the Japan Sumo Association conferred on 30-year-old Kisenosato the sport’s highest rank, yokozuna, making him the 72nd Grand Champion and the first Japanese wrestler to gain the title since Wakanohana in 1998.
“I accept with all humility,” Kisenosato said
at a ceremony to mark his promotion.
“I will devote myself to the role and try not to disgrace the title of yokozuna.”
Professional sumo consists of 10 levels, from jonokuchi to yokozuna, with wrestlers rising through the ranks as they rack up tournament wins.
After being promoted to ozeki, the second-highest rank, sumo wrestlers must win two consecutive tournaments or post an equivalent record of wins.
After that, a judging body decides whether the wrestler has demonstrated the “correct character, poise and dignity.”
Among the more than 600 professional sumo wrestlers, there are currently less than four yokozuna, according to NHK.
Kisenosato’s promotion comes after winning the new year tournament with a record
of 14 victories and one defeat.
The 175 kilogram (385 lb) Kisenosato, real name Yutaka Hagiwara, has been competing
since 2002, reaching the rank of ozeki in five years ago.
Traditionally dominated by Japanese sportsmen, foreign born sumo wrestlers have outshone their local rivals in recent years.
At home, the sport has faced competition
from more popular foreign imports like baseball and soccer, and been rocked
by corruption and match fixing allegations.
Last year, 15 of the 42 wrestlers in the top division were from outside Japan, according to NHK
. Wrestlers from Hawaii, Samoa and in particular Mongolia, where a traditional form of wrestling similar to sumo is practiced, have proliferated.
“Talking to Japanese fans, (they say) Mongolians are simply hungrier to win in sumo. In Japan, sumo wrestlers, even champions, aren’t particularly rich by national standards,” photographer Taylor Weidman, who shadowed Mongolian wrestlers last year, told CNN
“In Mongolia, though, the same salaries seem much bigger. Sumo champions are also incredibly famous in Mongolia, and former champions have parlayed their sumo careers into careers in politics and business.”
There are 23 Mongolian wrestlers currently competing at all levels of professional sumo.
CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki contributed reporting from Tokyo.
26 January 2017 | 2:30 am
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