Two sumo wrestlers face off in Tokyo, Japan in a traditional sumo ring. [Photo source: Wikimedia Commons]

Sumo Comes to Colorado


Most American Sumo fans are eagerly waiting for April to see top tier Sumo Wrestling at the US Sumo Open. However, Sumo fans in Denver got an early treat on October 23rd at the Japan America Society of Colorado’s (JASC) 30th Annual Gala. The gala, held at the EXDO Event Center in downtown Denver, featured nine matches between pro sumo wrestlers from California-based USA SUMO.

USA SUMO was established in 1998 in order to provide sumo training and education in the United States and hosts the annual US Sumo Open, America’s largest sumo tournament. USA SUMO’s roster contains a range of world class wrestlers including four-time world champion Byamba, and self-proclaimed worlds heaviest Japanese sumo wrestler Yama, who both preformed at JASC’s 30th Annual Gala. Guests were even treated to the special appearance of former Broncos Football player Ryan Harris, who entered the ring with pro wrestler Yama as an honored guest.

In addition to the nine sumo matches and Ryan Harris’s guest appearance, gala attendees were served a local sake brewed by recently opened Colorado Sake co. The company also hosted an after party reception at their taproom in Denver which included a meet and great with the USA SUMO wrestlers.

While the JASC has a long history of activity in Colorado, this was the first time USA SUMO visited the Centennial State. Despite Japanese-Americans making up less than 1 % of the state’s population, Colorado’s connections to Japan have continued to develop. Today, Colorado hosts a range of Japanese festivals and cultural activities such as Denver’s Japanese Kite Festival, and performances by the local Colorado Japanese dance troupe Pikes Peak Yosakoi Ōbirin. Colorado also maintains nine sister city relationships between local cities and Japan and a statewide relationship between Colorado and Yamagata Prefecture.

As interest in Japanese culture continues to grow, so does the popularity of sumo. Today four US wrestlers have reached the highest division of makuuchi within Japanese professional sumo. One of the best known American wrestlers, Konishiki, also reached the second highest rank known as Ozeki, before his retirement from the ring. Additionally, the US Sumo Open has grown to become the largest annual sumo tournament in the world outside of Japan with the 2020 open planned to take place in San Francisco, California next year.

William Lloyd is a participant in the East-West Center's Young Professionals Program and a second year MA student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies with a concentration in American Foreign Policy.

Amy Namur is a participant in the East-West Center's Young Professionals Program and a recent graduate from the United Nations University-MERIT and Maastricht University.