Sumo Wrestling

A sumo wrestling tournament in Japan.
(Photo by John Paul Antes via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1993, the American-born sumo wrestler Akebono became the first foreigner promoted to the highest rank of yokozuna.

Here are some things you may not have known about sumo, and Akebono.

Sumo is a wrestling sport where opponents try to force each other to be the first to step out of the ring, or touch the floor with anything but the soles of their feet.

One strategy is to simply be the larger participant. Sumo wrestlers are known for their sometimes enormous weight. There are no weight divisions in professional sumo, so wrestlers sometimes face off against someone twice their weight. However, weight isn’t everything. With the proper technique the smaller wrestler can defeat a much larger opponent.

Sumo wrestlers wear a loincloth called a mawashi. It is made of silk and, when unwound, is about 30 feet long and two feet wide, and can weigh up to 11 pounds. It is an automatic disqualification if the cloth comes off.

Only former professional sumo wrestlers are allowed to train new wrestlers. Sumo wrestlers’ lives are highly regimented. Most wrestlers live communally. Lower ranked wrestlers must wear a thin cotton robe and wooden sandals, year-round. As wrestlers move up the ranks, they’re allowed to wear better clothes and sandals. Junior wrestlers are also responsible for upkeep in the training facility. Because some wrestlers were too big to drive cars, all wrestlers are banned from driving.

Wrestlers below the second division make a small allowance. Top-level wrestlers, such as the Yokozuna, make as much as $30,000 a month.

Yokozuna means “Horizontal Rope” and refers to the ceremonial rope they wear around their waist. The rope can weigh up to 44 pounds.

72 wrestlers have earned the rank of Yokozuna, the first recorded in 1749. Yokozuna are selected based on their power, skill and dignity and grace. Some allege that the dignity and grace criteria was used to prevent foreign wrestlers from achieving Yokozuna status.

That changed in 1993, when Akebono was promoted to yokozuna.

Akebono was born Chad Rowan near Honolulu. He was an all-star center in basketball in high school and went to Hawaii Pacific University on a basketball scholarship. At 6-foot-8, it was thought that he was too tall to be a sumo wrestler, but he was allowed to join a training stable. He adopted the name Akebono, which means “New Dawn.” He rose through the ranks quickly, compiling several championships in 1992 an 1993 to earn promotion.

Akebono lasted nearly eight years as a yokozuna, which is an unusually long time. However he battled injury because of his height and weight. He was one of the heaviest wrestlers ever, fighting at more than 500 pounds. He retired in 2000. Since then, he has fought in mixed martial arts and in American-style professional wrestling.

Our question: Of the four current yokozuna, how many are Japanese?


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The answer is Bob Dylan.

The first correct answer came from Kevin Lazar. He was followed closely by Trent H, Tom, and Brian and Elisa.



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