May Sumo Tournament Update
Posted by simon c on 2008 May 19日 Monday
Though mired in various sad, terrible, and stupid scandals recently, this Ozumo (pro sumo) May tournament has provided some excitement (though I’ve never seen the Kokugikan arena that empty when I took visitors from Canada there on day 3 on Tuesday).
Ama, one of the smallest sekitori (top division sumo wrestler) at 1.85 m (6’1″) and 126 kg (280 lb), just had an incredible bout yesterday where he did an amazing reversal “ucchari” against the younger, bigger, and stronger Wakanoho from Russia.
Though Ama, with his 5-3 record, is not in the thick of the championship (sekitori with the best record after 15 days wins), we are finally seeing a resurgence of Kotooshu, the tall and lanky Bulgarian. He looks very confident, steady, and is finally playing to his strengths of using his long reach again, like when he made his way up to Ozeki (a rank just below Yokozuna, the grand champions). He is looking good so far, going undefeated through 8 days of this tournament so far.
The other contenders for the tournament title are, reassuringly, the two Yokozunas, Asashoryu and Hakuho. It’s funny how things turned out, with Asashoryu basically taking on the role of the heel and Hakuho being a babyface. Sumo isn’t scripted but different personalities brought us this Mongolian Yokozuna era. Asashoryu is 7-1 and Hakuho is 8-0, as the sekitori are preparing for their 9th day’s bouts as I write. Lone Japanese sekitori in the hunt is Toyonoshima, but he’ll start facing tougher opposition as the tournament enters its second week and I don’t think he’ll be able to remain at just 1 loss.
Interestingly, about 40% of the sekitori are foreign imports, that’s about the same ratio as the NHL and MLB. And sumo has an import restriction, so the top division would be even more dominated by foreigners without this import limit (1 per training stable, some with multiple imports have been grandfathered in). Since becoming a professional sumo wrestler usually requires joining a training stable after graduating from junior high, and the chances of success are very low (as in most pro sports careers), the profession just isn’t attracting young Japanese talent anymore. Instead, we are seeing an influx of Mongolians (from Mongolian wrestling backgrounds) and Eastern Europeans (from amateur wrestling backgrounds). They certainly add interesting flavours to sumo, both in fighting styles and in general.