The 2005 US Sumo Open was the largest Open yet, with nearly 1,000 people in attendance in the Los Angeles Convention Center. To add to the drama, competition took place on an elevated stage, with audience members seated around.
As in pro sumo in Japan, many athletes went tumbling off the stage, and several fans ended up with giants in their laps! As in past years, some of the best international sumo athletes in the world competed. The main foreign teams flew in from Japan and Europe. Japanese sumo wrestlers have competed in most US Sumo Opens, but with four Japanese competitors in 2005, this was the largest Japanese contingent since the inaugural US Sumo Open in 2001. Not surprisingly, the four Japanese athletes won a total of six medals!
The team from Japan was comprised of the best members of the Shizuoka Sumo Federation, including Katsuhiko Shimomura (Chairman) and Yukimasa Muramatsu (Director), who served as referees for the competition, and who each have decades of sumo experience. Both Mr. Shimomura and Mr. Muramatsu are certified sumo referees, and their expertise is greatly valued. Mr. Shimomura has refereed sumo all over the world, including at the World Sumo Championships.
The Japanese athletes from Shizuoka — Koichi Kato, Shintaro Fukuzato, and Keisuke Matsuno — have all won many titles over the years. Of particular note, Mr. Kato not only won the World Sumo Championships, but he also won the All-Japan National Sumo Championships, which arguably draws stronger competition than the World’s. Due to injury just prior to the tournament, Mr. Matsuno was unable to compete, but he served as a sideline judge for the matches.
In addition to excellent officiating, the event this year featured some of the best competition at an amateur sumo event in this country in recent memory. As always, the European and Japanese athletes dominated most of the Americans, and really raised the bar for Americans who are trying to improve the quality of sumo here.
Some Americans did stand out, though. In the heavyweight division, Carl Pappalardo was the only American to even reach the semi-finals, en route to his silver medal. In the lightweight competition, Trent Sabo went undefeated, and even won against the former World Junior Champion from Bulgaria, Valentin Gogov, in an exhibition match.
Perennial middleweight contenders, Kena Heffernan and Troy Collins, each won medals in both the middleweight and openweight classes. Troy and Kena have accomplished this amazing feat for three years in a row now!
In 2003, Barnabas Toth, the enormous Hungarian won the openweight, while Troy and Kena got the other two medals, defeating many heavyweights in the process. In 2004, European champion Petar Stoyanov of Bulgaria won
the openweight, and again the much smaller Troy and Kena got silver and bronze. In their respective three-peats in 2005, Kena and Troy got openweight silver and gold again, while the undefeated giant, Kato of Japan, took the title. So, every year a foreign heavyweight wins the openweight, while the two premiere American middleweights, Kena and Troy, fend off the entire field, including competitors twice their size, to stand on the openweight podium.
The women’s competition was the largest since 2002, with seven competitors, including four lightweights and three middleweights. Sumo newcomer Susie Braendle won the lightweight, while Hiroko Suszuki of Japan grabbed the middleweight. In the openweight, sumo veteran Mahshid Tarazi came back against Hiroko to take gold.
Besides the strong foreign presence, US competitors came from six different states, including California, Idaho, Arizona, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York. The competition was quite long, with a total of 100 matches – 97 official matches, and three exhibition matches with former World Junior Sumo Champion, Valentin Gogov of Bulgaria, who was too heavy to compete in the lightweight, but fought unofficially with the American lightweights, losing only to Trent Sabo. The 2005 US Sumo Open was also a very safe event (not only because of medical staff on hand and lots of padding around the ring): among the athletes from all over the country and the world were four police officers: Troy Collins (LAPD), Patty Braendle (LAPD), Susie Gras (LAPD), and Rene Marte (NJPD).
As the level of US Sumo Open competition improves each year, and international teams, with numerous National and World Sumo Champions, vie for medals, we look forward to a very exciting 6th annual US Sumo Open in 2006. Don’t miss it!