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Published:January 19th, 2010 11:14 EST
Baruto on a roll in New Year's Sumo Tournament

Baruto on a roll in New Year's Sumo Tournament

By Geoff Dean

I was watching a Japanese comedy program recently when the emcee gave the participants a challenge. They had to come up with, on the spot, haiku-style, things they were "embarrassed" about. Many comedians commented on politicians who can`t remember where funds came from, companies that throw workers out in the streets while giving CEOs big bonuses, and other topics of the day.

 The biggest applause came for the following...

  "Embarrassing,   Japanese sumo world,   conquered by Mongolians"

 The comedian who came up with this haiku was granted one zabuton (a floor cushion), the way of rewarding a clever witticism on this show.

 But, he wasn`t quite right.

 There is no denying that Hakuho, a Mongolian, just off a 30 bout winning streak and fellow grand champion and Mongolian, Asashoryu, have had the sumo world in a choke hold for several years now. At the second rank of ozeki, Harumafuji, another Mongolian, has been making noise of late, while further down, Kakuryu, yes, a Mongolian, is one of the up and coming stars to watch. And true, there are several other Monglians in the upper division, all six tournaments last year were won by Mongolians (the last Japanese tournament winner, back in January 2006, has already retired from the sport), and the Mongolian presence shows no sign of letting up.

 So what`s "not quite right"? They forgot about Baruto.

 Baruto (a Japanese pronunciation of Baltic, the sea near Estonia) is a behemoth. He was the first wrestler ever to win the first three tournaments he participated in with perfect records (at the lower levels, of course). He quickly rose to the top division and made a move on the top positions before an injury slowed him down, a couple of years back. Some people thought that might be the end of Baruto as a grand champion threat, but he recovered quickly and is now entrenched in the third rank of sekiwake. Furthermore, with the retirement of second rank, Chiyotaikai, a Japanese wrestler, the way has been opened for Baruto to make a move towards ozeki (second rank) status.

 In the current tournament, he is tied for the lead with, whom else, Asashoryu and Hakuho and a  few others at 8-1 (a tournament consists of 15 bouts). When asked about his prospects for a tournament win, he gave the requisite "one bout at a time" comment and the "I just want to fight sumo my way" comment, but admitted to being nervous as he was "only human."

 Most significant, he was the wrestler who ended Hakuho`s 30 bout winning streak.

 Sure, he is only one Estonian against a platoon of Mongolian stars. Sure, he has a long way to go to become a grand champion and challenge the big boys on a consistent basis. Sure, he still is young and has some rough edges to his wrestling technique. Still, all in all, he is a wrestler to watch. And in a world of massive humans, he is still easy to pick out.