325-pounder from Hawaii wins Sumo Night of the Giants 2000
If professional wrestling already has a people’s champion, the sport of sumo may have found its own Saturday night at Caesars Tahoe.
“I don’t know about that, but I just love socializing with people,” said Hawaiian sumo champ Wayne Vierra, who brought personality and fire to Sumo Night of the Giants 2000, and took the title away from the superheavyweight sumo bout at Caesars Tahoe. “Because the crowd backed me up, I think they deserved to be talked to.”
With sumo finally growing away from its Japanese roots and flourishing in the U.S., Vierra seemed intent on spreading the sport to Nevada. The 320-pounder hammed it up for television crews before his introduction into a stoic ring of champions. He raised his arms and yelled after outlasting Norwegian Ronny Alleman to make the final round of Saturday’s
earth-shaking sumo competition. He took a lap to fire up the crowd before meeting Russian Iouri Goloubvski in the finals, then took a victory lap and jumped into the audience after dispatching Goloubvski to win the tournament, only the second one to take place on American soil.
“This is totally contrary to what I was taught from when I was a
freshman in high school, but I think what it did was it took away a lot
of nervousness I had,” Vierra said of his crowd-pumping demeanor.
The competition brought athletes ranging in size from the 220-pound Goloubvski to 710-pound Manny Yarbrough crashing together in an effort to push their opponents out of the dohyo or make them touch it with a body part other than their feet. The rounds, which lasted far less than 30 seconds each, whittled the 20-Goliath pool of wrestlers to eight, then four, then the final.
In the final round, with the crowd split between chanting “U-S-A” for
Vierra and “Io-uri!” for Goloubvski, the two squared off.
Vierra charged, but the quick-footed Russian dodged and stayed out of
Vierra’s grasp. The two locked up together with each struggling to gain the upper hand in what became the longest match of the evening, but Vierra pulled Goloubvski in, and rolled him out of the ring to win.
“I knew he was an elusive, pure athlete so I knew I had to approach him with a lot of caution,” Vierra said.
Goloubvski, the smallest wrestler in the field, started emerging as the crowd favorite during the qualifying rounds. In his first match, he withstood a charge from 6-3 Jacek Jarecz, then pancaked him at the edge of the ring; to win his second match, he stayed low and pushed out 6-foot-8, 510-pound German wrestler Thorsten Scheibler.
“It’s all about balance and technique as you see: the smaller guy throwing a bigger guy,” color commentator Konishiki, the Hawaiian-born sumo champion who became a three-time world champion in Japan, told the audience that packed Caesars.
Goloubvski continued his surprising run through the semifinals. He faced off with John Feleunga, dodging the first charge from the 450-pound Hawaiian, then getting behind him and shoving him out of the ring face-first. That set up the final with Vierra, who rolled out on top of Norwegian champ Ronny Allman in the other semifinal. Allman, another wrestler unafraid to express emotion and fired up the crowd by slapping himself on the head and thighs before the match, took third in the consolation match. He and Feleunga slapped together in the initial charge before Allman grabbed his opponent’s mawashi loin cloth and hoisted him out of the ring.
Yarbrough, the man-mountain from New Jersey who was one of the main draws of the competition, wrestled just once. He powered Feleunga out of the ring in the first match in the second round of pool play.
While Goloubvski won a few fans in the audience, he couldn’t finish with the championship. Vierra, an ocean sports guide who has a wife and two children who compete in sumo, added an accolade to a resume that also includes the 1999 North American Sumo Championship and third place at the 1997 World Sumo Championship. Vierra trained in Japan for four years.
“For me, it’s part of my life,” Vierra said. “It’s the way that I live. I’m a sumo wrestler and I won’t change that.”
So, with a sumo family home and maybe a new one at Caesars, Vierra seems to be sowing the sport’s seeds. He said sumo is growing, but he wants the sport’s stature to grow closer to matching the girth of its competitors – maybe even to reach the same level as the National Football League.
“I’ve really seen sumo take a giant leap in the last five years, but I hope it gets even larger,” Vierra said.
ESPN will broadcast the Caesars in an hour-long program on May 12.
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