A teenage wrestler who fled the war in Ukraine continued a flawless start to his sumo career on Sunday.

After going unbeaten to win the bottom-tier jonokuchi title in his debut as a ranked wrestler in November, 19-year-old Aonishiki maintained a perfect record to claim the fifth-tier jonidan championship at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

The 125-kilogram, 180-centimeter wrestler, whose real name is Danylo Yavhusishin, won a championship playoff against 22-year-old Chiyotaiko at Ryogoku Kokugikan after both finished the meet 7-0.

Ukrainian wrestler Aonishiki holds a certificate for winning the fifth-division championship at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Jan. 28, 2024. (Pool photo)(Kyodo)

"I was rather nervous," Aonishiki said in confidently spoken Japanese. "It was a really great atmosphere. It was my first time getting up on the dohyo in front of so many people."

The youngster moved to Japan in April 2022 with the help of a friend he met while representing Ukraine at an international junior sumo competition. He entered the Ajigawa stable eight months later to train under former sekiwake Aminishiki.

Aonishiki's hometown has been devastated by the nearly two-year-long invasion of Ukraine by Russia. He was in contact with his parents, now living in Germany, throughout the tournament, sending them footage of his bouts and receiving their words of encouragement.

His performance at the January tournament will see him promoted to the fourth-tier sandanme division for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament at Edion Arena Osaka in March.

Aonishiki aims to become a sekitori, a member of the top two divisions, which would put him in the company of the only other current wrestler from Ukraine, second-tier juryo rikishi Shishi.

"I want to keep getting promoted and that's what I'll focus on," Aonishiki said.


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