A total of 57 elite sumo wrestlers competed in 147 matches, for 5 hours, in front of 3,500 fans! Special guest “Yama” (former “Yamamotoyama” of Pro Sumo fame) was on hand to give a speech, and serve as head judge. The 2014 US Sumo Open aired as a two-hour special on national TV, 10 times, on Universal Sports Network.
All men’s divisions were stacked – with 15 lightweights, 16 middleweights, and 16 heavyweights competing, and 31 of those men also vied for the openweight title! With four brackets each in the light, middle, and heavy classes, only two men per round-robin bracket advanced to the quarter-finals.
Foreigners Golden Reign
Among 15 lightweights, all 6 of the foreigners advanced to the quarter-finals. Among 16 middleweights, 3 out of 4 foreigners advanced to the quarter-finals. Among 16 heavyweights, 5 out of 7 foreigners advanced to the quarter-finals. Most Americans in all classes could not make it past the preliminary rounds.
In the end, gold medals in all 3 classes went to Mongolians. In fact, for both lightweight and heavyweight, gold and silver medals both went to Mongolians. The top 5 Mongolians – Nyambayar Lkhanaa (lightweight gold), Zanabazar Bayarsaikhan (lightweight silver), Erdenebileg Alagdaa (middleweight gold), Byambajav Ulambayar (heavyweight gold), and Davaanyam Altangerel (heavyweight silver) – were actually all completely undefeated in their respective divisions (25-0 collectively), until two of them lost to each other in the final matches!
4th Place Frustration
The field was so tough that some of the favorites to vie for gold were actually denied medals! In the lightweight division, 5-time South American Champion Sebastian Videla (Argentina), who has defeated a former World Champion in competition before, was brilliant in his first four, undefeated matches, to reach the semi-finals! After that, he lost his last two matches, ending up in 4th place.
Likewise, Canadian contender Ted Matsumoto was back with a vengeance, after attaining 4th place in his most recent US Sumo Open tournament. In a deja vu moment, Ted again reached the semi-finals with great effort, only to lose his last two matches, as well, finishing just off the podium in both US Sumo Opens that he’s competed at.
Most shocking was the let-down from Soslan Gagloev of Russia. In last year’s US Sumo Open, he and Byamba fought for the gold medal, with the Mongolian emerging victorious. There was a lot of buzz about their potential rematch in 2014, but Soslan fell short. After breezing through the prelims and quarter-finals, Soslan hit a wall against Mongolia judo technician Davaanyam Altangerel, apparently relegating Soslan to a bronze medal, but Soslan slipped up in the third place match against unheralded Roy Sims! The former Pro Sumo elite division veteran, Soslan, was not on the top of his game.
Despite no gold medals going to American men, there were some amazing successes by US competitors. In the lightweight division, the only American to reach the semi-finals, Edward Suczewski, actually held on for 3rd place, against two Mongolians and Sebastian, the Argentinean. It was a major improvement for Ed, who went 2-4 last year, against a much harder field in 2014 . . and he medalled after breaking his hand in two places in his second match! In fact, Ed beat all his North and South American opponents (4-0). His only two losses were against the same Mongolian, Zana.
In the men’s middleweight, it was no surprise to see veteran Kena Heffernan take home the silver medal in an amazing match, where Mongolian Bilegee used trickery to defeat the much larger Kena. What was surprising was the bronze medal going to Ruslan Mukhamadiyarov of Russia, a man who had never even practiced sumo before. Ruslan’s only losses all day (including in the openweight) were against middleweight champ Bilegee and heavyweight champ Byamba. He won his other 6 matches, all against larger opponents!
Another novice stand-out was Cameron Shepherd of Long Beach State University (host of the tournament). The wrestling club leader had practiced sumo only once before, but lost only once in the prelims (to Ruslan) and in the quarter-finals to eventual winner, Bilegee. In the prelims, Cameron upset multi-time medallist and veteran, Robert Daniel, which clinched Cameron’s advancement to the quarters.
The heavyweight shocker was Roy Sims, another newbie. Roy had, undoubtedly, the toughest line-ups of the entire field, with 4 of his 8 matches against former Pro Sumo wrestlers – two each against World Champion Byamba (Mongolia) and Soslan (Russia). Roy was dominant in his other 4 matches, and in the 3rd place match, his intense attack against Soslan allowed Roy to grab the bronze medal against all odds! With this kind of success, look for more of Roy next time . . .
The biggest upsets came in the openweight. Although Byamba had won gold in the heavyweight, and was on cruise control, on his way to another anticipated gold medal, his plans were thwarted in the openweight quarter-finals by teenager Brodi Henderson of Canada.
Brodi has been competing for 4 years, getting gradually better, but this year was a shocker. Beating Byamba was astounding, but he ended up going all the way, defeating US heavyweight champion Jay Holder in the semi-finals, and 15-time US middleweight champion Kena Heffernan in the final match!
Kelly Gneiting was 4th in the openweight, losing to Jay Holder in the 3rd place match. Kelly has competed in the US Sumo Open since 2001, and has won many medals, but all silver and bronze. With both Byamba and Soslan eliminated in the quarter-finals, Kelly’s biggest opportunity had come, but he was unable to capitalize.
Meanwhile, Kena was the only male to win medals in his own weight class and the openweight, as he got silver in middleweight and openweight. It was a solid performance from the experienced competitor.
Still Got It
Despite a rare slip-up in the openweight, Byamba did get gold in heavyweight, and finished the competition with an 8-1 record. He continues his unbelievable US Sumo Open gold medal streak – now at 8 years in a row!! During that time, his cumulative record is 76 wins and only 2 losses. No one else has ever won gold medals at the Open more than two years in a row, so Byamba’s 8 consecutve years of gold are truly historic.
In addition to the 47 men, there were 10 female competitors. The biggest stories were the undefeated ladies in each weight class. US Champ Jenelle Hamilton swept the lightweight division, 4-0, while Geneva Webber of New Zealand was 4-0 in the middleweight. Natalie Burns was 2-0 in the heavyweight.
Those same three ladies also stood on the openweight podium. Jenelle was 3rd, Natalie was 2nd, and Geneva was undefeated in both divisions, with two gold medals, and a 7-0 record, to sweep the field!