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The Russian Bear
This scarred Russian warrior is a sumo wrestler on the rise - which is really fitting as his shikona (ring name), Roho, literally means Russian Phoenix.

Roho, or Boradzov Soslan Feliksovich, was born in the Soviet Union (now Russia) on March 9, 1980, in Vladikavkaz, near what was to become the Republic of Georgia. He entered the world of Japanese sumo1 in 2002 under the watchful eye of former legendary yokozuna (Grand Champion) Taiho2, then head of the Taiho Beya (training school). His shikona is a tribute to Taiho, and Roho is reported to have said: "I want to be like him." He made juryo in January, 2003, and only ten basho (grand tournaments) later, in September 2004, he reached the top division, makuuchi3.

The nick name, "The Russian Bear", is due to his burly precense on the dohyo (he weighs 152kg and stands 1.95 m tall). He relies very much on strength, often giving the more elaborate techniques a slip. Strength got him through the lower sumo divisions and far up in the makuuchi, but in the upper part of makuuchi he met the strong technicians, and this put a temporary damper on the Russian locomotive. He seems to have refined his wrestling style now, though, and is advancing once again.

With a background in Greco-Roman wrestling - also known as classical or olympic wrestling - Roho has had to learn to use his legs. In classical wrestling it is not allowed to hook your opponent's leg with either hand or leg; Kokkai, a Georgian sumotori, also with a classical background, had a hard time learning to watch his legs, once the opponents had him figured out. Roho does seem to have adapted well, and is less prone to lose by a leg-involving kimarite (winning technique) than by over-zealousness; coming on so fast and strong that his opponent merely side-steps, sending him headlong onto the dohyo floor, with either a hatakikomi or a hikiotoshi.

Roho has a younger brother, Hakurozan, also dedicated to sumo. He belongs to Hatachiyama beya, and any time soon we may see the two brothers meeting each other on the dohyo - something that has never been seen before. In 1998, when Yokozuna Wakanohana III and Takanohana II reigned, there was the theoretical possibility of a fraternal meeting, but due to the circumstances it just never happened4.

Roho has won the following special prizes:

  • 1 Kanto sho (Fighting Spirit Award)

Although Roho reached the rank of komusubi5 in time for the Haru Basho (March Grand Tournament) '06, he will be demoted again by the next basho in May, as a result of a poor score.

Update: Unfortunately Roho tested positive for marihuana, along with Hakurozan, and both were subseqently banned from Japanese sumo for life in September 2008. At the same time the chairman of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Associantion), former top sumotori Kitanoumi, resigned his chair. He stated: "I am offering my resignation out of my own volition because I have troubled the Sumo Association and its fans. I must reflect deeply by myself."

What a shame.

  1. Sumo in Europe is an amateur sport, while sumo in Japan is professional. The wrestlers below the juryo division are not salaried, though; they are housed, fed, and trained, and receive a small allowance.
  2. Taiho himself has a Russian father and a Japanese Mother, and may have felt a kinship with the boy.
  3. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi.
  4. The two yokozuna belonged to the same heya, so they could only meet if a tied result in a tournament had called for a playoff between them. This never happened.
  5. The ranks in the top division (makuuchi) are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.

My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, http://www.scgroup.com/sumo and http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng.

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