July 22, 2017 4:03 am JST

Mongolian-born Hakuho becomes sumo's winningest wrestler

Grand champion says he wants to set high bar for future contenders

KOICHIRO YOSHINO, Nikkei staff writer

Hakuho, victory cash in hand, waves to fans after his record-breaking win.

TOKYO -- Sumo wrestler Hakuho crossed another career milestone Friday by winning his 1,048th match, thus claiming more victories under his belt than any other contender -- foreign or Japanese -- in the sport's history. 

The Mongolian-born yokozuna, or grand champion, defeated rising Japanese star Takayasu on the 13th day of this year's Nagoya tournament, in a match eagerly anticipated for its record-making potential.

The day before, Hakuho tied previous record-holder Kaio's 1,047 wins.

In 97 tournaments, Hakuho's career record now stands at 1,048 wins and 219 losses.

"So much has happened," he told supporters after Friday's victory, looking back on his 16-year career. "It's like a dream."

Uncharted territory

Every win Hakuho racks up after this will take him further into territory where no wrestler has gone before.

After he surpassed the record for the number of tournament wins -- 32 at the time -- Hakuho felt a pang of loss and struggled to orient himself toward his next goal. This time, however, he has no such feelings because "I've gone through this already," he said.

A few statistical milestones still lie ahead. Hakuho is 46 wins short of reaching 1,000 in the makuuchi, sumo's highest division.

But Hakuho's aspirations go beyond mere numbers.

"One of the kids watching sumo now might become a wrestler who wins dozens of tournaments," he said. "I want to set records that are hard to beat so that when that happens, he won't lose sight of his goal."

Contending with decline

For all its significance, Friday's bout did not see Hakuho overpower his opponent. He resorted to a sidestep rather than a head-on clash against Takayasu, who is hardly performing excellently in his debut as ozeki, the sport's second-highest rank. Failing in his attempt to grab Takayasu's belt from the side, Hakuho tried yanking him down by the arm. His much-vaunted lower body strength, which he would use to heave hapless opponents in younger days, was nowhere to be seen.

Hakuho will have to contend with his waning physical strength as he moves forward. After the retirement of ultracompetitive Mongolian rival Asashoryu, Hakuho set out to surpass past champions' achievements. With most of those records having fallen, his challenge now is to climb alone to heights that future wrestlers can look to and dream.

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