For the past five years, and for seven of 10 years overall, most of the men’s medals have been won by foreigners, and 2010 was no exception, as Mongolians dominated, capturing a majority of the men’s medals. A Tongan wrestler just missed out, with 4th place in the heavyweight, and a Canadian wrestler was eliminated in the heavyweight quarter-finals.
The three-time World Sumo Champion, Byambajav Ulambayar, captured his 7th and 8th US Sumo Open medals, with gold medal victories in both heavyweight and openweight. Byamba breezed through his opponents, en route to an overall, four-year, cumulative US Sumo Open record of 40 wins and just 1 loss!
Another dominant force was 205-lb Erdenebileg Alagdaa, one of the smallest middleweight contenders. Bilegee started his US Sumo Open dominance in 2006, with a gold medal in the lightweight, followed by a lightweight silver medal the following year. From 2008-2010, he has won the middleweight gold, with silver (2009) and bronze (2010) medals in the openweight in the two times he tried. No one in the middleweight could even beat Bilegee, as he went 6-0. His own loss in the openweight came in a semi-final match against 410-pound Kelly Gneiting.
The sole Mongolian female competitor, lightweight Mungutuva Bantuu, was tied for first after the opening rounds, and won the final match to take the openweight gold medal! This was phenomenal, since as a lightweight, she ended up beating lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight opponents, en route to her victory!
It wasn’t all bad news for the Americans, as a few standouts made an impact. The lightweight gold medal was captured by Jovann Rushing, a mighty feat, considering no American male had won a US Sumo Open gold medal in a division with any foreign opposition since 2005! Jovann went on to beat 327-pound Canadian Brodi Henderson (a man almost twice his size) in the openweight competition.
In a deju vu experience from 2001, Kelly Gneiting won silver medals in both heavyweight and openweight. In that inaugural US Sumo Open, Kelly’s only losses came to Japanese opponents. Similarly, in 2010, Kelly won 8 matches, with his only two losses coming to double-gold medalist, Byamba. Kelly now holds six total medals in US Sumo Open competitions.
Middleweight Rene Marte also held his own, with second place in the middleweight division, and a close loss in the openweight third-place match. His only losses were against the top Mongolians – Byamba and Bilegee.
Even though they didn’t medal, some of the crowd-pleasers came close. Perennial hopeful, Siosifa I’sama’u, or “Big Joe” fought hard. The Tongan athlete lost in the heavyweight third-place match to newcomer Randy Jimenez, and also didn’t go the distance in the openweight. Last year, Big Joe medaled in both divisions, only to fall short this time, but his inspiring interaction with the audience brought him roars of applause.
The youngest competitor, 15-year old Brodi Henderson, of Canada, made it to the heavyweight quarter-finals, and finished with an overall, respectable 3-4 record. He also won the “Fighting Spirit” award, thanks to his courage in facing much older and more experienced opponents. Look for him to get better in years to come.
A solid team of experienced officials – Nick Stevens, Jimmy Leung, Jeff Riddle, Davaadorj Damdin, Doug Cochran, Harry Dudrow, and Brian Condon – brought balance and propriety to the competition. Top-notch judges and referees have been a hallmark of the US Sumo Open, and these seven men maintained high standards and accuracy during the tournament.
Due to unexpected, external factors, the US Sumo Open was forced to make a venue shift just four days before the competition! Thanks to the flexibility of the Anaheim Sheraton Park Hotel, and the kind introduction of Steve Davis, who coordinated the Ohana martial arts events at the Sheraton that same weekend, the US Sumo Open miraculously came off smoothly. Special appreciation goes out to Steve Davis and all his associates, for making this last-minute change possible!
As always, thank you to all US Sumo Open sponsors – Hakutsuru Sake, Sapporo Beer, KGB, H.I.S., and Ozumo Restaurant – for their support and understanding.