TOKYO, Feb 18: Newly-crowned sumo grand champion Harumafuji said Monday he sees a good future for the ancient but scandal-tainted Japanese sport as well as for his own career as a top fighter.
Harumafuji was promoted last year to become sumo´s first new grand champion for five years. He is the third Mongolian in succession to reach the sport´s top rank, or yokozuna.
The 28-year-old said he adheres to a strict training regimen not only to build up his strength but also to become an admired yokozuna who can give inspiration and hope to his audience.
"Scandals could hit any world. You can only work from scratch to win back the heart of fans," he told the Foreign Correspondents´ Club of Japan.
Sumo is gradually emerging from a series of scandals that have tainted its centuries-old image. Match-fixing, drug use and bullying allegations have eroded its popularity, although it still has a huge following.
To the disappointment of many of his fans, Harumafuji -- whose real name is Davaanyam Byambadorj -- ended his first regular 15-day "basho" tournament as a yokozuna in November with just nine wins and six losses.
Sumo advisers criticised him as unsuitable for the rank.
But the grand champion swept to an impressive victory in the latest tournament in January, winning all 15 bouts.
"I have a good future ahead of me," said Harumafuji, clad in a grey silk kimono with his topknot relaxed at a slant -- the style for casual occasions rather than ring appearances.
He said his tough training schedule involving "lots of sweat and tears" never let him down when he got in the ring.
"I think you can become (the second-ranked) Ozeki if you work as hard as if you could die (in training)," Harumafuji said. "But I think you have to be destined, on top of making the hard effort, to become a yokozuna."
Harumafuji, a relative lightweight at only 133 kilograms (293 pounds), became the 70th grand champion since the first was declared in the 17th century. He is only the fifth foreigner to hold the title.
Japanese sumo fighters have struggled to maintain standards in recent years, with many promising potential wrestlers shunning the rigorous training or being lured away by more lucrative sports.