TOKYO - A retiring Bulgarian wrestler known as "the David Beckham of sumo" says the tradition-bound sport could be greatly improved if wrestlers took a more scientific approach to training.
The 2.02-metre (six-foot-eight-inch) Kotooshu - the first European to reach the rank of ozeki, the second-highest level in sumo - came to Japan in 2002 at the age of 18 after topping the junior wrestling ranks at home.
"In Bulgaria, we do training very efficiently in cooperation with trainers, coaches and doctors. We also analyse data so that we can become stronger with effective training," he said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper published Wednesday.
"Here, it was like 'which century are we in?'. If they trained more logically, they could become much stronger. They can even beat foreign sumo wrestlers," he said.
The centuries-old sport stresses the importance of developing mental toughness by repetition of basic moves.
But in recent years its senior ranks have been dominated by foreign wrestlers, mostly Mongolians, the cause of much hand-wringing amongst traditionalists.
Kotooshu said he hopes to become a sumo stable master, adding it was natural to want to pass on what he has learnt to disciples.
"Sumo is my life," said the 31-year-old, whose topknot will be ceremonially cut on October 4 in a practice that formalises his retirement from the sport.
Kotooshu, whose rugged good looks have drawn comparisons in the Japanese media to British football star David Beckham, despite him having no obvious resemblance, has a significant female following.
In 2009 he was awarded the Stara Planina, a Bulgarian state honour, for having earned star status in Japan.
He is married to a Japanese woman and was naturalised in January.