Bulgarian Kotooshu yesterday became the first European sumo wrestler to win a tournament, breaking the Mongolians' stranglehold on the ancient Japanese sport.
"Finally, I made it," said the Bulgarian, once dubbed sumo’s David Beckham for his Western looks and charming smile.
Kotooshu, whose real name is Kaloyan Mahlyanov, easily pushed over lower-ranked Mongolian Ama at Kokugikan Stadium, where his delighted father waved a Bulgarian flag.
With 13 wins and just one defeat on day 14 of the 15-day tournament, he is now guaranteed victory.
“It’s so delightful. I can’t find the right words to express my feelings,” the beaming 25-year-old told reporters. “I just concentrated on my sumo. That’s all.”
Kotooshu’s two main rivals, Mongolians Hakuho and Asashoryu, put in mediocre performances to stand at 11-3 and 10-4 respectively.
Kotooshu is the first European and seventh foreign wrestler to win the Emperor’s Cup.
The Bulgarian, who stands 2.02m tall and weighs 155kg, now aims to become yokozuna grand champion at the next tournament in July.
Kotooshu made his professional sumo debut in November 2002 and became the first European to reach ozeki, one rank below yokozuna, in 2005.
Former French president Jacques Chirac, one of Kotooshu’s biggest fans, asked to meet him during a March 2005 visit to Japan, and in April 2006, the EU made him its goodwill ambassador to Japan.
Takamiyama, a Hawaiian American whose real name is Jesse James Wailani Kuhaulua, became the first foreigner to win a bi-monthly top-division sumo tournament in 1972.
He and three fellow Hawaiians have won a total 26 tournaments before Asashoryu, 27, whose real name is Dolgorsurengiin Dagvadorj, won his first tournament in 2002 to usher in the years of Mongolian domination in sumo.
Hakuho, born as Monkhbatyn Davaajargal 23 years ago, lifted his first Emperor’s Cup in mid-2006. The two Mongolians have won 28 out of the last 33 tournaments between them.