tampabay.com

Try this big-ticket sport on for size

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published June 9, 2006


A really big overweight guy, covered in rolls of fat, sweat bubbling out from every pore, involved in some sort of martial art where victory can be achieved with very little actual movement whatsoever.

I know what you're thinking:

Steven Seagal's making a comeback.

Nope, but a good guess. We're talking about a sumo wrestler, a revered warrior in an ancient martial art full of history, of legend, of ...

Whatever. It's two big fat dudes trying to push each other out of a ring.

Okay, perhaps I'm being harsh. Obviously the World Sumo League, which comes to the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday, has something that intrigues people.

How else can you explain that the top ticket costs more than 100 bucks? Retail. Plus service charge.

Promoters boast that Tuesday's event will feature "24 world-class heavyweight sumo competitors, featuring both the Wrath of Heaven Clan and Iron Mountain Warriors!"

Means nothing to me, either. I peeped the Web site www.ultimatesumo.com, but it seems pretty new and didn't have much info.

However, I was intrigued by the fact that advertising materials refer to this as "S.U.M.O.," as if it's an acronym. Which it's not.

So my editor and I tried to come up with what S.U.M.O. could stand for.

Sweaty Ungainly, Marshmallowy Oafs?

Super Unattractive, Male and Obese?

Several Unidentified Meaty Objects?

Got me. But in Japan, at least, the S could stand for this:

Sexist.

One of the main tenets of Japanese professional sumo is that women are barred from any type of participation.

Holding to archaic tradition, the Japanese Sumo Association will not allow a woman to enter the ring, because that would violate its "purity."

Case in point: Osaka's governor traditionally presents the trophy to the winner of the Osaka tournament. Heck, it's even called the Governor's Prize.

But since 2000, Osaka's governor has been a woman: Fusae Ota. The Sumo Association to date has refused to let her present the trophy, as that would require her entering the ring.

But I won't paint World Sumo League with the same broad brush as the Japanese Sumo Association.

Best to give these new kids the benefit of the doubt - even when push comes to shove.

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431. His Times blog, the Ill Literate, is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/tampaarts.