Despite pandemic restrictions, the 20th annual US Sumo Open was held on October 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. Although no live audience was present, 33 athletes from 6 countries competed in 98 intense matches!
For the first time ever, an American guy won BOTH the Heavyweight and Openweight titles. As usual, Mongolians dominated in the divisions that they entered, while other foreigners captured most of the medals, as expected. Overall, the field was very tight, with not a single wrestler going undefeated in the competition!
There have now been a total of 2,172 US Sumo Open matches (2001 – 2020), with 754 wrestlers from 41 total countries.
THE “ROYAL FAMILY” OF 2020
During the first 19 years of the US Sumo Open, only one American ever won a gold medal in the Heavyweight and/or Openweight divisions – Roy Sims! He got Openweight gold in 2015 and Heavyweight gold in 2018. The other 36 gold medals in those classes ALL went to foreigners.
This year, with fewer international challengers (due to pandemic measures), one American won BOTH Heavyweight and Openweight divisions. Jose Galindo, in the 2019 US Sumo Open (his first competition ever), took a Heavyweight silver medal in an absolutely stellar field, with multiple athletes from Pro Sumo competing, too.
Now, in 2020, Jose went 4-1 to get the Heavyweight title, followed by a 4-0 performance, to win the Openweight division. The only athletes to win both divisions at a US Sumo Open before are Japanese Koichi Kato (2005, 2006) and Mongolian Byambajav Ulambayar (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015). So, Jose now enters a pretty exclusive club, as the two others both hold World Sumo Champion titles.
Just as exciting was the debut of Jose’s wife, Yaleidy, who faced some setbacks in both Women’s Heavyweight and Openweight, but went on to also get gold in both divisions!
So, this couple each won 2 gold medals, and together, Jose and Yaleidy walked away with more combined prize money than all of the other competitors together, as well as both Openweight trophies! This is a feat that’s never been done before, i.e. a husband/wife team both sweeping multiple gold medals.
The Mongolians, as always, were really dynamic and impressive! In the Lightweight division, the 3 Mongolian athletes fought a total of 17 matches, and aside from losses to each other, they collectively only lost a single match against a non-Mongolian! Likewise, in the Middleweight division, the 2 Mongolians, in 10 matches, won everything, except for one loss by a Mongolian to the Russian contender.
Among 9 Lightweight competitors, the 3 Mongolians won ALL 3 medals – an incredible feat, as they were virtually untouchable.
The 2 Middleweight Mongolians met in the semi-finals. The winner, Boldbaatar, went on to win the Middleweight gold medal, with a 5-0 record. In fact, Boldbaatar won every single Openweight match, too, until he faced Jose in the finals (where the 380-pounder finally toppled the 221-pound Mongolian). Both champions ended the day with stellar 8-1 records.
Boldbaatar’s road to the Openweight final match was also spectacular. He beat fellow Mongolian standout, Mendee, then the #2 Heavyweight (390-pound Angel) and the #3 Heavyweight, Eric. He destroyed every opponent, until facing the top Heavyweight in the final match, which was a nail-biter.
The other incredible Openweight performance was by Altangerel, who won the Lightweight division. In the Openweight, all 4 of his opponent were American Heavyweights (including 3 of the 4 semi-finalists!). At just 181 pounds, Altangerel even defeated the heaviest competitor in the field, a 450-pounder!
Over the US Sumo Open’s 20-year history, Mongolians have not competed every year, and in many cases, they only had a few athletes in the competition, so they did not even have a shot at most divisional titles. Nevertheless, the number of Mongolian gold medals in men’s divisions just went from 31 to 33 (thanks to Altangeral and Boldbaatar), while the American totals went from 14 to 16 (thanks to Jose). Still, the Mongolians have more than double the number of gold medals, despite being outnumbered by Americans, about 20-1, over the years.
Ruslan from Russia, with several years of US Sumo Open history (including a past bronze medal) was amazing in the Middleweight division, losing only to Boldbaatar in the finals, after Ruslan beat multi-time World Champion silver medalist Fathy (from Egypt) in a hotly-contested semi-final match-up. The 221-pound Ruslan also beat 340-pound Egyptian giant, Kamal, in an Openweight clash, before being overpowered by eventual winner, Jose.
Newcomer siblings, Gilberto and Angel shocked the competition with Heavyweight semi-final appearances in their first tournament ever. Older brother Gilberto managed to win an epic, nearly 2-minute match against Egyptian champion, Kamal, allowing Gilberto to reach the semi-finals, only to face his younger brother Angel.
Angel actually went 3-0 in his opening bracket, even giving Jose his only loss of the tournament. After defeating his brother, Angel then lost to Jose in the finals. The brothers finished 2nd and 4th in a strong field, and should do even better next time!
Another first-timer, Eric, came out from North Carolina and surprised the field, too! The 5’9”, 304-pound powerhouse went 3-0 in his bracket, including wins over 450-pound Gilberto and Egyptian champion Kamal. He lost to Jose after that, but managed to win the bronze medal. Eric also had a phenomenal Openweight run, defeating two Mongolians in a row, before losing to the eventual silver and bronze medalists (Boldbaatar and Altangerel), and settling for 4th place. Going 2-2 against Mongolians is no easy accomplishment!
Lightweight Josh also made a great run, opening 4-0 to lead his bracket (including defeating one Mongolian), only to lose his semi-final and third place matches against other Mongolians, leaving him with a 4th place finish (the best of any American in that division).
All countries that participated (USA, Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia, Mongolia, Egypt) won medals, reflecting a pretty high level of competition.
The women’s field was smaller, but still included 16 hard-fought matches. Yaleidy and Christina got gold and silver medals, respectively, in both Heavyweight and Openweight. A big highlight, though, was 127-pound Kristal beating 284-pound Yaleidy in the Openweight contest!
A huge Byamba tribute had been planned for the April 24 US Sumo Open, for a crowd of 5,000, including historical videos, speeches, and more. A simpler version was held for the 33 athletes, as all observed a moment of silence for the legendary athlete, whose US Sumo Open accomplishments may never be beaten. Byamba passed away in February, 2020. Some highlights of his career include:
- 5 years in Japanese Pro Sumo
- US Sumo Open record (13 years): 110 wins and 7 losses
- Heavyweight Gold – 10 times, and Openweight Gold – 7 times
- 4-time World Sumo Champion
No one has ever even come close to his level of success at the US Sumo Open!