Photos by Serena Au.
It’s a rare occasion when Southern California locals get to watch world-class sumo champions compete against each other in over 200 matches, all in one day, right here in Long Beach—inside of a giant blue pyramid, to top it all off.
The largest and longest-running sumo competition outside of Japan, the US Sumo Open brought over 50 athletes from 13 countries to the Walter Pyramid of Cal State Long Beach this past Saturday.
Attendees were treated to both men’s and women’s competitions, and those who were new to sumo learned that not all sumo wrestlers are on the heavy side: Amanpreet Kaur of India was the lightest athlete competing in the women’s lightweight division at 114 pounds, whereas Ramy Elgazar of Egypt was the heaviest athlete competing in the men’s heavyweight category, weighing in at 459 pounds.
Crowd favorite Byambajav “Byamba” Ulambayar of Mongolia, 336 pounds, a 10-time US Sumo Open participant who has won heavyweight gold nine times and openweight gold seven times, took the heavyweight gold medal as expected, earning his 100th win in this portion of the competition
Twenty-seven men competed in the openweight championship in single elimination rounds. The crowd gasped as Byamba was taken out by Konstantin Abdula-Zade of Russia, 241 pounds, leaving only two heavyweights, five middleweights, and one lightweight competitor, Trent Sabo of the United States at 187 pounds, in the openweight quarterfinals.
In an unprecedented turn for the US Sumo Open, two middleweights overthrew all of their heavyweight opponents to be named as the openweight finalists for the first time in 17 years: Takeshi Amitani of Japan, 245 pounds, and Abdula-Zade. Amitani, 25, the only Japanese athlete participating, emerged the openweight champion.
Beyond getting to watch sumo matches, the US Sumo Open sought to provide a Japanese cultural experience for attendees. The crowd was treated to taiko drumming, traditional Japanese cuisine by local favorite Shin-Sen-Gumi, and a halftime show where audience fans ages 7 to 9 attempted to push lead judge and two-time former world sumo champion, Yamamotoyama, who weighs in at over 600 pounds, out of the dohyo sumo ring.
Many attendees who came for the intrigue of seeing sumo wrestlers for the first time quickly learned the rules of sumo: slapping and tripping are allowed, as is grabbing onto the mawashi sumo belt, and wrestlers followed some traditional pre-bout rituals such as squatting down and raising their arms peacefully to a horizontal position to show their opponent that they will engage in a fair fight.
The audience also roared whenever a wrestler was able to throw their competitor off their feet, almost loudly enough to cover the thud of 400+ pound bodies hitting the floor of the dohyo.
After all of the matches had ended, US Sumo Open Director Andrew Freund yelled “Let’s hear it for the chiropractors!” to a chorus of cheers from the crowd, estimated at over 4,000 attendees.
At the medal ceremony, surrounded by his prize winnings and sponsored gifts of sake and Sapporo beer, Takeshi proudly wore the Japanese flag over one arm for photographers while holding his trophy high in the air, standing in the center of the dohyo where he had just earned an astounding victory in the world of sumo.