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.
Who’ll Stop the Reign?!
The most impressive record in 15 years of US Sumo Open history is undoubtedly the unprecedented streak of Byambajav Ulambayar (“Byamba”). From 2007 – 2014, Byamba competed for 8 years in the US Sumo Open, winning the heavyweight title ALL 8 years, and winning the openweight title for 6 out of 8 years. During that 8-year span, Byamba’s cumulative record was 76 wins and only 2 losses! This kind of achievement is likely unparalleled in the annals of international sumo.
In 2015, expectations were enormous for Byamba to continue his gold medal run for a 9th consecutive year, but he was a match short in both heavyweight and openweight. Egyptian giant Ramy Elgazar defeated Byamba in the heavyweight finals, and Byamba also fell to American Roy Sims in the openweight sem-finals. So, Byamba finished with a silver and a bronze (awesome by anyone else’s standards), but they were not the colors that Byamba was looking for?
Will Byamba redeem himself next time . . . ?
Smash Like an Egyptian (or a tale of two Ramys)
Foreign dominance has been par for the course at the US Sumo Open, but this year, a couple Egyptian competitors took it to a whole other level!
In the middleweight division, Ramy Belal showed up for the second time. In the 2013 US Sumo Open, Ramy went 8-0 to capture middleweight gold, and then was 3-0 in openweight going into the finals, losing only to eventual champion Byamba. In 2015, Ramy also swept the middleweight division at 6-0, with four of those six matches against nearly unbeatable Mongolians!
Heavyweight Egyptian, Ramy Elgazar, also shocked the sumo world, with a massive upset in the men’s heavyweight division, as he defeated perennial champion, Byamba. “Big” Ramy also made it to the openweight finals, undefeated, but lost the final match to Roy Sims.
These two Egyptians were middleweight and heavyweight champions, with giant Ramy nearly winning openweight as well. How appropriate that the venue is a Pyramid!
As usual, the Mongolian horde won the most medals – 6 out of 12 of the men’s awards. The only two lightweight Mongolians were last year’s undefeated champion, Nyambayar Lkhanaa and newcomer Boldbaatar Baldandorj. Both men went undefeated in their respective sides of the bracket, and in the final match, “Nyamaa” kept his undefeated status in lightweight, for the second year in a row.
With four Mongolian middleweights and four Mongolian heavyweights, no one else even made it to the semi-finals in the middleweight, heavyweight, and openweight divisions, except for the aforementioned Ramys and Roy Sims. In fact, the Mongolians were so powerful that nearly perennial middleweight gold medalist, Bilegee, could not even get a medal, being nudged out by his countrymen and by Ramy Belal.
Without the Ramys and Roy, Mongolians would have captured 11 of 12 men’s medals! With the emergence of this new wave of champions, though, we can see that there is not a completely unipolar force in sumo. Nevertheless, Mongolians were hard to beat.
US Sumo Open History 101
To put things in perspective, here aref heavyweight & openweight champions’ nationalities for the first 14 US Sumo Opens:
YEAR: Heavy, Open
2001: Japan, Japan
2002: Bulgaria, Estonia
2003: Hungary, Hungary
2004: Georgia, Bulgaria
2005: Japan, Japan
2006: Japan, Japan
2007: Mongolia, Mongolia
2008: Mongolia, Bulgaria
2009: Mongolia, Mongolia
2010: Mongolia, Mongolia
2011: Mongolia, Mongolia
2012: Mongolia, Mongolia
2013: Mongolia, Mongolia
2014: Mongolia, Canada
Actually, ALL the above Mongolian titles above are Byamba’s! So, 2015 is the first time that an American has EVER won a gold medal in either heavyweight or openweight, with Roy Sims taking the open weight gold!
2015: Egypt, USA
All we can say is: Watch out for Roy in the years to come!
Only one other American male medaled – Angel Castillo in the men’s lightweight. As there were only two Mongolian lightweights, Angel took third, by doing the best of the Americans, a well-earned spot on the podium.
In fact, all the US members who had standout performances – Roy, Angel, and female champion Jenelle – regularly practice with multi-time World Sumo Champions Byamba and Yama in Los Angeles. There’s something to be said for training with the best!
Play it Again, Ham (-ilton)
In the female competition, Jenelle Hamilton, last year’s lightweight champion, stole the show! Not only did she win the lightweight, undefeated, but she was also undefeated in the openweight, beating all the middleweights and heavyweight in the process!
At the end of the day, Jenelle went home with two gold medals, and a 6-0 record, against opponents who were all larger than her. There’s more to sumo than just size!
The 2015 US Sumo Open action was so intense that nearly 10 conferences were called by the judges, and there were more rematches than ever before. In fact, in the very first bout of the day, both competitors fell simultaneously, so the judges called for a rematch, and the same two competitors repeated the process in their rematch, which led to a third match by the same two athletes!
So, even though 123 bouts were recorded, when we count rematches, the number is more like 130.
As usual, the presence of foreign competitors made a huge impact. Although only 2 of the 6 females were foreign, 17 of 31 male competitors were from other countries, so over half of the athletes were from Mongolia, Egypt, Russia, Japan, Canada, Brazil, and Uzbekistan!
An indication of the tough competition is that only 9 out of 31 male competitors had a winning record! So, almost all the fighters could not get a majority of wins.