Friday, June 13, 2008

sumo post

Grand Sumo Tournament
Sports Arena, Sunday June 8, 2008

Even if you know nothing about Sumo wrestling (and I don't), it's incredible how quickly and deeply involved in the spectacle you can become by watching it live. I'm not alone. For many people here, this is their first experience with live professional Sumo wrestling. It's not like the chance comes around often — the last time a tournament of this sort was held in Los Angeles was 1981.


Before the tournament begins though, there's a lot of pre-game festivities. The opening ceremony is followed by a group of small children in sumo dress going one on one against some of the rikishi. One wrestler, Aminishiki, greeted his five-year old competitor with a bellowing yell that filled the arena. Believe it or not, the kid actually won that match, which leads me to believe that some of the fights may be fixed. Just kidding. Other wrestlers swung their child opponents through the air by an arm and leg.

The kid matches are followed by Shokkiri, a comedic run-through of illegal wrestling moves. Shokkiri only takes place before exhibition matches (or Jungyo) like this one, and involved a kind of Laurel and Hardy routine between a big wrestler and a small(er) one, demonstrating eye gouging, kicking, hair-pulling and threatening the referee.


Eventually all forty-one of the rikishi were introduced and proceeded to the ring, and from the crowd reaction I realized there were home-town favorites. First, anyone from Mongolia got huge cheers, and there are several Mongolians in the group. Second, Asashoryu at 325 lbs is by far the fan favorite. The first Mongolian to reach the highest rank in Sumo, Asashoryu has been a controversial wrestler which you can learn more about here.

Apparently the popularity of Sumo wrestling is one the wane in Japan, and part of that is attributed to the large number of non-Japanese competitors. But in Los Angeles, it's the Mongolians who are getting the big cheers.

On to the matches!

The first bout of the tournament featured a very thin (well, it's all relative) Mongolian fighter named Hakuba going up against the Japanese wrestler Kotokasuga. A "backward pivot throw" which is quite possibly known as utchari was enough to end the match.


It's surprising how many Sumo wrestlers are not Japanese, though they take traditional Japanese Sumo names, so it's not always obvious. Roho, in the second match is Russian, and notches a fast win against his Japanese opponent Tamanaoshima.


The pacing of the matches is quite nice. Though the action is often short, there's a 3 or 4 minute break between each one with a quick ad for a Japanese law firm, or a Little Tokyo restaurant. It's the right amount of time to try to figure out the names of the next wrestlers and if I've already seen them before, and if they might be Mongolian.

A lot of the Sumo in the first round go against significantly stronger fighters in the second round. So very few of the first round winners become second round winners. The first match of the second round features Asashoryu who won the Saturday match. He's Mongolian AND a previous winner and though the stadium's not filled, the cheers are huge for him. He's wrestling Kakuryu:

Or rather he's lifting Kakuryu out of the ring. And that's a win. That's pretty amazing.

Roho the Russian, who I've already developed a fondness for due to the low number of syllables in his name as much as anything else, is now going against the also easy to remember Ama. But Ama is Mongolian, and he gets all the crowd love. Until today I don't think I've ever seen a real Mongolian flag before. Now I'm seeing at least half a dozen waved through the stadium. Ama is also relatively light compared to many of the other wrestlers. But he's fast.

Ama not only defeats Roho and goes on to beat his next opponent: Futeno from Japan, who is much larger than Ama.

Asashoryu on the other hand is going against the very large Baruto from Estonia. Twice Asashoryu lifts Baruto off the ground in an effort to move him out of the ring. Here it is:

On the second lift, Asashoryu succeeds and moves on. But this pits him against Ama in an All-Mongolian Spectacular. And Ama isn't anywhere as big as Baruto.

Really. I thought this was it for the little guy. Asashoryu had won the previous day's tournament and had had little trouble this time with Baruto (Estonia) in the previous round. But check the tape: Ama wins!


Blogger Dayna said...


2:29 PM  

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