Le Petit Banzuke Illustré
Hors série n°13 - january 2006
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the full french issue, with pictures,...)

Vincent Rouzé
translated by Yann Hamon
proofread by Steven Pascal-Joiner

Kotooshu’s Promotion to Ozeki : The March Towards Glory

A promising wrestler cramped for space

Stefanov at 7

Stefanov Kaloyan Mahlyanov was born on February 19th, 1983 in Veliko-Tarnovo, Bulgaria. Is Destiny the reason why a champion-to-be was born in this town of 70,000 inhabitants ? We can assume so since this city is a testimony to the country’s cultural wealth. Indeed, Veliko-Tarnovo is one of Europe’s most sloping cities, offering the tourists an incredible multitude of horizons. And when you know the size of Stefanov, who has now reached 2.04m…

Stefanov starts wrestling at 10

From childhood, the Bulgarian showed an interest in combat sports. At the age of 12, he followed a sport-study training of olympic wrestling, as his father was an important manager of the Bulgarian Wrestling Federation. With his body, which never stopped growing, it’s got more and more difficult for him to fit in the weight categories, which had just been revised downwards. He then discovered sumo, which has no weight restrictions, on Eurosport. In 2001, he made his first steps in sumo in Europe, in the under 115kg category, and finished third place.

Thundering debut

Kotooshu measured at his debut.

He was then spotted during an amateur tournament in Holland. The scouts hurried to enter him into the prestigious Sadoga-take Beya. «I know he will be very strong», predicted Sadogatake oyakata. The boy made his debut in the Japanese sumo world in 2002, with the shikona of Kotooshu. From that time forward, his great body has quickly become really devastating. Adept in yotsu-zumo, his technique consists of stretching out his long arms toward his opponent, and then powerfully pushing them out or throwing them to the ground. However, his previous history in wrestling hinders him sometimes. «In wrestling, there are many pulling techniques, so the opponents often slip away from the attacks, just like henka in sumo» he says. This was the cause of a worrying knee injury, which turned out to be not so serious in the end. In only his second tournament, Kotooshu won the jonokuchi division Yusho with a stinging 7-0. In a bit more than one year, he became a sekitori, having won his second Yusho, in makushita, during the 2004 Haru Basho. Why give up when he’s doing so well? Two basho later, Kotooshu made a clean sweep and won another Yusho; this time in juryo, with a mere 13 victories. The promotion to makuuchi was certain. Already, the rikishi who makes girls hysterical and received the nickname «Beckham», has entered history. Indeed, it took him only 11 basho to get to makuuchi, without conceding any make-koshi. Only the former Hawaiian yokozuna Akebono (11 yusho) was able to do so well since the institution of the 6 tournaments in 1958.

The quest for ozeki

Kotooshu, too quick to get his oicho-mage!

In September 2004, Kotooshu can at last show what he’s able to do in front of sumo’s greatest wrestlers. As M14e, he gets a very honourable score for a first timer, 9-6. Two months later, in Kyushu, the Bulgarian confirms his status, receives his first prize, the Kanto-sho, with an 11-4 score. That shoots him up to the M4e position for the Haru Basho, high enough to aim at a possible place among the sanyaku, a rank which no European has ever been able to achieve. Nine victories later, mission accomplished. «Beckham» is promoted to sanyaku, K1w. Usually, it’s very difficult to remain at such a level. Even if his talent is beyond doubt, the giant is no exception to the rule. So the 2005 Haru Basho stands as the only failure in his career. Kotooshu is able to grab only 4 victories marking his first disillusion and first make-koshi. The ladies’ favourite could be bruised after this. But this is not the case, as he regains immediately his place among the sanyaku, thanks to 10 victories in the following tournament. From that time forward, starting with the Nagoya Basho, the quest for ozeki promotion can start. On day 8, he faces the absolute master, the yokozuna Asashoryu. Kotooshu doesn’t get flustered and enters history once again. He achieves a wonderful uwatenage on the Mongolian. Both men fall almost at the same time, but the Bulgarian is the winner. Asashoryu leaves the dohyo, and the new sumo star, touched, goes to grab the kensho in front of zabuton flying from all sides of the dohyo. This is the first kinboshi for a European rikishi. As well, the now sanyaku is awarded the shukun-sho at the end of the tournamnent, in which he gets 12 wins. The Aki Basho looks crucial once again. As a sekiwake, he leads the tournament during the whole basho, remaining unbeaten until day 11. But the last three days are fatal for him. First Kisenosato and then Asashoryu manage to beat the Bulgarian, driving him to a kettei-sen against the yokozuna. Perhaps thinking too much about the stakes, the Sadogatake beya wrestler forgets to fight, and loses without offering any resistance. What a pity… Nevertheless, he receives the kanto-sho. The moment of truth comes during the Kyushu Basho in November of 2005. 10 victories are enough for him to become ozeki. Kotooshu does it but not without difficulty. After a perilous basho start, he beats the yokozuna once again and grabs 11 victories.

And now?

Kotooshu beats Asashoryu for the first time.

«I would like to accept this honour with much humility. I’m going to practice hard in order to be worthy of the ozeki grade». These were the first words from the fastest rising ozeki in modern sumo history, taking him only 19 tournaments to reach the rank. The record, which until then was in Asashoryu’s possession with 22 tournaments, was beaten. This was enough to delight the Bulgaria’s ambassador, Blagovest Sendov. «I’m really proud of him. I’ve already told my friends that I will be Ambassador Number 2, because Kotooshu is Number 1. He’s even the first ambassador of Europe!». Now, can he climb the last step and become a yokozuna? Kitanoumi (NSK’s president), thinks so. «The fact that he has climbed the ladder so rapidly shows that he is tremendously talented. If everything goes well, he is going to work hard and manage, as everyone hopes, to become a yokozuna». It seems the task doesn’t alarm the one concerned, who has the second strongest grasp in professionnal sumo, just after Kaio, (92 kg for the left hand, 90 kg for the right one). «Next year, I want to win a yusho, he says. If I don’t win any yusho, I can’t become a yokozuna». However, Tsetsa, the mother of the new great champion prefers to enjoy the current times and moderate the situation, has these wise words, «It’s better not hurrying up. Of course, with a bit of luck, he could become a yokozuna. But simply becoming ozeki is a wonderful thing».

New ozeki Kotooshu carried in triumph.