2011 US SUMO OPEN OVERVIEW

A strong field of athletes from 9 nations competed in the US Sumo Open’s Las Vegas debut. Citizens from Brazil, Canada, Iran, Mongolia, Poland, Tajikistan, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the USA all fought hard.  Matches were fast-paced ans spectacular

DIVERSE TURN-OUT

A strong field of athletes from 9 nations competed in the US Sumo Open’s Las Vegas debut. Citizens from Brazil, Canada, Iran, Mongolia, Poland, Tajikistan, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the USA all fought hard.  Matches were fast-paced ans spectacular!

Among the athletes were three-time World Sumo Champion Byambajav Ulambayar (Mongolia) and current World Sumo Champion Sylwia Krzemien (Poland). Wojciech Poczta (also from Poland) is the current #3 in the world, too. Several current and former US Sumo Champions wrestled, as well, including perennial challengers, like Trent Sabo (former #3 in the world), Kena Heffernan, Kelly Gneiting, Natasha Ikejiri, and Natalie Burns.

Interesting note: Size-wise, the 6 female competitors were larger on average than the two dozen or so male competitors. The largest athlete was the UK’s Sharran Alexander (421 lbs), who out-sized the largest male, Kelly Gneiting (409 lbs).

WORLD CHAMPIONS BOTH UNDEFEATED

Not surprisingly, the two World Champions both swept their divisions, with perfect records of 9-0 and 6-0 respectively. Byamba won heavyweight and openweight on the men’s side, and Sylwia won both divisions among the women.

In the 5 years he has competed at the US Sumo Open, Byamba now holds a cumulative record of 49-1, i.e. a 98% winning percentage, against many national champions from around the world. He has accumulated 1 silver and 9 gold medals at the US Sumo Open, far exceeding anyone else over the years!

MONGOLIAN OPENWEIGHT SWEEP

It was widely expected that Mongolian wrestlers would win medals, but the scope of their dominance was shocking. Though their numbers in each division were few, they captured HALF (6 of 12) of all the men’s medals, and 3 out of the 4 gold medals!

Of particular note was the way the Mongolians smashed through the Openweight division. Out of 15 entrants, there were 4 Mongolians who advanced to the quarter-finals. All 4 of these men were victorious in the quarter-finals, assuring an all-Mongolian sweep on the podium, since both semi-final matches were Mongol vs. Mongol.

Among these semi-finalists, it was expected that Byamba would blast through all his opponents, which he easily did. The other three semi-finalists, though, shocked everyone!

The lightest entrant, Bilegee (Erdenebileg Alagdaa), at 183 lbs defeated 338-lb Americus, to face the #3 middlweight competitor in the World – Wojciech of Poland (252 lbs) in the quarters. With incredible speed and maneuverability, Bilegee got Wojciech backpedaling, and achieved a stunning upset!

Similarly, 237-lb Chagnaa (Mongolia) came out of nowhere to defeat three-time US Sumo Champion and six-time US Sumo Open medallist, Kelly Gneiting (409 lbs). Chagnaa then faced the intimidating “Big Joe”(Siosifa), who had previously fought Byamba in the heavyweight finals. Somehow, Chagnaa took Big Joe down, as well.

Finally, Gombodorj, at only 215 lbs, tripped the absolutely dominant US middleweight champion, Kena Heffernan (250 lbs), who had won the gold medal in the middleweight earlier. Gombodorj then defeated perennial US lightweight champion, Trent Sabo, to advance to the semi-finals.

Congratulations to Mongolians of all sizes – Byamba (358 lbs), Bilegee (183 lbs), Chagnaa (237 lbs), and Gombodorj (215 lbs) – for the incredible show they put on, taking down all the giants and big names, to meet in the semi-finals and finals! Remarkably, the three eventual medalists represented all three weight classes: Byamba (heavy). Chagnaa (middle), and Bilegee (light), which proves that sumo is not only for the big men.

US MIDDLEWEIGHTS HELD THEIR OWN

Among over a dozen US athletes, only three had winning records. Randy Jimenez (372 lbs) was on course to make an impact in the heavyweight division, but suffered a serious injury in the preliminary rounds, and unfortunately had to withdraw.

The only two US standouts were Kena Heffernan and Robert Daniel, both middleweights. Kena, fresh off the US national title (middleweight and openweight) the day before, won gold in the middleweight division, with an impressive defeat of very successful Wojciech of Poland in the final match. Despite his disappointing early elimination from the openweight, Kena finished with a stellar 7-2 record, and a gold medal!

Robert Daniel, having won silver in the US middleweight division the day before, continued his powerful brand of sumo at the US Sumo Open. He lost to Kena in the middleweight semi-finals, but reached the podium for a bronze medal, by defeating Canadian standout, Ted Matsumoto in the third-place match. Robert, with year-by-year improvements, ended up with a commendable 5-3 record, against a very tough field.

Other than that, there wasn’t much to celebrate for the US athletes. Mark Reiman (266 lbs), tiny for a heavyweight, offered a glimmer of hope by making it to the semi-finals, where he lost to Byamba. Meanwhile, Natasha Ikejiri, with great success, as the US Champion in middleweight and openweight (against much larger opponents) couldn’t topple her Mongolian middleweight opponent, Munguntuva Bantuu, who captured a gold medal for the second consecutive year.

MOVING UP IN THE WORLD (OF SUMO)

Other great performances were shown by several foreign competitors – Big Joe (Tonga), Foteh (Tajikistan), and Boldsukh (Mongolia).

Big Joe had previously won medals at the US Sumo Open, but could never get better than bronze. Although he dropped about 60 pounds, almost reaching the middleweight, he out up his best showing yet, making it to the heavyweight finals, before losing to Byamba. A silver medal in the US Sumo Open is his best to date. If he goes middleweight in the future, can he vie for gold?

Likewise, Foteh had been in the US Sumo Open semi-finals in the past, but never captured a medal. With a very strong effort against several tough opponents, he made it to the semi-finals, eventually winning bronze, and a position on the podium.

The 2010 US Sumo Open lightweight silver medallist proved himself in 2011, winning gold with a 4-0 record against two of the toughest lightweight competitors in the world. Boldsukh defeated wrestling legend Bilegee twice, and beat former #3 in the world, Trent, twice, too, to take the lightweight title, uncontested. It was a big step up for Boldsukh!

INJURIES

Due to injuries the day before (at US National Championships) or at the US Sumo Open, several top US contenders had to withdraw, including Heather Colton, Tom Zabel, last year’s US Sumo Open bronze medallist Randy Jimenez, and newly crowned US heavyweight champion, Terrence Hairston.

FIGHTING SPIRIT

For the second year in a row, the Fighting Spirit Prize was presented by sumo supporter Bob Engel. He presented 421-pound Sharran Alexander of the UK with the award, for her determination to fight through the pain of injury, and complete the competition, winning two silver medals in the process, with a great record of 4-2. She fought hard, and beat almost all opponents, losing only to the current World Champion, Sylwia. Nice job, Sharran!

OFFICIALS

US Sumo Open officials did a great job throughout the day. The experienced referees were Jimmy Leung (California) and Nick Stevens (Idaho). The judges included James Brewster Thompson (Nevada), Matthew Davis (Idaho), Jay Tan (California), Marek Paczkow (Poland), and head judge Richard Neal (Switzerland). Thank you to all for a great job.

SPECIAL NOTES

The 87 US Sumo Open matches in 2011 brings the total cumulative number of US Sumo Open matches over the years to 978. Watch out for the US Sumo Open to break 1,000.

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