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2008: The Year of Sumo!

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It was almost a year ago that LAist was blown away by the US Sumo Open at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The day of amateur sumo wrestling action, yakisoba noodles and free sake made us understand why the sport is followed so religiously in Japan. With the lousy weather keeping us homebound this weekend, it seemed like a good time to start researching the 2008 event, as we’re anxious to see the return of flamboyant Norwegian champ Hans Borg, root against those seemingly villainous Bulgarians, marvel at the skills of the Mongolians and root for (while trying not to drool over) bodacious ladies sumo vixen Florence Bannout.

A visit to the sumo events calendar revealed that a date for the 2008 open event has yet to be announced, but imagine our surprise when we discovered the mother of all sumo events, the Grand Sumo Tournament, will actually be held in Los Angeles this year!

The only sanctioned event held outside of Japan, the Grand tournament was held in Hawaii last year, and before that hadn’t been in our fair city since 1981. There are six Grand Tournaments held in Japan every year, and each 15-day event is a cultural spectacle that draws visitors from around the world. While our scaled-down Grand Tournament will only be a two-day event (June 7-8), we can still expect to see at least 40 top sumo from Japan in competition with one another. That means hundreds of Japanese fans from around the country will probably travel here to attend it.

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Angelenos should count ourselves lucky that our city is the hotbed of so many unusual sports, both of the homegrown (roller derby) and not-so-homegrown (Lucha Libre) variety. But turning into a sumo hotbed in 2008 might be the greatest sports gift of all.

Those who blanched at the $25 ticket prices to the Sumo Open will soon see how much of a bargain that event was. While official ticket prices and schedules for the Grand Tourney won’t be posted online until February, it’s safe to say that, like last year’s event in Hawaii, it will be priced like any other sporting event, with multiple tiers. That means seats right next to the ring will probably run you a couple hundred bucks. But unless you plan to fly to Japan, consider even those prices a bargain.

The Wikipedia page on sumo includes a number of useful links to sumo organizations. Some other sumo tidbits you may not know:

The most dominant wrestlers tend to be Mongolian, not Japanese.

Eastern Europeans, including Russians and namely Bulgarians, have been making huge inroads into the sport.

Sometimes, wrestlers will get worked up after losing a match. This isn't because they are sore losers. The techniques used to beat an opponent often have deeper meanings. For example, if a wrestler lifts up his opponent and carries him out of the wring, that is the ultimate punking. Also, viewers are sure to catch at least a few "one second matches," where one wrestler delivers a side-step, the sumo equivalent of a bitch-slap.


Photo by hellochris via Flickr

Lead photo by mpmbm via Flickr