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'Beckham of sumo' says just doing his job

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    'Beckham of sumo' says just doing his job

    'Beckham of sumo' says just doing his job

    Wed Dec 14, 9:48 AM ET

    TOKYO (Reuters) - A Bulgarian who has become the first European to rise to sumo's second-highest rank was lauded as the continent's best envoy to Japan on Wednesday, but the giant grappler said he was simply doing his job.

    Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov, 22, known as Kotooshu in the sumo ring, was promoted to "ozeki" status last month, another sign of the dominance of foreigners in the ancient sport at a time when it is suffering from declining popularity.

    Kotooshu, which means "European harp", has become something of a sensation in Japan, not only due to his performance in the ring but also because of his good looks, which have earned him the nickname "Beckham of sumo".

    The ambassadors from the
    European Union and Bulgaria visited Kotooshu at the "stable" where he trains and presented him with gifts including French champagne, Bulgarian wine and a "Euro Kitty" mobile phone strap.

    "Really, I'm very proud (of him)," said Bulgarian ambassador Balagovest Sendov. "I've already said to my friends that I'd become ambassador number two because Kotooshu is ambassador number one. He's even ambassador number one for Europe."

    However, Kotooshu, who at 2.04 metres (6 ft 8 in) is the tallest grappler in Japanese professional sumo, said he was just doing his job.

    "I'm just playing my sport," Kotooshu told Reuters. "If I'm helping to open the door between Europe and Japan, it makes me feel even better."

    Kotooshu has been the subject of numerous TV specials, which have portrayed the 143 kg (315 lb) wrestler as being strong enough to crush an apple with one hand, but also as a shy youngster with a sensitive side.


    Pictures you say?

    Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov, known as Kotooshu in the sumo ring, works out during a training session at the Sadogatake stable in Matsudo in a suburb of Tokyo, December 14, 2005. REUTERS/Toshiyuki Aizawa

    Wonder what hair products he endorses.


      Bulgarian sumo wrestler makes history with fast rise to senior rank

      TOKYO (AFP) - Bulgarian sumo wrestler Kotooshu has made history by becoming the first European to reach the second-highest rank in the traditional Japanese sport.

      "I hereby report that we have unanimously decided to promote Kotooshu to (the rank of) ozeki," a representative from the Japan Sumo Association told the 22-year-old wrestler, flanked by his stable master and former coach.

      Bowing deeply and clad in a formal kimono, Kotooshu replied: "I would like to accept it humbly. I will practice hard to be true to the name of ozeki."

      The ceremony in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka was nationally televised, reflecting the high level of public interest in the young wrestler, dubbed by Japanese media as Bulgaria's best-known export after yoghurt.

      Kotooshu, whose real name is Mahlyanov Kaloyan Stefanov, has reached the rank in the fastest speed since 1958 when the centuries-old sports introduced the current tournament style.

      He got the promotion from the Japan Sumo Association after his 19th tournament appearance since his debut. The previous record for the quickest rise to ozeki was Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu who did it in 22.

      Asashoryu himself has become a sumo legend by securing an unprecedented seventh straight title at the Kyushu Grand Sumo tournament which ended Sunday.

      Trained for Western-style wrestling as a teenager, Kotooshu came to Japan three years ago and made his debut in the November tournament in 2002.

      With looks likened to David Beckham, the Bulgarian has made waves in a sport rarely known for its sex appeal.

      The Bulgarian, whose real name is Mahlyanov Kaloyan Stefanov, is a giant 204 centimeters (six foot, eight inches) tall but weighs an unusually lean 143 kilograms (315 pounds), using his nimble physique as an asset against famously plump sumo wrestlers.


        The man looks like every New York Italian's "Uncle Steve."



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