A Bulgarian who uses the nom du sumo Kootooshu is within reach of becoming the first European tournament winner in the history of the ancient sport. To make the story even more interesting, before the Basho, or tournament, presently going on in Tokyo, he was in danger of being relegated to a lesser rank. Commentators have referred to him as the Beckham of sumo since he is considered quite attractive -- he is a bit thinner than the usual sumo wrestler and radiates a classically European-handsome winning smile.
A Basho is a fifteen day tournament. The schedule of who fights whom is contemporized as daily results come in. Usually there are a couple of prohibitive favorites who meet on the last day to decide the winner. This year the usual schedule has been seriously disrupted by the unexpected emergence of the Bulgarian. This Basho may already be over before it is over.
The story of sumo tournaments in the last few years has been dominated by two men, both from Mongolia: Asashoryu, 27, and Hakuho, 21. One or the other of the two have dominated the crown and headlines of the sport for about four years. Asashoryu has been the "bad boy" who was suspended for 'faking' a medical condition. Hakuho is the "fresh breeze" who compensates for his countryman's excesses by his orthodoxy. Native Japanese have been fading into the background of the sport as these Mongolians shared the headlines. Quite a few of the lesser sumo rikishi or wrestlers have come from Eastern European countries, including Russia and Georgia. But few thought they were top calibre.
Kotooshu rattled around in the middle ranks for the past few years. He had a surprisingly good start to a Basho a few years ago, going 12-0 before sinking. He struggled since that Basho and had his fighting spirit questioned by most commentators.
Sumo has a unique ranking system. If a rikishi loses more bouts than he wins within a 15 match tournament he is in danger of demotion or relegation. Because Kotooshu limped along in the midranks he was warned that this tournament was make or break: win more than you lose, or be demoted.
Win he did. After 12 matches to date, Kotooshu has a perfect 12-0 record. His last two wins were eye openers. In two consecutive days he whupped the favorites, first Asashoryu than Hakuho. Both of these recent losers now have 10-2 records, and are unlikely to catch the leader. Barring the unexpected, Kotooshu will be the first European to win a Basho.
Expect Kotooshu to appear in the news. and perhaps to appear in commercials. He is very likely to change the world's perception of sumo.