The 19th annual U.S. Sumo Open, returns to Long Beach's Walter Pyramid for the sixth straight year, Saturday, March 23. Photo by photo copyright Dustin Snipes.

If you make it to the 19th annual U.S. Sumo Open this Saturday at the Walter Pyramid, be sure and say hello to founder and tournament director Andrew Freund. He’ll be the one doing the announcing, arranging the brackets, making sure the athletes are where they’re supposed to be and a few dozen other things. Because of that, chances are you won’t get close enough to talk to him and, if by chance you did, chances are he’ll be polite and engaging—he’s quite a nice fellow—but he probably won’t remember much of what you say because he’ll pretty much be working on no sleep.

“We’ve got dozens of competitors flying in from all over the world on Thursday, so that will need to be coordinated,” he said, describing his itinerary leading directly up to the tourney. “By Friday, I’ll be helping to set  up the venue, then I’ll get back home Friday night and have to recalculate brackets because certain people are not going to make weight, then I’ll need to tend to study up for my announcing duties, that’ll take me to 4 or 5 in the morning, and maybe I’ll get an hour or two of sleep, then I’m back up for final prep until we open the doors at 10 [a.m.] and then I begin my announcing duties and all the other stuff.”

Of course, after that, it’s all downhill, for about 20 hours.

“I basically won’t sleep for a day.”

Mind you, he’s not complaining. Freund, who was introduced to the sport while he was teaching in Japan in the 1990s, is singularly responsible for the growth of the sumo movement in this country. The Open, held at the Pyramid for the sixth straight year, is the largest, longest-running sumo tournament outside of Japan, featuring more than 70 international sumo competitors from more than a dozen countries with, collectively, 18 world sumo champion titles between them.

The action is intense, quick and constant; there will be more than 200 matches in the span of one day. Still, for any newbies, Freund suggests not getting there at 10 a.m. but waiting until about noon or 1 p.m.

“The early matches are preliminaries, if you get there around one, you’re still going to be able to see three hours of the best matches,” he said.

Little more than a day before the tournament was set to begin, we asked him what newbies, such as ourselves, should expect. He told us and didn’t yawn once.

Andrew Freund, U.S. Sumo Open founder and director. Photo courtesy Andrew Freund.

OK, to the untrained eye, all that is happening in a sumo match is two people just crashing into each other. What is someone new to the sport missing?

That there’s an immense amount of power, speed, focus and strategy involved.

Really? Strategy?

Absolutely, because in sumo not just every second, but every half second counts. See, if you’re playing basketball, you can give up points to your opponent and still come back and win; same with baseball, football, etc. But in sumo, if you slip for even half a second, if you lose concentration for just a millisecond, your opponent will beat you.

So, we’re not going to see any dramatic last-minute comebacks?


So what should we look for?

When people come in for the first time, there’s usually this preconception that this is just going to be a bunch of guys who can barely walk; a slow-motion circus. The universal reaction after they see it is “Wow! That is nothing like I imagined it was going to be.” It’s so dynamic, so fast, there’s so much athleticism that people are shocked. I think the important thing for people to watch for is how much is going on in just a few seconds. In the span of five or 10 seconds, you’ll see 10 or 12 techniques attempted, everything from grappling to throwing, so much in such a short time.

What else?

Just the contrast in styles. There will be 10 countries that will have big presences at the tournament, a lot of the wrestlers from Japan will be odds-on favorites using traditional techniques. But there will be Mongolians who use amazing technique and trickery, a big team from Ukraine and Russians that have much more traditional methods, there will be contingents from Egypt and Norway. The diversity is something you would not see in Japan.

Part of that diversity is women competing.

Absolutely, yes. We’re aware that someone who is a purist will say that we are not maintaining tradition, but, on the other side of things, the International Sumo Federation, for the purpose of getting into the Olympics, has created both men’s and women’s divisions and we have been recently recognized by the Olympics. Some people don’t like that, they say it dilutes tradition, but…

But it’s 2019.


So, if you’re new to this, it’s hard to discern the level of what you’re seeing. In the sumo world, what level of competition will be on display, Saturday?

When we talk about level, the Open will have some people with pro experience like Byamba who is a four-time world champion. His record at one time was 108-6, so his pedigree is pretty clear; he almost never loses. We have people with lots of world championships between them and we also have a lot of people who are former athletes in other sports; former pro football guys, judo, wrestling and other forms of combat athletes. A lot of these people have taken the time to learn the sport, trained with some of the best guys in the world and are putting their athletic skill into sumo.

You sound pretty fired up.

I am.

How are you going to sound after?

[Laughs] You know, I’m getting better at delegating, but there’s just a lot of pressure to get everything done right and in a short amount of time. So…

So you’re probably not delegating a lot.

[Laughs] Like I said, I’m getting better. [Laughs]

The Walter Pyramid is located on the campus of Cal State Long Beach at 1250 N. Bellflower Blvd. For more information or tickets, click here.