominated opponents on his way to the upper reaches of the sport.

His signature move was reaching both hands over the back of shorter rikishi and lifting them crane-like out of the ring.

The unorthodox technique required huge strength but also placed a lot of strain on joints and as a result Baruto (his ring name coming from the Baltic region) suffered from continual and lingering knee problems.

Baruto, who retired in 2013, managed to reach the sport’s second-highest rank and win a championship despite those obstacles and while he was a terrifying sight inside the ring, outside it he was a gentle giant.

It was rare to encounter a Baruto that wasn’t smiling or joking around. His laid-back demeanor made him very popular among the general public, but occasionally led to tensions with more serious-minded members of the sumo world.

Outside the ring his hobbies included collecting rare gold coins and playing pachinko.

Post retirement his interest in new and different things has only increased. The Rakvere native has been by turns a farmer, actor, MMA fighter, tourism ambassador and politician.

Currently a member of parliament, Baruto has intimated to friends that his ambition is to eventually become president of Estonia.