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The 69th Yokozuna

The White Phoenix
Hakuho is a sumo wrestler from Mongolia who has made it very big in Japanese sumo. His ring name - his shikona - means White Phoenix,1 and it fits him well as he is really soaring high.

Hakuho, or Munkhbat Davaajargal, was born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on March 11, 1985. He became involved in wrestling at an early age, as his father was an avid wrestler, having won a silver medal in free-style wrestling at the Olympic Games in 1968.

At the age of 15 Munkhbat arrived in Japan, wanting to take a shot at sumo. But he had difficulties in getting any of the heya (training school or 'stable') masters to take him in. He was rather skinny (being almost 190cm and weighing less than 70 kg), and looked decidedly unimpressive at the time. It was not until he was about to turn around and head back for Mongolia, that fellow countryman and sumotori, Maegashira Kyokoshuzan from Miyagino Beya, convinced Miyagino Oyakata2 to give the boy a chance. This was in 2000.

During the next 4 years young Munkhbat - now Hakuho - trained hard. He grew to be 192 cm tall, and he kept putting on weight, until he reached a more sumo-like weight around 150kg. He was promoted to Juryo3 (the second highest division in sumo) in January, 2004, and to makuuchi (the highest division) in May 2004. After only six basho (tournaments) as a maegashira he proceeded to be promoted to komusubi4.

Hakuho was injured during the July tournament in 2005 , but it didn't keep him back for any significant amount of time. In the September basho he was back, and knocked up a winning score of 9-6.5

Hakuho is a very strong and technically proficient wrestler. There are many similarities between his sumo, and that of Yokozuna (Grand Champion) Asashoryu: they are both able to change the style of attack in the middle of a bout, they are fast, and they can 'think on their feet'. Both have a background in Mongolian Wrestling as teens, and neither of them is very heavy. There is no doubt in my mind that Hakuho will soon join Asashoryu as yokozuna. He has the talent and the stamina; all he needs is time.

In March, 2006, Hakuho was promoted to ozeki, after coming second in the March tournament. In the following basho, in May, he ended up collecting the Emperor's cup (for winning the basho). Some may claim he only won because the yokozuna was injured and had to withdraw, but nevertheless Hakuho fought a brilliant tournament. He deserved this victory - and what must have made it even sweeter, was the fact that his father had come all the way from Mongolia to witness his son's first basho as ozeki.

Hakuho has won the following special prizes:

  • 31 Emperor's Cup (for winning 31 basho)
  • 3 Shukun sho (Outstanding Performance Award)
  • 1 Kanto sho (Figting Spirit prize)
  • 2 Gino sho (Technique Award)
  • 1 Kinboshi (Gold Star for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)
After winning two basho in a row (March and May, 2007) he was promoted to the rank of yokozuna. For two years there had only been the one yokozuna - namely Asashoryu - so it made for a nice change. But since Asashoryu's retirement in February, 2010, we're back to one yokozuna, and it's anybody's guess who will join Hakuho in the top, and when..

  1. Hakuho, was also the name of the era during the 1960's, dominated by Yokozuna (grand champions) Taiho and Kashiwado. And it was a period of some 70 years (from 640 to 710) where Japan i.e. saw an almost agressive spread of Buddhism under the rule of different regimes.
  2. The 'Oyakata' is the master of the training school.
  3. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  4. The ranks in the top division are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.
  5. The regular basho runs over 15 days. Each wrestler fights one bout each day.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, and reading the sports section of Japan Times Online, http://www.scgroup.com/sumo and http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng.

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