LAist Hearts Hans Borg
It’s the day after the 2007 US Sumo Open, and we have officially drank the Kool-Aid. We'd seen those documentaries on TLC about how sumo wrestlers are celebrities in Japan, and how its top practitioners are afforded the life of rock stars, and we giggled about how kooky the Japanese are. But now we understand their obsession, and we've decided that if Sumo were simply exposed to more Americans, it would be just as much of a hit here as it is in Japan.
The Open had everything the American sports crowd wants and loves. It had heroes, like SoCal sumo lightweight Trent Sabo, a 5'8", 180 pound fireplug who drew a standing ovation when he darted around 6'5", 400 pound Mark Sagato, then forced his opponent from the ring from behind. It had villains, like the almost Ivan Drago-like competitors from Bulgaria. Bulgarian lightweight Valentin Gogov had to be coaxed into the ring by the announcer after his loss because he refused to bow to his opponent, and heavyweight Peter Stoyanov chucked local Sabo from the ring like a flea, almost sending the little guy into the announcer's table.
Stoyanov got his comeuppance in the heavyweight finals, when world champ Byamba of Mongolia ended the match in one second flat by delivering what amounts to a "sumo bitch slap" and putting the Bulgarian on his knees.
The Open also had serious crowd participation, with the excitable masses pulling off the wave during one match, then becoming as rowdy as a Texas bar crowd during a raffle that liberally doled out bottles of sake and cases of Sapphoro beer. And, best of all, the Open had Hans. As in Hans Borg, the 6’3”, 331 pound seven time Norwegian sumo champ who preened and gestured his way into the crowd’s hearts en route to the heavyweight bronze medal.
Photo of the Hans-meister by Darin Riggs