Konishiki enjoying his post-ring life
By Jim Armstrong
TOKYO Japan's ancient sport of sumo could learn a thing or two about promotion from former wrestler Konishiki.
Since retiring from sumo in 1997, Konishiki, formerly known as Salevaa Atisanoe, has made an almost effortless transition from the raised ring to the entertainment world and in the process has become one of Japan's most recognizable television personalities.
Sumo, meanwhile, continues to fall in popularity and lacks the appeal it had when Konishiki became the first foreigner to be promoted to the second-highest rank of ozeki (champion) in 1987.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference yesterday, Konishiki says it's all just a question of developing the sport at the grass-roots level and getting the Japan Sumo Association to adopt a more open stance in promoting its wrestlers.
"The biggest problem facing sumo these days is that there aren't enough young athletes going into the sport. In my days, we used to get 250 kids every March wanting to get into sumo."
Konishiki's career in the entertainment world has taken off.
"Since I quit sumo, everything seems to come naturally to me," said Konishiki, who can be seen on Japanese TV selling everything from home appliances to whiskey.
While he never made it to sumo's highest rank of yokozuna (grand champion), Konishiki is credited with paving the way for fellow Hawai'i-born wrestlers Akebono (Chad Rowan) and Musashimaru (Fiamalu Penitani), both of whom reached the top of the sport.
In addition to a fledgling career as a hip hop singer, Konishiki, who at one point tipped the scales at 650 pounds, keeps busy promoting sumo overseas and trying to get his weight under control.
"It seems like it's either a choice between lose weight or die happy. I walk two miles a day and do a lot of swimming but always seem to gain weight when I go back to Hawai'i," said Konishiki, who now weighs in at a mere 609 pounds.
One of Konishiki's favorite projects in his "Konishiki Kids Foundation," a program set up by the former grappler where 35 underprivileged kids from Hawai'i come to Japan every year to learn about Japanese culture.
As for the future, Konishiki ruled out a possible comeback to the ring and said that he wants to get into movies and eventually hopes to build a community center in his hometown.