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Sumo Wrestling from Mongolia

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Although the traditional Japanese sport is sumo wrestling, foreigners have participated since 1970. However, few had achieved great success prior to the 1990s. Akebono, a Hawaiian-born wrestler, reached the highest rank of yokozuna in 1993 and was the first foreigner to do so. Others have since become yokozuna, a challenging task because advancing to the highest rank requires not only winning two consecutive championships but also demonstrating power and skill while fighting.

Furthermore, there is Shintaku's more subjective and often contentious question, which translates loosely as "dignity and grace." Very simply, the wrestler maintains the proper decorum that matches the Yokozuna title. As a result, some sumo wrestlers struggled to win the Yokozuna title. There have been reports in the past that some wrestlers failed to achieve yokozuna status because they were foreigners. That is no longer the case as the rank of yokozuna was given to only four. Two of them, as they are called in Japan, are Mongolian — Asashoryu and Hakuho — and they're the only active yokozuna.

Mongolian Sumo Wrestler

In 1991, when Japanese sumo trainers ventured into Mongolia to look for someone who might be suitable for training, Mongolians entered the sumo world. Nearly two hundred Mongolians were observed by Japanese scouts and selected six to take back to Japan. Most of them have struggled to make it because of a number of problems, including homesickness. But Davaagiin Batbayar stayed, although, after only six months of training, he almost returned home as well. He adopted the name "Kyokushuzan" in Japan and became the first Mongolian sumo wrestler to be successful. He retired in 2006 but has made a significant contribution to Mongolia.

For many other Mongolians, he had been the impetus to pursue a sumo wrestling career. Indeed, the origins of amateur sumo tournaments in Mongolia are likely due to his success in the late 1990s.

The best-known Mongolian outside Mongolia is possibly Asashoryu, after Chinggis Khan. As it is known in Mongolia, Dolgors ̈urengiin Dagvadorj entered the sport in 1999 and was not the first Mongolian to try to transfer his Mongolian wrestling skills to a new medium. In Japan, two other Mongolians had attained a respectable level of success. Nevertheless, the success of Asashoryu dwarfs that of most wrestlers. He won the rank of ozeki, the second-highest rank by 2002, and Asashoryu won the rank of yokozuna by the end of January 2003. Asashoryu had won twenty-two tournaments by 2008 and remains one of the most successful competitors in sumo history.

Asashoryu 's career wasn't without controversy, as shown by the "Bad Boy of Sumo" sobriquet. Many Japanese fans are annoyed by the fact that he is not Japanese and yet so strong, and that he refuses to claim Japanese nationality. Yet his habit of failing to comply with the code of conduct expected not only from the yokozuna but from all sumo wrestlers has caused him trouble. That included some conduct in the ring as well as outside the ring. Early in his career, by raising his fist in victory, he violated the sensibility of bushido, the chivalrous notions in Japanese martial arts.

He has also gained a reputation as a womanizer and is often seen in nightclubs. He typically appears in a Western-style suit in public, rather than in the traditional kimono worn by sumo wrestlers. In Mongolia the key moment that cemented his notoriety happened. In July 2007 Asashoryu was given permission by the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) to skip an exhibition tour to recover from elbow and back injuries. He was sadly spotted on television playing soccer in an Ulaanbaatar charity tournament. The JSA, along with his manager, removed him from the autumn tournaments and cut his salary by 30 per cent. The JSA effectively placed him under house arrest as one article put it.

Considering that since 1990 Japan and Mongolia have formed very warm relations, and that Japan is one of Mongolia's largest donors and investors, what happened next is a little shocking. After the news of Asashoryu 's suspension reached Mongolia, demonstrations were taking place outside of the Japanese embassy, and diplomats from both countries were meeting. The success of Asashoryu now represented more than just an athletic competition. Some Japanese companies were concerned that their investments in Mongolian minerals and other areas could suffer a backlash. Some also accused the JSA of seeking to remove Mongolian wrestlers, who had started dominating the sport recently.

He was reinstated by the JSA in August 2007 but retribution for potential transgressions, such as the sword of Damocles, is likely to hang over Asashoryu 's head. The JSA, therefore, gave permission to Asashoryu to return to Mongolia to cope with extreme depression. The other Mongolian yokozuna, Hakuho, has continued the trend towards Mongolian sumo domination in his absence.

Hakuho, or Monkhbatyn Davaajargal, comes from a successful line of wrestling. His friend, Jigjid Monkhbat, won the 1968 Olympics for the silver medal in freestyle wrestling. In 2000 Davaajargal only entered the sumo ranks with the help of Mongolian fellow sumo wrestler Kyokushuzan. At only sixty-two kilograms (136 pounds) at age fifteen, he needed intercession because he was grossly underweight. Davaajargal entered sumo training with the aid of Kyokushuzan and took the name of "Hakuho," though gradually increasing in size and ability. He entered his first professional tournament in 2001 and reached the rank of ozeki by 2006. He was made the sixty-ninth yokozuna in 2007. One of his big victories was his 2008 defeat of Asashoryu.

Sumo wrestling has gained popularity in Mongolia, due to the success of these wrestlers. Amateur bouts are held, and Kyokushuzan Batbayar is now the president of the Mongolian Sumo Wrestling Federation, as Kyokushuzan is named in the Mongolian papers. Although it is doubtful that it will replace wrestling in Mongolian hearts, it may be the most common nonnative spectator sport.

The famous Sumo wrestling Mongolia:

  • Asashōryū Akinori, originally Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, sumo wrestler

  • Hakuhō Shō, originally Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal, sumo wrestler

  • Kyokutenhō Masaru, originally Tsebeknyam Nyamjyab, sumo wrestler

  • Kyokutenzan Takeshi, originally Enkhbat Batmunkh, sumo wrestler

  • Harumafuji Kōhei, originally Davaanyamyn Byambadorj, sumo wrestle