Le Petit Banzuke Illustré
Hors série n°15 - may 2006
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the full french issue, with pictures,...)

Thierry Perran
translated by Jelena Macan
proofread by Steven Pascal-Joiner

Hakuho: The white phoenix flies towards the summit

A very difficult beginning

Davaajargal as a child

It seems hardly conceivable today, but the career of the future 238th ozeki almost never began as there were no stables that wanted to take him in. His father is a legend of Mongolian wrestling, having won the Nadaam tournament 6 times as well as bringing the first Olympic medal to Mongolia (a silver medal from Mexico in 1968), so it seems young Davaajargal Munkhbat was destined to become a professional wrestler from the start. Like his father, he had a small frame that hid outstanding athletic qualities which allowed him to excel at the national level in sports like basketball and sprinting.

Davaajargal (12) as a wrestler

Still, following in his father's footsteps, he focused mostly on wrestling starting at about the age of 10. As he saw Kyokushuzan's popularity and feats on the dohyo, he was seized by the desire to try out his luck and become a rikishi in Japan. Knowing his background, Kyokushuzan took the frail adolescent under his wing and decided to present him to several oyakatas. But alas, not one of them wanted to encumber himself with a weakling Mongolian, just 60 kilos and 1.75 m tall, who did not speak a word of Japanese. Growing desperate, Kyokushuzan found himself on the verge of sending the candidate back to Mongolia. It was then that the shifty rikishi decided on another ruse. Taking advantage of a well “watered” meal with his oyakata, Kyokushuzan managed to extract an alcohol-influenced promise from the oyakata to ensure the entrance of his young protégé into professional sumo. Two days later, fresh as a daisy, Kyokushuzan arrived to claim his due from Oshima oyakata, who flared up and said that such slyness was not worthy of a sekitori. But the deed was done, and promises are not empty words in Japan. So, on the verge of a forced return to Mongolia, young Davaajargal was introduced to Miyagino oyakata. Miyagino oyakata was rather infuriated by having to take him into his heya, as he owed a debt to Oshima oyakata. Seeing Davaajargal's pale skin, Miyagino oyakata thought of the great yokozuna Taiho's (32 yusho) pale complexion, and so decided to name the young recruit Hakuho. The white phoenix was born.

The phoenix rises from its ashes

Davaajargal in his early teens

To say the least, young Hakuho was forced on his oyakata's hands. So the oyakata paid him back in kind by being intractable with this young skeletal recruit. However, young Hakuho had just turned 16, and his growth was very far from finished. At that point, no one could imagine how far. Undersized with only 60 kilos on a 1.75 m frame at 16, Hakuho trained like mad, trying to gain weight and muscle as quickly as possible. Still, good intentions are not enough, so it is no great wonder that he ended his first official tournament in May 2001, ranked at jonokuchi 16, with a make-koshi of 3-4. Who would have believed at this stage that he would know only two more make-koshi before his promotion to ozeki, five years later!

Young sekitori Hakuho at home, in front of a portrait of his father

Ah yes, as Hakuho got accustomed to the subtleties of sumo, Mother Nature did her work in a truly unforeseeable way. In the space of three years, Hakuho grew 16 cm and took on 70 kilos. Needless to say, there was a lot of muscle in this increased weight, fruit of his incessant training, which was probably motivated by his desire not to be an embarrassment to his legend of a father. His strength increased tenfold, and when you add to that his impressive dohyo sense and a palette of rare techniques, one gets a wrestler who is out of place in lower divisions. Nothing could stop him, not even the Japanese prodigy Hagiwara (now Kisenosato), whom he handled systematically and effortlessly. As a result, in January 2004, he was promoted to juryo, a division that he outclassed completely. By the Natsu basho in 2004, in the space of two tournaments, he was already among the greats of the makuuchi division, where he was finally able to find the true measure of his talent.

A thundering arrival in makuuchi

Sekiwake Hakuho

Hakuho did not waste time during his first tournaments in makuuchi, aligning performances worthy of a future dai-yokozuna: 12-3, 11-4, 8-7, and 12-3. He was promoted to sanyaku after only 4 tournaments and, far from being under promotion pressure, added a masterful 11-4 score to become the 351st sekiwake in history. For many it was clear that Hakuho was the new star, but the year 2005 was one of adaptation as he gained more than 10 kilos to reach the final weight of 152 kg. He also suffered his first injury (left ankle, in the Nagoya tournament). It was here that Hakuho showed his class, capitalising from the injury experience while gaining in power. The year 2006 will be the one in which the phoenix takes flight.

An ambitious and unsatisfied ozeki

Joyful ozeki Hakuho

Predictably, now that he has completely recovered from his injuries, Hakuho commands a greater power coupled with more experience. Altogether, that makes of him a wrestler of the very best class, capable of winning the yusho. More than statistics (35 victories in 3 tournaments), it is his confidence and his bearing on the dohyo that impress. Kokonoe oyakata says that he already possesses the sumo of a yokozuna! His early promotion to the rank of ozeki is therefore not contestable, even if the presence of a 5th ozeki overloads the banzuke somewhat.

Hakuho posing with his father

Mongolia is prostrate in front of his achievements, and even wished to organise a parade in his honour. But he dismissed all of that. Since his father reached the highest grade in Mongolian wrestling, he deems he cannot be satisfied by this simple rank of ozeki and that he has to go higher, winning tournaments on the way. So it will not be a great surprise if this up-and-coming, ambitious ozeki leaves that rank quite quickly!

Hakuho honoured by Enkhbayar, president of Mongolia