Sumo's stars not nearly as big as they used to be


POSTED: Sunday, June 07, 2009

There used to be a big sign at our main clerk's desk.

One word on it, in large red letters: SUMO.

It served as a reminder during tournaments in Japan that the most current results must be updated into the next edition. Because if they were not, there would be plenty of calls the next day from readers, and they would not be to thank us for doing a great job.

Yesterday, on the day of the legendary Jesse Kuhaulua's retirement from the sport, I asked if that piece of paper is still around. It is not. It has been replaced by a less prominent note-to-self, hidden behind other such memos, with a reminder of which months to watch for sumo.

Back when Jesse (Takamiyama), Salevaa Atisanoe (Konoshiki), Chad Rowan (Akebono) and other local boys were active, we'd get all kinds of calls about sumo. Interest was huge.

But in the past couple of years, not a whole lot.

“;I think there was one (call) recently, but it's very rare now,”; sports copy editor Nick Abramo said.

With Jesse's retirement as a stablemaster, it becomes extremely unlikely another great sumotori will come from Hawaii anytime soon. Those calls will be even more sporadic.

Kuhaulua will be 65 in a few days.

He wrestled for 21 years and was the first foreigner to win a tournament. Upon that achievement, he received a congratulatory letter from President Nixon. Yesterday he got one from President Obama. Not too many people can claim that double.

The man from Happy Valley on Maui adapted to the culture; he eventually became a Japanese citizen, allowing him to open his own stable and train future stars. Without him taking that step, there would've been no Akebono, no grand champion from Hawaii.

Personally, I don't get sumo as a sport—and since I don't by now, probably never will.

It's not for lack of exposure to it as a kid. Whenever a baseball, football, basketball or hockey game wasn't on in those pre-ESPN days, my dad would watch sumo, just like “;Let's Go Fishing”; or “;Soccer Made in Germany.”;

I liked the last two better, always thinking of sumo as nothing more than two blubbery guys shoving each other around. And later I learned that a big part of the training was eating lots of fattening food and taking naps. Did enough research to report in a magazine article that all that bad weight gain was terrible for their health.

Advocates consider it a pure sport, some comparing it to the 100-meter sprint in that regard. Fans like all the tradition attached to it, too.

I don't care for all the pomp and circumstance, don't want to deal with that kind of BS-to-action ratio. Sorry, but even though it's not scripted, to me sumo is like a version of pro wrestling that takes itself way too seriously.

Of course, I fully appreciate the legacy of Kuhaulua and what he means to the history of sports in Hawaii. He paved the way for others to succeed even beyond his accomplishments as a competitor.

Feel free to tell me why I'm all wrong about sumo, how great it is.

But your lack of phone calls since the retirement of the local stars signal this is like most other things. Interest wanes when we don't have a horse in the race.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.