Sumo | Rikishi Files

Kyokutenho was a trailblazer

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

In 1991, though most people didn’t realize it at the time, the Oshima stablemaster made a decision that would dramatically alter the course of sumo over the next several decades.

The former ozeki brought six young men from Mongolia into his stable and began a process that has led to the sport being utterly dominated by wrestlers from the landlocked east Asian nation for most of the current millennium.

It almost didn’t turn out that way however, as the unfamiliarity of Japan and the harshness of sumo life led to five of the six running away and seeking refuge in the Mongolian Embassy before finally being convinced to return.

Three of the teenagers did leave for good after short careers, but those that stayed and opened up a gateway into sumo from Mongolia through which four future yokozuna and numerous other high-level wrestlers would pass.

One of the trailblazers was Kyokutenho.

The Nalaikh native went on to have a 23-year career that saw him retire as the all-time leader in top division bouts with 1, 470.

The high point of his sumo life came in May 2012 when he downed Tochiozan in a playoff to win his first and only Emperor’s Cup.

At 37, Kyokutenho was also the oldest first-time champion in the history of the sport.

The TV footage of an emotional Asahisho in floods of tears waiting for Kyokutenho as he walked back from the ring after that fight is one of the most indelible sumo images of the past 10 years.

Kyokutenho had been slated to take over Oshima Beya when the former stablemaster reached the mandatory retirement age just one month earlier, but he wasn’t ready to hang up his mawashi and the decision to keep fighting immediately turned out to be the best of his career.

When the veteran did finally call it a day, he ended up becoming stablemaster of Tomozuna Beya — a position he still holds.