March 23, 2007

Ten reasons to love sumo

More reasons to praise the greatness that is sumo:

1. There's always a winner. The only time judges enter the picture is when the two wrestlers hit the ground or fall out of bounds simultaneously. If the judges can't agree on a winner the bout is immediately re-fought. No ties allowed. (There are cases where an instant replay rule would help, which makes second-guessing the judges all the more fun for the viewer.)

2. Sumo is perfect for short attention spans. The average sumo bout lasts no longer than a running play in football. The referee can restart a match that stalls out after a few minutes, but I've never seen that happen. Most bouts last less than 20 seconds.

3. Everybody fights everybody else. None of this BCS nonsense about how if Team A defeats Team B, and Team B defeats Team C, then obviously Team A is better than Team C. Over the course of a season, every top-ranked wrestler fights every other top-ranked wrestler (there are technical exceptions to this rule).

4. There are no weight categories. Everybody really does fight everybody else. The towering six-eight Bulgarian Kotooshu (featured above) fights wrestlers a foot shorter. The current champion, Asashouryu, at six-even and 326 pounds, fights wrestlers a hundred pounds heavier (and usually beats them).

5. Every underdog eventually has his day. Fighting so many bouts, it's not hard to get a read on an opponent's strategy. After his perfect record at the January meet, Asashouryu opened the Haru Basho 0-2 against the relatively low-ranked Tokitenku and Miyabiyama.

6. Consequently, in few other sports are the particular styles of the players so recognizable. Also unique to Japan, it's a sport that's all about the individual and where fans come to root specifically for individual athletes.

7. Where else can you see a 325 pound man actually body slam--lifting him clean off his feet--a 375 pound man? Don't let those big bellies fool you--these guys are as strong as oxen.

8. Audience participation. The sumo ring is approximately the same size and elevation as a boxing area and the spectators are seated accordingly. Except there aren't any ropes. This means that once or twice a day during a tournament, 300-plus pounds of sumo wrestler is going to come crashing down into the front rows. Having a ringside seat in this sport means taking your life in your hands.

9. The sumo referee has the greatest uniform in any sport (see above).

10. The spectators aren't too shabby either. At a sumo meet you'll see a man in a yukata sitting next to a man in a business suit sitting next to a woman in a kimono sitting next to a kid in jeans and a T-shirt. Yet after a big bout, these same fans will fling their seat cushions through the air like Frisbees. It's quite the sight to behold.

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