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First European to enter Makuuchi
Tsaguria Levan was the first ever European sumo wrestler to enter the topmost division in sumo: the makuuchi. Known by the shikona, or ring name, Kokkai, which is Japanese for "Black Sea" he has made his presence felt in the upper layers of sumo rankings. Standing 188 cm tall and weighing around 160 kg the former Free-style wrestler is easy to spot on the platform, wearing a baby-blue mawashi and a slight five o'clock shadow.

Tsaguria was born in the Republic of Georgia on March 10, 1981. He inherited his interest in wrestling from his father, who was a well-known wrestling champion in the then Soviet Union. The Civil War in the Republic of Georgia, following the collapse of the USSR, forced the Levan-family to leave their hometown of Sukhumi and move to Tiblisi in 1993.

Tsaguria Levan was 12 years old when he came to Tiblisi, and here he joined the Georgia Sports Academy: he wanted to be a wrestler and he wanted to be in the Olympics. He did very well, and by the time he was 18 he competed in free-style wrestling in the 130 kg division - until the rules changed! Suddenly, he was too heavy to wrestle. Weighing 135 kg he would have to lose at least 15 kg to be allowed to wrestle, and he knew that would be a problem.

Kokkai states that it was watching sumo on TV that gave him the idea: sumo does not have upper weight limits. That suited him just fine. Sumo had another thing going for it too: it was a professional sport unlike the wrestling he previously had been competing in. So, when spotted by a sumo-scout from Japan, he left home to become a sumo wrestler.

Once in Japan he joined Oitekaze beya. He took the shikona Kokkai, and began learning Japanese from the okami-san - the wife of the trainer (the oyakata). He trained and did his chores, and in 2003 he was promoted to the juryo division, the second highest division in sumo.

Kokkai performed well in juryo, and within a year (in January 2004) he entered the makuuchi division after getting a 14-1 result in the November basho (tournament) 2003. Though he was soon joined by Bulgarian Kotooshu and Russian Roho, he was the first European in makuuchi.

Kokkai moved steadily up through the ranks, reaching maegashira 1 in September 2004. Since then he has endured make-koshi (fewer wins than losses) 4 times, and this has moved him back a little, landing him as maegashira 6 in the July 2005 Banzuke (Official Ranking List).

Kokkai has won the following special prizes:

  • 2 Kinboshi (Gold star, for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)
  • 2 Kanto sho (Fighting Spirit prize)

Kokkai can sometimes look unstable and somewhat flailing, but he usually comes around to some quite neat sumo. He has learned to watch his legs, a detail that caused him trouble for a while. One of the "Behemoths of sumo"1 Kokkai rose to the rank of komusubi2 and remained there for a spell, but has since slipped down all the way to juryo, where he seems to be fighting a losing battle, as it were.

1: Named so by a couple of agitated TV sports-commentators, whose names I don't remember...
2: Above the (usually) 16 or 17 maegashira comes the sanyaku: the top ranks: komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.

My sources are all over the web, but I like www.scgroup.com/sumo and www.sumo.or.jp/eng

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