[ SUMO ]
Musashimaru involved in bringing a sumo tournament to Hawaii
It's official -- get ready for the return of the dohyo to Hawaii.
Thirteen years since Fiamalu Penitani defeated Chad Rowan in the last Grand Sumo Tournament held on Oahu, the Nihon Sumo Kyokai (Japan Sumo Association) has seen fit to sanction a two-day exhibition tournament at the Blaisdell Arena next summer, featuring the top 40 sumotori in action.
Penitani -- known better as Yokozuna Musashimaru -- was on hand with Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall to present the news.
The 2007 Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii will take place June 9-10.
The yokozuna (grand champion) looked every bit the wrestler he was in his most successful days in the 1990s.
Because no Hawaii-born or raised wrestlers currently compete, Musashimaru views the event as a chance to spark new interest in the sport locally. He has fond memories of the turnout back in 1993.
"We want to get boys at the age of 18 so we can start them out fresh," said the yokozuna, who has trained younger sumotori at Musashigawa Beya in Japan since his official retirement last year. "We just gotta educate them now. (Thirteen) years ago, we had people who came out and looked, you know, the fans came out. I was 21, sekiwake. I wanted to come back when I was wrestling (more often). The sport has been around 135 years and this is important to me to get somebody in there."
Preparation for the 2007 tournament in Hawaii began in June, when Musashimaru, ring announcer Jiro and stablemaster Minezaki combed the island for the right soil to use in the dohyo, or competition ring.
Hannemann said it was a matter of partnerships and sponsorships that secured the event's return.
"Hawaii has been blessed with professional sumo wrestlers," Hannemann said. "Azumazeki, Konishiki, Akebono, Musashimaru, and they've all done very well. They're icons in Japan, we look up to them as role models and I think this will speak volumes of our ability to host a world-class event and to also point out how we have contributed to that sport of sumo by our Hawaii-born wrestlers."
Rankings from the May Basho in Japan will determine which sumotori compete in Hawaii. Barring injury, Yokozuna Asashoryu -- who has dominated tournaments of late in Japan -- and his competitors down through the ranks will be present.
Musashimaru, who was raised in Waianae, won 12 tournaments and boasts a record 55-tournament streak with a winning record, believes the sport has changed since he last wrestled.
"A couple reasons why it's slowed down, the level went down," Musashimaru said. "We had big guys, stronger guys compared to the guys right now. Smaller guys trying to use their speed and technique.
"Whereas before it was all strength. And technique," he added with a small grin.
The Nihon Sumo Kyokai has tried to broaden its appeal in recent years. It held its last exhibition in Las Vegas in 2005, which drew 25,000 people. Events outside of Japan do not count in the rankings, but serve to "enlighten foreign understanding and appreciation for the sport, its ceremonies, and its athletes," the Kyokai said in a statement.
Local fans may remember well the success of their local boys. Rowan, or Akebono, had 11 upper division championship wins of his own, and was the first foreign yokozuna.
While Musashimaru sees the event as a chance to recruit some local prospects, Hannemann knows the event can attract distant crowds.
"It's gonna sell out the arena, there's no question in my mind," Hannemann said. "Tourists are going to want to come and see it, we're going to have opportunities to promote Hawaii as a result of the tournament being here. It goes beyond sports -- it's a major tourism opportunity."
He hinted the event could return to Hawaii in future years if the proper sponsorships could be worked out.
Tickets go on sale for the event in April. More information is available at www.sumohawaii.com.