But he easily could be an underdog in a sumo match. The heaviest sumo wrestlers weigh 450 to 550 pounds, sometimes more.
Unlike a football player, a sumo wrestler has no helmet, pads or uniform. A belt that barely covers his midsection is all he wears into the ring. The ring itself is a clay base surrounded by a narrow circle f straw. It is only about 15 feet in diameter. The object f a sumo match is to knock an opponent off his feet or out f the ring. A match begins with the two wrestlers crouched much the same way a football lineman sets up for the snap. At the referee's signal, they uncoil and slam into each other.
Bigger wrestlers use their bodies like bulldozers to drive an opponent out f the ring. The smaller ones must rely on quickness and leverage to overcome a larger opponent. A match may last only 20 to 30 seconds. Some last an even shorter time. (Hall 1-7)
Sumo is a distinctly Japanese sport. Its modern history stretches back some 300 years. But for the first time, a foreigner holds the title f grand champion. He is an American from Hawaii named Chad Rowan. He wrestles under the name Akebono, which means "the dawn."
At 6-foot-8 and 466 pounds, Akebono is one f the larger men in sumo. But he is trim compared to the largest wrestler, another Hawaiian named Konishiki. He stands about 6 feet tall and weighs 575 pounds. To maintain his size, Konishiki consumes about 19,000 calories a day. That could easily be a week's worth f calories for an average person. (Schilling 21-26)
Eating plenty f food is important to a sumo wrestler, but being big is not the key to winning. Wrestlers must develop skills and techniques--and huge muscles. To do that, they train extremely hard. Before a match, wrestlers toss salt and stomp their feet. This ritual is intended to purify the mind and drive away demons. Sumo's rituals have evolved out f the Shinto religion. According to legend, the first sumo match occurred 2,000 years ago between two feuding gods.
Growing in Popularity
Several years ago sumo was considered a dull, old-fashioned sport. Today its popularity is growing faster than a wrestler's waistline. Millions in Japan watch the matches on television. "There aren't many people more exciting to the Japanese than a sumo champion," says Gordon Berger, a professor at the University f Southern California who teaches Japanese history. "The top wrestlers are on a par with sports and movie stars in the United States." (Kubota 1-10)
Sumo fans do not lose their interest in the sport when they leave Japan. Motohiro Matsuda moved to the United States six years ago. He bought a satellite dish for his home in St. Louis, Mo., to pick up broadcasts f sumo tournaments 7,000 miles away.
His 9-year-old son, Yu, a Cub Scout in Pack 492, is a fan too. "I like to pretend I'm one f them," Yu says. His favorite wrestler is Takahanada, a baby-faced bruiser swarmed by fans throughout Japan. Takahanada and his brother Wakahanada might be the most popular sumo stars.
There is another difference between sumo and many American sports. These wrestlers remain a modest bunch even after a victory. They do not jump and shout with joy. "Don't expect high-fives in sumo," Berger says. "Don't even expect a smile." A sumo champion remains humble and reserved. That is the sumo tradition.
Sumo wrestling - a history
The sport, like its