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The 68th Yokozuna

Yokozuna Asashoryu Akinori was born in Ulan Bator in Mongolia on September 27, 1980. His mongolian name is Dolgosuren Dagvadorj. His Sumo ring-name - shikona - translates into ”Blue Dragon of the Morning”. He is the 68th Yokozuna, and only the third non-Japanese (Hawaiians Akebono and Musashimaru being the first and second).

He started out as a wrestler in Mongolian Wrestling (in his homeland), along with his father and one of his brothers. Mongolian Wrestling is somewhat similar to Sumo, but it is not as big a sport in Mongolia as Sumo is in Japan. So, having another brother who was a rikishi in Japan, young Dolgosuren moved to Japan at the age of 16, and took up Sumo.

He advanced at an astonishing speed from humble beginnings in the Juryo-division1 in 1999, racing through the ranks of the Makuuchi-division2, going directly from Maegashira 12 to Maegashira 6 in two Basho (tournaments)3. In the 2001 Natsu Basho (May) he became Komusubi west, and 14 months - 7 Bashos - later, in September 2002, he was Ozeki 3 east.

Asashoryu is not a very large or massive wrestler. He weighs in at around 148 kgs and is 184 cm tall - not very impressive as (sumo)size goes. But he is lightning fast, and he can ”think on his feet”. He can radically change his tactics in the middle of a bout, enabling him to try one tactic after the other, until one of them brings around victory. And he is agressive to the point where it is clear, that he does not consider defeat to be an option. Indeed, in his time as Sekitori he has only endured make-koshi (fewer wins than losses)4 twice, latest in May, 2006, where he was injured on the second day of the tournament.

He was promoted to the rank of yokozuna in 2003, after winning the Kyushu Basho (November) 2002 (14-1) and the Hatsu Basho (January) 2003 (14-1). At the time there were two yokozuna: Musashimaru (east) and Takanohana (west). Takanohana retired when Asashoryu was promoted (but not because of it), and Musashimaru retired shortly after.

For the last almost four years Asashoryu has been the only yokozuna, but in May, 2007, fellow Mongolian Hakuho was promoted, and joined Asashoryu at the top of sanyaku. There is no real limit as to how many yokozuna there can be at a time, but more than four or five would probably not be very practical. One way of becoming a yokozuna is to win two consecutive Basho5, and for the longest time Asashoryu did not seem inclined to let anybody else do this. Up until 2007 the only times he has not won the basho has been when he has been forced to withdraw because of injuries (except for the 2004 Aki Basho (September) (9-6), where his bad performance most certainly was related to his getting married in August, the same year).

Since he became yokozuna, Asashoryu has won the Emperor's Cup an impressing twenty five times; only four rikishi have won that many Basho since 1927, the most notorious being Taiho Koki who won 32 times. Taiho also won 45 bouts in a row, whereas Asashoryu's personal record is 35.

Asashoryu has won the following special prizes:

  • 25 Emperor's cup (for winning 25 basho)
  • 3 Shukun sho (Outstanding Performance Award)
  • 3 Kanto sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)
  • 1 Kinboshi (for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)

In January, 2007, a Japanese magazine, "Shukan Gendai", published an article that accused Asashoryu of bribing his opponents during the November basho, 2006. The Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association) interviewed the wrestlers named in the article, but all denied knowing anything about any bribery. The Kyokai is preparing to take legal action against the publisher of "Shukan Gendai".
Mainichi Daily News, February 25, 2007

On January 16, 2010, Asashoryu alledgedly hit a man in the face during a small brawl in a night club, breaking the man's nose. After weeks of debating and discussing the incident the Sumo Kyokai decided to suspend the yokozuna, but he preempted the suspension with an announcement of his retirement from the world of sumo. As of February 4, 2010, Yokozuna Asashoryu left the Japanese sumo scene.

"So many things have happened. I have caused a lot of trouble but I have no regrets about my sumo."
I am going to miss his presence very much. Top sumo will not be the same with no Asashoryu.

1: Juryo is the first of the two top divisions, right below Makuuchi.
2: The Makuuchi (Makunouchi) division contains the ranks of Maegashira, Komusubi, Sekiwake, Ozeki, and Yokozuna.
3: The Basho are named Hatsu, Haru, Natsu, Nagoya, Aki, and Kyushu. They take place in the odd-numbered months, beginning in January.
4: A Basho lasts 15 days. Each rikishi wrestles once a day. (Technically, Asashoryu also got make-koshi in Nagoya Basho 2004 with a score of 5-5-5 - that's 5 wins, 5 losses, and 5 losses by fusenhai (no show). But that doesn't count, 'cause I'm biased).
5: Actually it takes a bit more than that, but you get the general idea...
My sources are all over the web, but I tend to come back to http://www.scgroup.com/sumo and http://chijanofuji.com

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