The 19th annual US Sumo Open was spectacular, as nearly 5,000 fans watched 64 international sumo wrestlers in 198 back-to-back matches!
Ukraine dominated, winning most gold medals, with only one gold to Japan. Shocking upsets against guys with Pro Sumo pedigree rocked the arena!
In the end, every country competing (Ukraine, USA, Egypt, Japan, Mongolia, Norway, and Germany) got at least one medal, though, in a very talented field!
UKRAINE ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT . . .
The biggest story was Ukraine. Last year, Ukraine was the second most dominant presence, after Russia, but with no Russians competing this year, and 11 Ukrainian athletes, the competition turned into open hunting season for the Eastern European powerhouse!
In fact, the 5 Ukrainian women were a perfect 25-0 against other ladies! They didn’t lose a single match (except a couple times when they have to face each other).
Among the 6 men, 5 of them were also perfect against non-Ukrainians, racking up 36 wins and 0 losses! The Ukrainian middleweight athlete, Anton, medaled (bronze), after some incredible, multi-time, 3-way tie-breaks between him, as well as Nyambayar (Mongolia) and Mohamed (Egypt). He ended up beating both Nyambayar and Mohamed in some of his matches against them, but not all.
So, overall, only two people (Nyambayar and Mohamed) even won any matches at all against the Ukrainians, among the 72 matches in which other competitors faced a Ukrainian opponent. This level of team success has been almost unprecedented in the 19-year annals of the US Sumo Open!
VAZHA GONNA DO?
The Ukrainian light heavyweight competitor, Vazha, in particular, was astounding. He easily won his division, undefeated, 6-0. Then, in the openweight competition, after beating an American and the aforementioned Mongolian, Nyambayar, he faced arguably the toughest fighter in the tournament, Hiroki, from Japan.
Hiroki, weighing in at 481 pounds, had spent 12 years in Japanese Pro Sumo, reaching the second highest division. He was arguably the odds-on favorite to win it all. Yet, somehow, the 245-pound Vazha brought down the giant, who was twice his size!
To top it off, Vazha’s very next match was against the other Japanese contender, middleweight champion, Takeshi, who finished the day with 9 wins. His first loss was to Vazha, who was able to defeat both Japanese sumo masters, back-to-back.
Vazha finished the day at 10-1, with his only loss in the openweight finals against Ukrainian, undefeated heavyweight and openweight champion, Oleksandr.
YES WAY, JOSE!
The biggest shocker, perhaps, was Jose, a newcomer to sumo, weighing in at 380 pounds, in the middle of the heavyweight division. Jose had practiced sumo just 3 times, starting a few weeks before the US Sumo Open, and was seeded in a group that included 499-pound Ramy (who wins medals every year he competes at the US Sumo Open, including a gold medal), as well as current and multi-time US Champion, Robert, and Norwegian Champion, Henning.
Anyone in the know would have predicted only losses for Jose, but not only did he not go winless, but he beat ALL of his opponents in the group, to move on to the quarter-finals!
In the quarters, he downed 5-time US Champion and legend, Kelly, and faced the Japanese giant, Hiroki in the semis. At this point, everyone was sure that Jose’s 4-0 winning streak was definitely over. Hiroki had just spent 12 years in Japanese Pro Sumo, competing at almost the highest level, while Jose had just a few practices under his belt. Yet, somehow, miraculously, Jose defeated Hiroki, going 5-0, to reach the finals against Oleksandr, where Jose finally lost.
In this particular “March Madness”, it was a case of a #16 seed reaching the final game, and placing #2 in the tournament!
THE TRIPLE TIE-BREAK TRIO
The middleweight division was STACKED. Even the “weaker” group included former US Sumo Open Champion Takeshi, and World #2 Trent.
The other group, arguably “stronger” included three men (out of five) who had all medaled in past US Sumo Opens, interestingly, all in the lightweight division! In 2014 and 2015, Nyambayar won the lightweight division undefeated, both years! In 2016, Mohamed was #2 lightweight (beyond the Russian legend Batyr), and in 2017, Anton was #2 lightweight (after Trent, who placed #2 in the world that same year).
However, the 2019 US Sumo Open was the first time that Nyambayar, Mohamed, and Anton would be competing at the same tournament, and facing each other!
In their group round-robin, they all beat the other wrestlers, but went 1-1 against each other, resulting in a tie-break.
In the three-way tie-break, they all went 1-1 against each other again, with EXACTLY opposite results. In other words, each of them was 1 win and 1 loss against each of the other two. This perfect level of skill rarely happens.
In the end, another tie-break was held, and Mohamed finally came out on top. He ended up facing Anton again in the semis, and Anton and Nyambayar battled it out in the third place match. When the dust cleared, they finished #2 (Mohamed), #3 (Anton), and #4 (Nyambayar), with eleven (11) total matches, just among the three of them!
Japanese dynamo Takeshi, with a previous US Sumo Open title under his belt, was seeded on the other side of the middleweight from the three aforementioned stars. Takeshi went undefeated on his side, and then breezed through the quarter-finals, the semi-finals against Nyambayar, and the finals against Mohamed, to clinch the middleweight title, undefeated.
Perhaps, he had an edge, thanks to the exhaustion the “Big 3” faced from so many tie-break matches, but there’s no doubt that Takeshi had put in time for training, as he was in top form.
Takeshi’s gold medal gave a little hope to the “rest of the world”. Among 10 total weight divisions (5 for men and 5 for women), Ukraine won 9 gold medals, but Takeshi’s success at least brought one gold medal to Japan!
THE PROS DOZE!
While former Pro Sumo competitor, and 4-time World Sumo Champion, Byamba, was not in his best condition, he was still considered a medal contender. Yet, after winning his group undefeated, he lost in the quarter-finals to big Ramy. Still, in 13 years, Byamba cumulative US Sumo Open record is 110 wins and only 7 losses!! An amazing feat, by any standard. We’ll see if he’s back in top shape next year. He does have 10 Heavyweight Champion titles and 7 Openweight Champion titles at the US Sumo Open, over these past 13 years.
Hiroki, still in his 20s, has 12 years of Pro Sumo experience, and he was expected to go further, too, but as mentioned, he was taken down by Jose in the heavyweight semi-finals, and also defeated by Vazha in the openweight quarter-finals. It’s great for most people to win a bronze medal (as Hiroki did), but he was looking forward to only gold!
USA’s STILL GOT A WAY TO GO . . .
While more Americans have been competing, and have definitely been getting better, they still are not too successful against international foes. Aside from Jose’s spectacular results, the only other American men’s medalist ws Ed, who got silver in the light heavyweight. Ed has been a consistent medalist, almost every time he enters the US Sumo Open.
Against foreign opponents, Ed went 4-3, while Jose went 4-2.
Meanwhile, the other 21 American men went 4 wins and 39 losses against foreign opponents. Clearly, the USA has a way to go, to match up against powerhouses like Ukraine, Mongolia, Japan, Egypt, and even Norway!
The American women went 3-24 against foreign opponents. Overall, among men and women, Americans won only 18% of their matches against foreigners. If we put aside standout performances by Ed and Jose, the percentage among the other 31 Americans is only 10%!
At the end of the day, just 2 out of 23 American men – Jose and Ed – had winning records. Likewise, 2 out of 10 American women – Mariah and Ila – had winning records. Let’s see if we can bump these numbers up in 2020!
THANKS TO THE FANS!
Nearly 5,000 fans packed the Pyramid, almost to capacity, and we’re amazed at the number of repeaters! When people see the US Sumo Open once, they usually return.
This year, 46 men and 18 women entered the ring, and we expect even more next year, in 2020. The 20th US Sumo Open is going to be big!