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LAist Hearts Hans Borg

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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.

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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

During one of Hans' matches, he actually lifted and carried his 365 pound opponent out of the ring, an impressive sumo feat, before blowing kisses to the crowd. In between matches, he could be seen holding giddy USC co-eds high in the air for photo ops and posing with shirtless audience members. Even when Hans lost, he showed the crowd love. If this were the old-school WWF, Hans would be Hulk Hogan, and the crowd would be his little Hansamaniacs.

The ladies matches were most impressive for their technical skills and speed. SoCal native Lindsay Hood nabbed women's heavyweight silver while fighting with a prosthetic leg (in your face, Heather Mills!), and middleweight gold (and openweight silver) champ Florence Bannout is our official sumo hottie of the year. We're not kidding. With a dancer's body, this girl looks good enough to be on a calendar, so it was equal parts disturbing, impressive and arousing to watch her dart into her opponents and then throw them onto their heads. Whoah.

The Mongolian wrestlers dominated the day overall, with only the odd wrestler giving them even a minor challenge. Mongolian sumo won gold in every single division in which they participated, and world champ Byamba took his opponents to school.

Overall, we couldn't have thought of a better way to spend a Saturday. This is one of those annual events that people should be traveling to Los Angeles to see. LAist will definitely be returning to the Open in 2008, and we'll be bringing more friends. And we'll be damned if we're not going to win us some sake next time.