Big night on tap at Caesars Tahoe
If there’s one thing certain about the Sumo Wrestling World Championship event Saturday at Caesars Tahoe, it’s Caesars has hit the big time.
There’s absolutely nothing small about the card Caesars bills for its Sumo Night of the Giants 2000. With 20 athletes ranging between 300 and 700 pounds, sports fans would be hard-pressed to find anything bigger, even in the worlds of heavyweight boxing or professional wrestling.
“We are certainly on top of the pole on that one,” event promoter Harry Krebs said of the Caesars event, which he hopes is the launch for a series of televised sumo coverage.
“It’s a world super-heavyweight sumo event,” he said. “We have competitors coming from as far away as Mongolia, the Republic of Georgia, Russia, Norway, Poland, Germany, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Tonga, and obviously, the U.S. The one very interesting part is this is the first time in sports history that this has happened is Konishiki is going to be the color commentator and the host of the event.”
As sumo has become less an enigmatic, Japanese phenomenon that’s half sport, half ritual, it has spread to other countries and drawn competitors from around the globe. When Konishiki, the Hawaiian-born former champion, sumo pioneer (and namesake of Yahoo! founder David Filo’s computer), provides his insights beside the ring at Caesars, it will show how much the sport has changed.
“A lot of the professional sumo wrestlers in Japan, a lot of people want to come out and start competing on the world circuit because it’s going to be a gold-medal sport in the Olympics,” Krebs said. “We’re really on the cusp of something I think would be really exciting for the U.S. We cut down on the tradition and emphasize the competition.”
The ritual and tradition surrounding the sport belie the straightforwardness of competition: Two sumotori crash together, each trying to push the other out of the 12-foot, circular ring (the dohyo) or make him (Europe has women’s sumo; it hasn’t yet come to the U.S.) drop to one knee and tough the dohyo with a part of his body other than the bottom of the feet. Because each round typically lasts much less than 30 seconds, a good start is essential, but not everything.
“I’ve seen a sumo last as long as about three or four minutes with both competitors locked on to each other and it was the stamina that won and not the strength,” Krebs said. “Because all these boys are very, very strong.”
As simple and furious as it looks, though, there are more advanced techniques at work. Krebs has seen competitors grab the mawashi – the famous ritual shorts sumotori wear – to lift their opponents out of the ring. There are also several pushing techniques wrestlers employ. Because sumo is not merely a measure of brute strength, several in the field for Caesars have a chance – not just 700-pound Emanuel “Manny” Yarbrough, the world’s largest professional athlete. Krebs liked the chances of Norwegian competitor Ronny Allman and Jorg Vumor in addition to Yarbrough.
With more than 10,000 pounds of competitor crashing around the Caesars dohyo, it’s hard to argue whether the Sumo Night of the Giants will be huge. But Krebs and company are hoping it will be even bigger if it can help them launch a nationally televised sumo circuit in addition to the lead-in to ESPN’s national boxing show the network will shoot at Caesars.
“I feel as though this is the first really big one, because the first one (in 1998, in Atlantic City, New Jersey) was a test,” Krebs said. “Now we have it down.”
Sumo Night of the Giants 2000 takes place on Saturday, and ESPN will televise the Caesars Tahoe event on May 12. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the event starts at 8. Tickets cost $25, $50 and $75. For more information, call (800) 648-3353 for more information.
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