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Vegas braced for the ultimate heavyweights
The Independent.Published: By David Usborne
Read further the full story about Samoa's very own wrestler

It has arrived on the Strip with a thud. Sumo wrestling, the ancient body-contact sport normally confined to the shores of Japan, has come to Las Vegas. For the next few days, a city more used to welcoming fighters in shorts and boxing gloves will open its arms to a more nakedly corpulent kind of contender.

With 45 wrestlers taking part, the Grand Sumo Tournament, hosted by the Mandalay Bay Resort, has been hailed as the first such high-level, officially-sanctioned sumo contest to be held in the United States for more than two decades. Organisers are hoping that it will spur its popularity in North America.

"I hope people fall in love with the sport," said Musashimaru, a retired grand champion, or yokozuana. Installed in Las Vegas for the long holiday weekend, Musashimaru is famed for moving from Samoa to Japan to become the first-ever non-Japanese to attain the rank of champion.

It remains to be seen what visitors to Las Vegas make of sumo wrestling, best known for the bulk of its participants, who can weigh 300lbs or more, for their hair tied in top-knots and, most of all, for the immodesty of their outfits in the ring. They grapple with swaddling that is both a belt and loincloth. At least keeping their weight up shouldn't be a challenge in a city famous for all-you-can-eat buffets in virtually every casino resort up and down the Strip, and for the most part open 24 hours a day. Serious wrestlers normally spend their mornings training before stopping to eat considerable lunches. They then sleep during the afternoons in order to bulk up. "We need rice, we need to keep healthy," said Musashimaru.




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April 5, 2004 WASHINGTON, D.C.—FALEOMAVAEGA MEETS SAMOAN SUMO GRAND CHAMPION, MUSASHIMARU, IN WASHINGTON

Congressman Faleomavaega announced that he was invited to speak at the opening ceremony of the Cherry Blossom Festival and welcomed special guest, Musashimaru. Musashimaru is only one of two Americans ever to achieve sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna (grand champion). Born in American Samoa and raised in Hawaii, Musashimaru’s birth name is Fiamalu Penitani.

“In professional sumo wrestling, Musashimaru holds the record of 55 consecutive tournament wins,” the Congressman said. “He made his debut in 1989 and is considered to be one of the great Sumo wrestlers of all time. At his heaviest, he weighed 537 pounds.”

“Known as the ‘Moose,’ Musashimaru moved to Japan at age 18 at a time when sumo wrestling was opening up to foreign athletes and when Konishiki, a fellow Samoan, was a very popular Ozeki( champion). For both of these Samoans, breaking into sumo wrestling was very difficult. Even Japanese athletes have a hard time and the language barrier itself makes it extremely difficult for outsiders to be accepted.”

“Although it was believed that no foreigner would ever achieve the title of Grand Champion, Musashimaru finally did the unbelievable in 1999 becoming only the second American and the first Samoan ever to become a Grand Champion.”

“The first grand champion was Native Hawaiian, Chad Rowan, who wrestled under the name of Akebono and became the first foreign Yokozuna. Being a Yokozuna, or grand champion, is like being the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”

“Another Hawaiian, Jesse Kuhaulua, wrestled under the name of Takamiyama and trained Konishiki and Akebono. I believe these four Polynesians were successful in breaking into the highest levels of this ancient Japanese sport because Polynesians share similar cultural values,” Faleomavaega said.

“In Japan, there is a code known as bushido which means that you do or die and there is no giving up once you undertake a task. This is very similar to the Samoan ritual of the tatau. Once a Samoan begins the process of being tattooed, there is a cultural expectation that you must complete this process or lose respect among your peers and the community.”

“Given our cultural similarities, we should take pride in the achievements of Musashimaru, Konishiki, Takamiyama and Akebono. I commend each of them for their accomplishments and I thank the sponsors of the national Cherry Blossom festival for inviting me to speak at the opening ceremony.”

“Three other guests, including former Congressman William Fenzel (Chairman of the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC), Minister Katakami from the Embassy of Japan, and Mayor Miyashita, were invited to speak at the opening ceremony of the Cherry Blossom Festival and I am honored that I was able to represent American Samoa and welcome Musashimaru to our Nation’s capital.”

“The Ambassador of Japan also invited me to attend a special reception at his residence which was held in honor of Musashimaru and I am pleased that I was also able to represent American Samoa at this event. Again, I commend Musashimaru for his outstanding accomplishments and I wish him well as he retires from a sport in which he achieved so much,” the Congressman concluded.
News conference

Asashoryu, left, the current grand champion of sumo, and Musashimaru, a retired former grand champion, leave a news conference in San Francisco on April 7 2005.

LAS VEGAS - He has been called everything from a bully to Genghis Khan. Some might also see sumo champion Asashoryu as a 317-pound, showboating troublemaker who doesn’t always honor the staid rituals of his sport.

But that’s in Japan. In this city, where flamboyance is a revered tradition, he should find plenty of approval.

For the first time in two decades, a Grand Sumo tournament will be held in the United States, running Oct. 7-9 at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino.

Yokozuna Musashimaru beat Asahoryu in Tokyo, 2002

This is the highest and most revered rank a sumo wrestler can obtain. Traditionally held by massive, powerful men who command respect both in and out of the sumo ring. In a shocking situation there are currently two Yokozuna, neither of whom of Japanese! The wiry and fierce Asashoryu is Mongolian and huge and stoic Musashimaru is Samoan.


Musashimaru’s birth name is Fiamalu Penitani.

“Known as the ‘Moose,’ Musashimaru moved to Japan at age 18 at a time when sumo wrestling was opening up to foreign athletes and when Konishiki, a fellow Samoan, was a very popular Ozeki( champion). For both of these Samoans, breaking into sumo wrestling was very difficult. Even Japanese athletes have a hard time and the language barrier itself makes it extremely difficult for outsiders to be accepted.”

Yokozuna Musashimaru

2004-06-07: "Sumo hurts," was how yokozuna Musashimaru summed up his life as a wrestler in a rare, intimate discussion with ACCJ members and guests on June 2. The yokozuna and his close friend, well-known sumo artist Lynn Matsuoka, gave their views on sumo, both as a sport and as a very special culture. They also spoke about the difficulties foreigners have adjusting to the training and rising through the ancient sport?s very hierarchical system.

Musashimaru, who will be retiring officially from sumo later this year, spent the latter part of the event signing autographs and posing with attendees for pictures.


Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame

Musashimaru beats Kyokushúzan

Yokozuna Musashimaru, the most famous Sumo wrestler in Japan.