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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Smallish Asashoryu having super-size effect on sumo

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

GRAND SUMO TOURNAMENT

When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Blaisdell Arena

Tickets: From $35 to $250 ($350 and $300 seats are sold out); available at Blaisdell Center Box Office, Ticketmaster and Times Supermarkets

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Winning sumo matches hasn't been a problem for Asashoryu.

Getting practice bouts, however, has.

Asashoryu's heavy-handed dominance has made sparring partners hard to come by, officials say. So much so that the yokozuna from Mongolia gets few willing ones, especially high-ranking rivals, between tournaments. "Some don't want to (work out) with him," said Jesse Kuhaulua, the Maui-born stablemaster.

The Hawai'i Grand Sumo Tournament that opens its two-day run Saturday at Blaisdell Center will be something of the exception, an exhibition where Asashoryu faces all comers, willing or otherwise.

The 26-year old Mongolian has pretty much vanquished the opposition on his march into the record books. His 20 tournament victories put him in the top five all-time. His seven consecutive tournament victories top even the legendary Taiho, who won six in a row twice. He is 452-116 in upper division matches. In one year, 2005, he won 84 of 90 matches.

Yet, in a sport known for girth, Asashoryu runs toward average size. He packs 326 pounds on a frame just under 6 feet 1 in height and uses speed and technique more than bulk.

"He's very quick and has good technique," said Musashimaru, the Wai'anae-raised former yokozuna who has competed with him in the ring. "You have to be careful with him."

Said Kuhaulua: "He's strong, too. He's not a big guy, but he is strong. He's a natural."

Kuhaulua said there are some comparisons with Chiyonofuji, a muscular yokozuna of the 1980s.

Asashoryu whose ring name translates as Morning Blue Dragon comes from a family of Mongolian-style wrestlers. A brother competes on the professional circuit in Japan and another is in mixed martial arts.

Asashoryu arrived in Japan as a high school student and spent less than two years there before being recruited into sumo. His rise up the sumo rankings has been bullet train-swift, requiring just 23 tournaments to reach ozeki, sumo's second-highest rank, at age 21.

"He (Asashoryu) has a very strong attitude in the ring," Kuhaulua said. "He goes all-out to win."

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com.