Kyokushuho T.Erdenebaatar has continuously performed well in the top division of Japanese professional sumo since his debut in 2008. The young sumo wrestler, born in 1988, has previously won juryo and jonidan division tournaments and advanced to the top division in 2012. He is a little bigger than average sumo wrestlers, with a height of 191 cm and weight of 153 kg.
Just recently, he competed in the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament and was ranked fifth in the East Maegashira of the top (Makuuchi) division. Kyokushuho T.Erdenebaatar spoke about himself and his journey in becoming a professional sumo wrestler in the interview below.
You were ranked fifth in the East Maegashira in the spring banzuke, rankings of professional sumo wrestlers published before each official tournament. Bazuke is said to be very important for sumo wrestlers and that they await its release in high anticipation. Did you expect yourself to be ranked so high this year?
Earning a new, higher title is thrilling. On the other hand, you have no choice but to pray and hope that your rank hasn’t fallen too much after doing badly in a tournament. I had a rough idea about which rank I would reach if I won a certain number of matches last month. The ranking wouldn’t change much if all sumo wrestlers do well at the previous month’s tournament, but it changes drastically if many sumo wrestlers had skipped or performed badly. Sometimes, ranks can jump up by two ranking. In general, sumo wrestlers can guess their rank before a bazuke is published. We all await its publication in high anticipation as it shows sumo wrestlers’ hard-work and effort through scores.
What does banzuke mean to you?
It’s an evaluation of me and a very important document showing my status. There are four title holders or champions in my rank. I’m one of the key sumo wrestlers so I have to always stay in the front row of any reception or measure. The name of sumo wrestlers without a title are written in tiny letters, but names are written in larger fonts when they earn a title. These types of small differentiation and changes influence on the mentality of sumo wrestlers a lot. It gives joy and happiness to us. I actually keep all of these banzuke documents.
Before the opening of sumo tournaments, you have been performing the ring-entering ceremony for purifying the arena along with Yokozuna Hakuho M.Davaajargal and Brazilian-born Maegashira Kaisei Ichiro. How does it feel to perform such an honorable ceremony?
Only sumo wrestlers in the makuuchi division can perform this ceremony. In the previous spring tournament, I assisted Yokozuna Hakuho M.Davaajargal as the tsuyuharai, dew sweeper, but this time, I was the tachimochi, sword carrier. Only high-ranking sumo wrestlers are able to become the sword carrier. I have to hold the sword for 15 days of the tournament and it feels splendid.
I think I said that I wanted to quickly enter the top division and perform the ring-entering ceremony in my first interview after entering the juryo division. I’m very proud of myself for being able to participate for so long in this ceremony at the beginning of every tournament day. Before, Kyokutenho N.Tsevegnyam participated in the ring-entering ceremony for many years.
Maegashira Kaisei Ichiro is a strong sumo wrestler in the same stable as you. What do you think about him?
Kaisei used to belong to the Tomozuna Stable. We became part of the same stable, Oshima Stable, when our coach Oshima retired. We used to be opponents before, but now, we are quite close since we’re both foreign sumo wrestlers. He started training in sumo two years before me. We got along well from the start because we were both far from home and share the same heartache. Japanese sumo wrestlers hardly feel home-sick because they can go visit their family anytime.
I feel like I have a high responsibility when I consider that countless people are relying on me and watching me. The thought that I can’t return without accomplishing anything after coming so far motivates me the most.
Famous Mongolian former sumo wrestlers, including Kyokushuzan D.Batbayar and Kyokutenho N.Tsevegnyam, used to train at the Tomozuna Stable. What does it mean for you to be in the same stable as them?
I enjoyed watching sumo even in Mongolia. I came to Japan for a high school with a special program for sumo. When I was in my second year of high school, I met with Kyokutenho N.Tsevegnyam with a friend. I was able to join my current stable soon after I graduated because Kyokushuzan D.Batbayar retired and the stable had an opening for another foreign trainee.
Is it true that you were quite skilled in sumo when you were in middle school?
I used to play basketball a lot. I used to be quite strong and good at wrestling when I was young. I hardly fell when wrestling children my age. Before doing sumo, I learned judo under coach Shiidev. I was asked to bring my birth certificate so that I could register for a competition almost the next day I entered the judo club. Not knowing anything, I participated in a sambo wrestling championship and won a bronze medal.
B.Bat-Erdene, who was the president of the Mongolian Judo Federation at the time, established friendly ties with Motosu City First High School in Gifu Prefecture and launched an exchange program to train future Mongolian Olympic champions in Japan. Through the exchange program, I learned judo and participated in many competitions. In my second year of high school, I came in first place in the prefectural judo tournament and won third place in the Tokai regional tournament. While competing for a right to enter the state judo championship, I threw my opponent but landed on his knee. I couldn’t go to the next stage because of an eye socket fracture from that match. I guess life is very interesting. Had I gone to the state championships, I wouldn’t be here today. I feel like fortune is inevitable. I was probably destined for sumo. (Laughs).
You were only 16 when you came to Japan. Was it difficult to get used to your new environment?
The high school I went to in Mongolia was a very strict all-boys school. The dormitory was next to the school. It had a very strict semi-military discipline. Pupils couldn’t use mobile phones or watch TV. Everyone had to line up and count themselves before going to sleep. We even had a lights-out time. I didn’t experience that much difficulty or hardship after entering my sumo stable because I had lived in that kind of environment before.
N.Tsevegnyam warned me that I would have to work hard until I feel like I’m going to die in the sumo world. However, it did take me some time until I gained weight.
It has been four years since you became a titleholder and you’ve managed to maintain a spot in the top division for two years. What’s your secret?
Our (foreign sumo wrestlers’) objective is different from Japanese sumo wrestlers. We came from far away and have many things to worry about, starting from our parents and families. I feel like I have a high responsibility when I consider that countless people are relying on me and watching me. The thought that I can’t return without accomplishing anything after coming so far motivates me the most. I’ve been injured many times and my eyeball even popped out of its socket once before. Every time, my mother begs me to stop doing sumo, but I don’t because I have a strong desire to see the end. I have never been depressed. It’s almost impossible to fully heal injuries as the break between tournaments is very short. In between them, there are also lower division sumo bouts. You can’t skip out a grand tournament or your rank will drop. It sure is difficult.
People say that you have the perfect face and body of a sumo wrestlers. You must have many fans. Do you have plans to start a relationship?
I used to be married. We lived together for some time. Our daughter is five years old. In general, it’s difficult to be a sumo’s wife. We’re hardly at home due to sumo-related work and activities. Soon, I will be travelling to Osaka for 20 days to participate in the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament and lower division competitions.
Your senior from the same stable, Kyokutenho N.Tsevegnyam, has become the first Mongolian oyakata, coach. Can you comment on this?
He was my role model who led me to become a sumo wrestler and I respect him as if he were my brother. I want to show my appreciation and return his favor with a new title. I mean, what else could I do for him, right? I’m sure he’ll be proud of me if I succeed in my career. I used to feel extremely happy to be able to compete in the same division and do ceremonies with the person I respect and love so much. Now, he’s become a coach at the Oshima Stable and our relationship has changed to a teacher-student relationship.
Before winning the lower division in the spring grand tournament in Osaka two years ago, I had to do a sudden death match. Before I went into the ring, N.Tsevegnyam told me that no matter the outcome, just going into a sudden death match is an amazing feat in itself and advised me to stay calm. I never forgot his advice. After hearing my idol’s advice, I became calm and thought that I should give it my all even if I lose in the end. It was very motivating and the match was amazing.
How do you imagine your future?
I will try to be worthy of my title. I would also like to try becoming a sanyaku sumo wrestler. In other words, I want to earn the three highest ranks of sumo: ozeki, sekiwake and komusubi.