Egyptian sumo wrestler storms his way into ancient sport

Thu Jul 31, 2014 5:10pm EDT
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By Elaine Lies and Ami Miyazaki

INAZAWA Japan (Reuters) - Sumo wrestler Osunaarashi was a large, muscular Egyptian teenager with a passion for body building when a friend recommended he try the ancient Japanese sport of sumo. But it was a hard sell.

"This sport is about two elephants pushing each other," he recalls thinking. "I'm a body builder, man. It's so ugly for me, I will never do it."

Now Osunaarashi, 22, is the first Egyptian, first African, first Arab and first Muslim to muscle his way into sumo's professional ranks, so proud of his heritage that he observed the Ramadan fast during a just-ended tournament.

This meant neither eating nor drinking from 3 a.m to 7 p.m. despite grappling with wrestlers whose weight averaged 150 kg (330 lbs) in temperatures up to 33 C (91 F)

"The food was not a problem, but water was. It was the hardest part," Osunaarashi told Reuters in an extremely rare interview at his lively sumo "stable", as the wrestlers' gym and residence is called, just outside the central city of Nagoya.

"Without Ramadan, I just have a small headache after the fight. But in Ramadan, in this tournament, every day I have a really strong headache that I never had before."

Bulking up is one of the principles of sumo, which pits two giant, glowering wrestlers, clad in loincloths, against each other. Bouts take place on a raised sand ring and the first wrestler forced out loses, with the outcome decided in seconds.

Slapping is permitted, punching and hair-pulling are not.   Continued...