Sumo

Sumo 101: Charismatic rikishi

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

One of sumo’s most defining features is the stoicism of its wrestlers.

Win or lose, rikishi are expected to remain composed.

Sometimes after a particularly hard fought or meaningful bout, emotion slips through, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Overt celebrations after wins quickly receive censure from the authorities, and expressions of joy, such as those when yokozuna Hakuho led an impromptu cheer after his victory in the March tournament, inevitably see the perpetrator reprimanded.

Despite all that, some of the most popular rikishi in the sport are those who display the most personality both inside and outside the ring.

In fact, being a “character” is often enough in and of itself to generate a large fan base and see the endorsements flow in.

Takamisakari didn’t win a special prize, challenge for a title or even defeat a yokozuna once over the last 9½ years of his career, but that didn’t prevent the crowd from going wild whenever “Robocop” entered the arena, or every single one of his bouts from having a parade of prize money banners circling the ring.

Takamiyama may have lifted the Emperor’s Cup, but that happened just once and he never went past the rank of sekiwake. But it seemed like the big Hawaiian was never off TV screens or out of magazine advertisement pages in the 1970s as the face of everything from beds to laundry detergent.

Among currently active rikishi, Abi seems like the most likely to inherit the mantle. Although not as demonstrative as Takamisakari, Abi has the kind of carefree personality and sense of humor that many fans like. If he can win a tournament or grab a few wins over yokozuna, the inevitable increase in media attention should put him in the spotlight enough to set up a long and lucrative career.

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