Left field

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Former Estonian bouncer adds Baltic spice to sumo

March 29, 2010
Baruto throws his weight around

Baruto throws his weight around

After the nightclub fracas that toppled a Mongolian grand champion from grace who would have thought it would take a former bouncer from Estonia to help clean up the mess in the troubled world of sumo?

The soft-spoken giant Baruto gave the ancient Japanese sport a shot in the arm after sealing his promotion to the sport’s second highest rank of “ozeki” with a 14-1 showing at the spring grand sumo tournament less than two months after “yokozuna” Asashoryu quit in disgrace amid a “booze rage” probe.

The 1.98-metre tall, 190-kilogram Baruto narrowly missed out on his first Emperor’s Cup as yokozuna Hakuho went unbeaten to claim his 13th major title in Osaka. “I was happy about the 14 wins but the one defeat hurt more,” said Baruto, who will formally become the second European after Kotooshu in 2005 to ascent to the ozeki rank.

When the baby Kaido Hoovelson was born in the northern Estonian town of Rakvere, near the Gulf of Finland in 1984, his country was still part of the Soviet Union. He later worked as a nightclub bouncer and he still demonstrates textbook “security guard” firmness in shoving out rivals with the no-nonsense sumo “yorikiri” (force out) technique.Asashoryu’s sudden exit left a bad taste and the 25-times Emperor’s Cup winner said he was hounded out of the sport by ultra-conservative forces within sumo’s closeted world who feared a non-Japanese wrestler breaking former yokozuna Taiho’s record of 32 set between 1960 and 1971.

Certainly sections of the Japanese media would report on the slightest breach of protocol, from his fist-pumping victory celebrations to his choice of flowery Hawaiian shirts, although picking a soapy punch-up with a rival while both soaked in a communal bathtub and forging a sick note to get out of a regional tournament did Asashoryu few favours either.

His flair, however, will be missed.

“Asashoryu left a big hole to fill,” Hakuho said of his fellow Mongolian after winning in Osaka. “But sumo has a new ozeki and I expect him to be a major rival.”

Doubtless there will be factions within sumo who bemoan the promotion of yet another overseas wrestler to the upper echelons.

Historians agree sumo dates back some 2,00 years but foreigners have stolen the limelight over the past 15 or so. There has not been a Japanese yokozuna since Takanohana’s retirement in 2003.

Baruto’s rapid rise should not be cause for alarm. The Estonian has two feet firmly on the ground.

“I want to repay the faith the Japan Sumo Association has shown in me when I am ozeki,” he said. “Then I want to do something to help improve Estonia when I finish sumo.”

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