January 31, 2010

IMPORTING THE SUPERIOR CULTURE:

Sumo's Bad Boy (Tim Kelly, 01.31.10, Forbes)

In keeping with his bad-boy image, 330-pound Asashoryu, one of sumo wrestling's two yokozuna (highest ranked) grand champions, recently ended up in a drunken scuffle outside a Tokyo bar, breaking the nose of one of his drinking partners. Occurring in the middle of the year's first two-week tournament, the brawl outraged sumo wrestling's tradition-drenched governing council, which has been known to rebuke wrestlers for looking at their opponents in the wrong way.

Had the Mongolian Asashoryu been a run-of-the-mill slinger he may have been kicked out of the sport altogether, particularly as the brawl was the latest in a string of incidents involving the errant athlete that have shocked sumo aficionados. His list of misdemeanors includes being caught playing in a charity soccer match in his native Mongolia when he was supposed to be recovering from a back injury; having the audacity to play a round of golf two days before a tournament; wearing flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt on vacation; twirling tassels on the traditional sumo belt that wrestlers wear to bouts; and throwing purifying salt into the ring with his left rather than his right. All are deemed unfitting behavior for a supposed-to-be stoic yokozuna.

But average Asashoryu is not. He won the latest tournament with a bruised fist and a hangover, adding to a list of victories that has made him one of sumo's most successful wrestlers. He has pulled in fans that love him and love to hate him, driving a renaissance in the centuries-old sport. It's a long way from the showbiz of WrestleMania but it enthralls millions of Japanese. Another mark against Asashoryu, and the one thing beyond the impish wrestlers control, is that he's a foreigner. And he's not the only one. Japan's other grand champion, Hakuho, is also Mongolian (he was caught playing golf with Asashoryu). A notch down at Ozeki rank is fellow countryman Harumafuji and Bulgarian Kotooshu.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 31, 2010 7:07 PM
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