TOKYO - Mongolian grand champion Hakuho on Friday became the most successful sumo wrestler in history, bagging a record 33rd title and snatching the honours from a Japanese legend in the sport.
The 29-year-old blasted out fellow championship contender Kisenosato, sealing the title with a now-unbeatable 13-0 record in the 15-day New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
His other closest rival, fellow Mongolian Harumafuji lost his bout Friday to Kakuryu, another Mongolian and the most recent wrestler to be elevated to the status of "yokozuna" (grand champion).
Hakuho has now sailed past Taiho, a man widely regarded as the greatest yokozuna of the post-war era, whose record of 32 Emperor's Cups had stood unbeaten for 44 years.
Taiho, born on the far northern island of Sakhalin to a Japanese mother and an ethnic Ukrainian father who had fled the Bolshevik revolution, won his 32 tournaments between 1960 and 1971.
The landmark that Hakuho reached Friday is likely to trigger renewed soul-searching among sumo traditionalists, who bemoan the influx of foreigners - particularly Mongolians - that have come to dominate the ancient sport.
However, Hakuho, born Munkhbat Davaajargal, is a popular and sophisticated wrestler who embodies the "gentle giant" persona many Japanese fans cherish.
He has earned praise from officials and local media for helping restore dignity to sumo following a series of scandals that have tarnished the reputation of a sport said to date back some 2,000 years.