this essay was written for and originally presented at live lit show The Skewer on March 6th in Chicago, Illinois
Today I am here to talk to you about objectively the best sport and the ONLY sport worth watching: Sumo. If you like any other sport you are a rube in the pocket of Big Normie and today I will open your eyes.
I fully admit that there were no big news stories about sumo in the last month so yes I am completely disregarding the core concept of the show, but uh what are you gonna fuckin do, not book me? The reason the show exists is to book me.
Before I go on there are a few things that literally everyone I’ve talked to about sumo has brought up so I’m just going to quickly address them here so we can move on.
1) huh! They wear diapers! Like, yeah.
2) huh! What if the diaper fell off? They fuckin, WON’T
3) huh! They’re fat, they got big titties! Correct. Well observed.
OK! Are we past it? Is it out of our system? Good. Moving on.
This past year I have gotten insanely into sumo. Prior to this I had not followed a sport for over a decade. This is because sports are extremely bad and boring. Think of how long your average football or baseball game lasts — conservatively, like ten hours right? The seasons last for over half the year, requiring massive mental investment. There are inscrutable rules written in ancient runes called like “offsides” that make me furious! No one strangles anyone! Folks, these sports suck ass.
Sumo has like four rules: You lose if you touch the ground with anything but your feet. You lose if you go outside of the ring. You can’t hit your opponent with a closed fist. You can’t pull your opponent’s hair. That’s it! It’s never like “actually that didn’t count, it was goaltending.” Seriously what the fuck is goaltending. Please do not actually tell me.
You may be like “does that mean you can just fuckin’ strangle a guy” — UH! YEAH! IT OWNS! Sumo is the strangling sport. If you haven’t seen it you cannot comprehend the staggering spectacle of a 400 pound obelisk of meat just choking a motherfucker out, and then the other guy picks him up, mid strangle, and walks him out.
The wrestlers live and train in little dorms where they take nappies in the afternoon in a big room where they all snooze together and cook big pots of stew as a group! It’s cute!
They only wrestle 15 days every two months. Matches last, on average, 5 seconds, and watching a full day of professional sumo takes no joke twenty minutes. Folks, I have video games to play. I cannot be watching Lefty Scruggs or whatever baseball man root around in his dickbag for five hours. My time is valuable. I need to fit anime, more anime, general millennial despair, Twitter, and most importantly, anime into my limited free hours. Sumo is the ONLY sport that fits my needs, and also there is an anime about sumo and I watch that too.
This is a sport that demands the absolute minimum of your attention and time and delivers exclusively explosive blasts of incomprehensible athletic insanity. Like, the first few times I watched it I had no idea what was happening other than “ah, the huge man pushed good.” But like, that’s enough. In the same way it’s compelling to watch a building fall down, it’s inherently exciting to see the big boys boom.
But man, I am now all in. I am a sumo boy. And though no one in America would know it, the sport is currently in a fucking fascinating place. Lucky you though, because I’m going to tell you all about it.
Like, did you know that right now, the greatest sumo wrestler ever is active and still dominant? I’m talking about Hakuho, one of the best athletes of all time. You have likely never heard of him. He has the all-time record for most wins in a year, most undefeated tournaments, most tournament victories, most tournaments at the top rank, most wins total — literally he could have retired five years ago and been the best to ever play the sport. He is straight up just achievement hunting at this point. Like, all wrestlers have official profiles listing their specialty. Some push and slap. Some grab the belt. Some rely on throws. Some use pure brute strength.
Hakuho’s specialty: all. He is a goddamn monster and the only thing keeping him from winning every tournament is the nagging injuries that come from 17 years of doing the strangling sport that instantly destroys your knees.
Speaking of knees: despite all I’ve been saying about how sumo fucking slaps and is the best sport, it is at a truly terrifying crossroads and its future is sickeningly uncertain. This January, the last remaining Japanese yokozuna, Kisenosato, was forced to retire in disgrace.
Now, some background. In sumo, wrestlers are assigned ranks based on their performance. The highest rank is yokozuna. This is what Hakuho is. A yokozuna promotion is rare, significant, and cannot be revoked. All other ranks can be lost if you suck ass. A yokozuna is a yokozuna for life. Thus, yokozuna are promoted with the implication that they must perform up to the expectations of the rank. You must dominate. And for the last decade or so, the yokozuna, including Hakuho, have all been Mongolian.
Listen I dunno what they put in the yak milk up there but uh, Japan cannot keep up. Mongolians are all over this sport. They even had to institute a rule that each stable — that’s the little dorm where the wrestlers live and train — can only have one foreign wrestler because otherwise they’d be ALL MONGOL ALL THE TIME. Now I don’t know how familiar you are with Japanese stereotypes but uh the one about national honor and pride in ancient Shinto tradition is true. They fuckin’ hate this Mongolian shit. Ooooh it steams them off. As a foreigner who knows nothing about the political culture there, I can’t say it’s racism, but it’s probably not NOT racism. Like, yokozuna isn’t just a rank, it’s supposed to be an embodiment of the soul of sumo and Japan. The other ranks are given out by the Sumo Association but a yokozuna promotion needs to be approved by a council of poets and painters. I’m not kidding, Sumo is technically not even a sport, but a religious ceremony about like, making demons mad?? It’s not important, but it is as Japanesey as it gets and here we have a dozen foreigners in cosplay fuckin’ gooning their asses constantly. They hate it.
So imagine the country’s relief when in January 2017, Japanese-born Kisenosato was promoted to yokozuna after a stunning run of dominant tournaments. You know those old Japanese paintings where everyone’s face is long and weird?
I used to think like, huh, how come them old painters didn’t know what faces look like? Kisenosato’s face looks like that all the time.
Kisenosato then immediately destroyed his entire body and exploded all his bones instantly and was out with injury for a record-long eight tournaments, and every time he’d make an appearance after, he’d be easily beaten and have to withdraw from the tournament with “an injury,” but mostly to avoid the shame of being a yokozuna with a deeply losing record. And this January, he wasn’t able to spin it anymore. He simply cannot measure up, and the last Japanese yokozuna retired from the sport after an almost comically disappointing reign at the top.
Not to add insult to injury, but in Kisenosato’s entire career he won a total of two tournaments. Hakuho has won 41.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a new pack of young talent ready to seize the reins but uh, remember all the times I’ve brought up injury? Sumo’s not just the strangling sport, it’s the “your knees become powder instantly” sport. They wrestle on a platform raised about two feet in the air and are often pushed off of it by insanely strong men, and smash all 300 pounds of their body onto their shoulders and heads. You might be wondering, surely there’s some padding down there? Well of course, we’re not unreasonable. They are protected by a layer of extremely brittle ancient men who sit directly next to the ring and die immediately if the wind blows on them too hard.
Also, in sumo, your pay depends on victory. Every match you win, you get paid extra. If you have over 50% wins in a tournament, you get paid extra. Each rank gets paid more than the one below it. It’s good in that it incentivizes winning and doesn’t allow situations where like a player gets a huge ten year contract and then forgets how to read and sucks but has to get paid anyway. But remember how I said yokozuna is the only rank that can’t be revoked? The others can get taken away if you lose too much. And here is the fucking kicker: if you sit out a match because you’re hurt, it counts as a loss. If you sit out, you will lose money. You will get demoted. So guess what they don’t fucking do. The old world culture of machismo and toughing it out means these guys drag their broken bodies into the ring and proceed to fuck them up way more so they will forever be beyond repair.
Like there’s one wrestler Tochinoshin who was kicking ass the first time I watched sumo. He is a goddamn adonis made of pure muscle. Like he’s as big as the rest of the guys but he’s not even fat. His whole strategy is to grab the other guy, pick him up, and walk him out. It is an astonishing spectacle. When he’s on his game, he simply cannot be defeated. His athletic ability is without a doubt one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. But…he’s just done. Oops. He pushed himself too hard, his legs are ruined, and while he’s still competing it’s just not possible for him to win consistently unless he takes significant time off to heal, and he fucking can’t because he’d lose all his money. It’s painful to watch him flail and make a mockery of himself up there, but what can he do? Man up and power through.
And on top of that, a few years ago sumo was rocked by a massive hazing scandal. Turns out the cute dorms where the wrestlers take group naps were uh hotbeds for huge amounts of verbal and physical abuse! One kid fucking died at 17 years old because he was “too soft” and the stablemaster ordered everyone to hit him with bats! Turns out one of the yokozuna at the time smashed a beer bottle over another wrestler’s head and had a long history of bizarre bursts of violent rage! And yes, it was a Mongolian yokozuna. I’m sure that did not rile up any xenophobic feelings! And also in 2011 they discovered RAMPANT MATCH FIXING led by the stable owners! They had to fully cancel a tournament for I think the only time ever because people were fuckin’ madddd!!!! And the sport has never fully recovered.
There was another massive dumbass move in April 2018 when a woman paramedic was not allowed into the ring to treat an injured wrestler because women are too impure to enter the sacred arena. Folks, can you imagine why a young teen boy would maybe not want to enter this goddamn sport. Can you conceive of a reason why there is not a wave of young talent burning up the charts. Who would not want to join the mafia sport where your roommates murder you and your tendons get snapped like fishing line every day and you still have to lift the biggest man in the universe anyway or else you’re poor? Also keep in mind that even if you do get to sit out, they have to train constantly because if you are that heavy and you let your muscles atrophy, fuckin’ goodbye, you’re not coming back to pro sports anytime soon!
But despite it all. I can’t help it. I love sumo. It’s cool, it’s short. Really I cannot overstate how short it is. It is so fucking good. Sports are too long, we can all agree. Honestly there’s something so captivating about these huge guys who command so much goddamn physical power just doing the dance up there. And there are some young wrestlers with potential to possibly reach the highest ranks. Takakeisho is a Japanese wrestler who looks like a .jpg of a baby you clicked the corner of and stretched out who is stunning the top division with his rhythmic thrusting attack (not the horny kind), and Mitakeumi is Japanese/Filipino and in the last tournament confidently and definitively beat Hakuho in a match that made both the audience and me stand up and shout.
In the second highest division is a tiny little pixie named Enho who is insanely hot.
No shade on the other wrestlers but as a rule they are not lookers. Enho is 5’6” and weighs 220 pounds. He is the smallest fucking person I have ever seen and next to the other wrestlers he may as well be invisible, and yet with sheer preternatural technique he regularly beats wrestlers literally twice his size. He is like a buzzing bee bringing down elephants. When he does lose it mostly just drives home how fucking good he has to be to even compete at all. He gets absolutely effortlessly crushed the nanosecond his opponents get one hand on him. These are guys who can lift 500 pounds easy. Lifting Enho is baby mode. And yet he wins. Fun fact, Enho is the special mentee of none other than fuckin’ Hakuho, the GOAT, because when Hakuho was young he too was considered to small to ever be a competent sumo wrestler. God, it all owns. It fucking rules.
Sumo is so good. I know this isn’t current events news, but it’s probably new to you. Guys. Watch sumo. The next tournament starts in four days, this Sunday! I’m gonna watch it! WATCH SUMO!