The 18th annual US Sumo Open featured some really spectacular matches, an extremely fast pace, and like last year, a demonstration of skill overcoming size!
There was also a dramatic shift of power from Mongolia and Japan . . to Russia and Ukraine, as fewer Asian competitors showed up this year, and those that did were plagued by injuries and upsets. Meanwhile, the Russian-speaking contingent was relentless.
The venue was packed with 4,300 fans, witnessing 135 of the best sumo matches yet!
BACK IN THE USSR?
In this case, the Ukraine GUYS will really knock you out, as they came out hard with rapid-fire attacks.
Of course, the two Russian contenders stole the show, winning 21 out of 22 matches, to dominate the entire field!
In fact, 250-pound Konstantin Abdula-Zade tore the opposition apart, going undefeated, with 5 straight wins in Middleweight and 5 straight wins in Openweight (including 3 against Heavyweight opponents). Konstantin had previously gotten silver medals at the US Sumo Open in 2016 and 2017, losing ONLY to Mongolian and Japanese opponents, but in 2018, he faced neither, and went 10-0! Let’s see if he can do it again next time!
Current and multi-time World Sumo Champion Batyr Altyev went undefeated in the Lightweight division, and the 187-pounder lost only a single Openweight match to 379-pound Serhii Sokolovskyi! Finishing the day at 11-1, he took home the Openweight bronze medal, too!
The Ukrainians (one each in Lightweight, Middleweight, Heavyweight) all won medals, too. In fact, all of the 5 total Russians and Ukrainians not only won medals in their own weight classes, but all 3 Openweight medalists were Russian and Ukrainian!
Incredibly, the 5 Russian-speaking athletes fought 50 total matches, and lost ONLY ONE match to someone not among their collective group. In other words, no one at all could beat any of them (except when they went against each other), with a single exception: when American Roy Sims took down Ukrainian Serhii Sokolovskyi, en route to Roy’s undefeated Heavyweight gold medal!
All 5 of these guys were virtually invincible. If the Mongolians and Japanese are back to full strength next year, what can we expect?!
ROY’S MY BOY!
This catchy line came at Roy during sumo exhibitions the month before, but it proved prophetic, as Roy won gold at the US Sumo Open for the second time! To date, at the US Sumo Open, there have been 36 total gold medals in Men’s Heavyweight and Men’s Openweight . . . and ALL of those 36 gold medals have gone to foreigners, with Roy being the only exception, as he has now won the Openweight gold once and the Heavyweight gold once!
Roy breezed through his opening opponents, winning his group 3-0, and then defeated Danny Avila, a 2017 semi-finalist, in the quarter-finals.
Roy had a spectacular victory against Ukrainian Serhii in the semi-finals, which, as noted, was the ONLY time (in 50 matches that Russians and Ukrainians had) in which someone outside of their group defeated one of them! Kudos to Roy on his dominance, including his upset victory in the finals against 4-time World Sumo Champion, Byambajav Ulambayar!
SPEAKING OF BYAMBA . . .
A silver medal would be a dream-come-true for almost anyone else, but it was certainly bittersweet for Byamba, who has won gold for 10 out of the past 12 US Sumo Opens. He now has a cumulative US Sumo Open record of 108 wins and only 6 losses, a statistic that will almost certainly never be beaten!
While Byamba’s health and conditioning have not been up to par in recent years, he still easily won his bouts, until he met Roy in the finals. Byamba has stated that he’s determined to return to top form in 2019 . . will we see the Byamba of years past back again soon?
The other disappointment was the defending Openweight Champion, Takeshi Amitani, from Japan. He was a top pick to win gold again, but suffered a bad leg injury in his very first match (which he won), a setback that took him out of medal contention. There are high hopes for him, too, in 2019 . . .
THE TWIN “POWERS”
No one in attendance can forget the identical Polish twins, Pawel Wojda and Tomasz Wojda! Both have had great success internationally, and Pawel is actually the reigning World Games bronze medalist. They finished the day with records of 7-3 (Pawel) and 5-4 (Tomasz), defeating many tough, and sometimes larger, opponents along the way, but the coolest scene by far was their head-to-head match-up in the Lightweight bronze-medal match!
In that bout, Tomasz came out strong, thrusting forward to force Pawel close to the edge, but Pawel managed to get a last-second grip on his twin’s belt, and flipped Tomasz through the air, for the victory. What drama between the twins, and what a flashy case of sibling rivalry!
LADIES . . .
A dozen women competed, and although no one went undefeated, two foreigners only lost one match apiece – Polish Lightweight Magdalena Magda (7-1) and Mongolian Middleweight Undrakhzaya Nyamsuren (5-1).
They both went undefeated in Lightweight and Middleweight divisions, respectively, but Magda brought down Undrakhzaya in the Openweight semi-finals.
Previously, Undrakhzaya had soundly defeated American Middleweight Mariah Holmes multiple times, but Mariah came back in the Openweight. She blasted through everyone, including beating Heavyweight Champion Danna Engelberg in the Openweight semi-finals. Then she squared off against Magda, who had been undefeated all day, not only in the lightweight division, but also against a Heavyweight, and against Undrakhzaya, who Mariah could not defeat earlier in the Middleweight matches.
Somehow, though, Mariah won, winning the Openweight title in her first US Sumo Open ever, against opponents of all sizes, including some foreign powerhouses!
Among 8 Americans going to the Sumo World Championships, 4 of them won medals big-time at the US Sumo Open. In addition to the Roy’s stellar gold medal performance in Men’s Heavyweight, as well as Danna’s undefeated Women’s Heavyweight title and Mariah’s undefeated Women’s Openweight title, there was one other American medalist, Edward Suczewski, who captured Middleweight gold.
Ed has been a competitor, on and off, due to injuries, but he did win a previous US Sumo Open medal in the Lightweight division. Jumping up to Middleweight, he managed to medal again this year, and lost only 2 matches, both to Ukrainians – 1 each in the Middleweight and Openweight divisions.
Great showings by these American medalists, and good luck to the entire US team going abroad!
Honorable mention go to semi-finalists who couldn’t quite reach the podium, including Phillip “Monster” Barnes and Shawn Buller.
Monster, at only 190 pounds, was lighter than many lightweights (who had cut weight to weigh in at 187 pounds, but who stepped into the ring at closer to 200)! Monster made it through a tough Middleweight field, and had to fight overall champ Konstantin twice! In the semi-finals, he lost to Ed, not bad for his second competition ever.
Shawn Buller made it to BOTH the heavyweight semi-finals and the openweight semi-finals, picking up 4th place both times. Despite the frustration, he showed great improvement. Can he step it up a notch next year?
WHAT A CROWD!
The audience was just fantastic! With 4,300 folks in attendance, it was nearly a full house. Many repeat attendees were back again, to cheer on their favorites. Thank you all for the support!
See you all at the 2019 US Sumo Open!