Sumo Champions Exhibition

The smiling Sumo is Big Joe. 6’1″, 350 lbs, Tongan, multi-time medalist at many US Sumo Open.

This past Saturday Chris and I got to witness a sport we never thought we’d see in person – Sumo Wrestling! Earlier in the week Tori had IMed me with a link and it was so bizarre we had to go. The Sumo Champions Exhibition was a free event held in the middle of the Japantown Peace Plaza. The Japan Center Malls and the Japantown Merchants Association put on the event so that us San Franciscans could meet real Sumo Wrestlers, learn about life as a Sumo, and watch live matches. It was rad.

We walked over and ended up getting there just in time for the final round of live matches. There was a decent amount of people, but we found seats not too far from the mat.

Japantown Peace Plaza

The music came on, our charismatic announcer came out, and the show began. Similar to wrestling, each Sumo Wrestler waited behind stage and came out when introduced. Fortunately for us we were sitting “behind” the stage and got see them up close and personal before they entered the rink.

Byamba, 6’1″, 370 lbs, Mongolian, three-time World Sumo Champion, just astounding, off-the-charts charisma and Sumo athleticism.

Kelly, 6’0″, 430 lbs, three-time US Sumo Champion and Guinness World Record holder as the heaviest human ever to run a marathon (he completed in the Los Angeles Marathon in 2008 and 2011).

When we they were all on the mat, they de-robed. Everyone applauded.


They then began stretching by alternating lifting their legs really high to the side and squatting. We were informed they did this to work on their balance. You don’t want to lose your footing in a Sumo Wrestling match.


While they were stretching the announcer took questions from the crowd. I ended up learning a great deal. A typical day for Sumo Wrestler is walking up extremely early and training for 5 hours. Then they eat as much of this particular, healthy Japanese stew they could. Took a nap, woke, and ate more stew. Every single day.

When the stretching commenced, they moved on to teaching us the game mechanics by acting them out. This was particularly hilarious because they got to do things they normally couldn’t… and greatly enjoyed it. Here are a few things that I remember…
1. You can slap you opponent, but you can’t punch.
2. You can grab the sides of the diaper as leverage, but never the groin or butt area (no wedgies).
3. No hair pulling.
Overall the goal of Sumo Wrestling is to get your opponent out of the circle or get them to touch the ground with anything besides the pads of their feet. Pushing, flipping, and lifting are all approved ways of accomplishing this goal.

Once everyone understood the rules of the game, the bouts started. 10 bouts in total and the wrestlers were in a bracketed system.

Big Joe vs Little Man

Kelly vs Bashar

Bashar vs Big Joe

It bracketed down to Byamba vs Kelly. In the previous two tournaments of the day Byamba had faced Kelly in the end and won. But could he do it again?

Byamba vs Kelly

The crowd chanted their favorite wrestler’s name. They went back and forth for a few minutes, but in the end Byamba epically flipped Kelly. The ground shook.

Besides the fact that I learned pretty much everything I’ve ever known about Sumo this past Saturday, I was shocked to discover how strong and agile the wrestlers are. The stronger ones can literally lift their opponents out of the ring – that’s crazy! Smaller ones can move quickly to throw their charging opponent off balance. It’s a pretty fun sport to watch. Check out the rest of our photos on flickr: Chris’s flickr set and my flickr set.