Last week, I posted links and timestamps to each of the United States’ matches at the Sumo World Championships 2018, because they were the only North American country represented. If you missed it, please click here! The text below contains spoilers, so I don’t want to ruin the event for anyone.
In this post, I provide some information about the United States rikishi (sumo wrestlers), include gifs of most matches, review the performances, and make some additional notes about the Sumo World Championships 2018 at the end. I found the list of representatives on the United States Sumo Federation website (click here), which I assume are correct and up to date (Revision Note 1). Also, I am certainly not an expert in sumo outside of North America, so I may have some details that need correcting. If you notice anything, or have any other comments, please contact us at NorthAmericanSumo@Gmail.com. Enjoy the read!
Revision Note 1: After reviewing the matches, I believe that the United States Sumo Federation had the women’s middleweight and openweight competitors switched. I have now fixed this in my write-up below.
Representing the U.S. men’s team in the male lightweight division was Justin Kizzart. Justin finished with a 2-2 record at the US Sumo Open 2018, which made him tied with three others as the top U.S. lightweight competitors (Trent Sabo, Tomasz Wojda, and Cornelius Booker). This allowed Justin to advance to the quarterfinals, where he lost to Sviatoslav Semykras – the eventual second place finisher of the US Sumo Open 2018 and first place finisher of the Sumo World Championships 2018. Quite the person to face in the quarterfinals! Justin also finished second in the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018 behind Trent Sabo.
In his match, Justin faced the representative from Hungary. Justin started with a very good and very aggressive attack. It looked like he was trying to get the Hungarian to push back against his steady pressure, in which Justin would have countered the momentum with a properly-timed throw, shove, or hatakikomi (slap down). It seems that Justin ran out of space and lost his grip before this could happen; the Hungarian capitalized on the opportunity and pushed Justin off the dohyo entirely. As soon as he stepped out, Justin knew that he made a mistake.
Because he lost in his first match, this was Justin Kizzart’s only appearance in the Sumo World Championships 2018. A bit of a bummer, as Justin is a very talented rikishi. I’m sure we will see him again at the US Sumo Open and perhaps at the Sumo World Championships, too. As a side note, while the Hungarian competitor performed well, he did not make it to the semifinals.
Edward Suczewski represented the United States in the male Middleweight division. Edward has been on the national scene for a few years now. This year, he finished third at the US Sumo Open, where he also finished third in 2014. The only rikishi ahead of him in both of those years were international competitors (Mongolia, Russia, and Ukraine), supporting his claim as top U.S. middleweight. He also finished first at the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018, which gave him the middleweight spot in the World Sumo Championships.
Edward lucked out in his first match. His opponent from Sri Lanka was unable to attend, so Edward got the win. Good start at 1-0.
In his “second” match, Edward showed some real skill. He had a little bit of a slow start, and his opponent from Brazil was able to take the early advantage. The Brazilian rikishi got both an underhook and an overhook, while pushing Edward to the edge of the shobu-dawara (circle). Edward calmly maintained his composure and planted his foot into the corner of the tawara (circle barrier). With his hands firmly grasping his opponent’s mawashi (belt), Edward rotated his hips at the exact right moment. After such a strong start, his opponent was unable to do anything other than lose. This win put Edward at 2-0.
Edward’s third match was against much stiffer competition. He faced Aron Rozum from Poland, who finished in second place. This match was very different than the one prior. Both rikishi took very quick starts, perhaps jumping the ref’s signal (?). Edward sunk in a deep underhook paired with an overhook, whereas Aron had both hands very firmly on Edward’s mawashi. Both rikishi vied for position, without either making much progress. Finally, Aron shrugged off the overhook and pulled Edward down to the dohyo via his mawashi. It was a very well-timed move, and it seemed to take Edward by surprise. This loss put Edward at 2-1, but he still had hopes for the semifinals.
Edward’s fourth match was against Saiyn-Belek Tiuliush from Russia, who finished tied for third. Not quite as difficult as his last bout, but still a very difficult match. Edward began the match by strongly committing to grabbing his opponent’s mawashi. He couldn’t quite get it, as the Russian used skillful body positioning to avoid the grab. In the process, the Russian rikishi could also tell that Edward was off balanced from the attempt, and he deftly rotated his body to pickup the win. This loss put Edward at 2-2, and kept him out of the semifinal rounds.
Overall, a very good showing by Edward Suczewski. He has very good sumo instincts, and seems to hit his opportunities when they arise. I think his performance in his “second” match may have been the best by an American competitor at the World Sumo Championships 2018, and his third and fourth matches were against the best of the best. Edward has a lot to be proud about from this event. As mentioned, he has routinely been at the top of the American middleweight division, and this competition should only hone his abilities further.
Perhaps the most recognizable United States rikishi, Shawn Buller, represented the men’s team in the heavyweight division. Shawn has been making big moves on the U.S. scene in recent years, having very solid showings at the US Sumo Open. In 2018, Shawn finished fourth, only falling behind Roy Sims (1st; USA), Byambajav Ulambayar (2nd; Mongolia), and Serhii Sokolovkyi (3rd; Ukraine). Shawn also finished third in the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018, behind Roy Sims (1st) and Robert Fuimaono (2nd).
Shawn faced the representative from Hungary, who did not make it to the semifinals. So, it was a good opportunity for Shawn to make a run to the semifinals himself. At the start of the match, the Hungarian rikishi skillfully begins his offense by pushing both his hands into Shawn’s face. This causes Shawn to arch backwards and possess a higher center of gravity. From there, the Hungarian rikishi smelled blood. He pressed both his hands into Shawn’s chest and pushed him out for the win. After the initial move, it would have been very hard for Shawn to recover.
After losing this first match, Shawn Buller did not appear in any other heavyweight bouts at the Sumo World Championships 2018. I highly encourage everyone to watch Shawn’s prior matches at the US Sumo Open (and other events), as he is a very entertaining rikishi to watch. He is also a good rikishi to have as one of the faces of United States sumo, as he seems to be a positive person with a positive message.
The United States representative in the male openweight division was Kena Heffernan. The last time Kena participated in the US Sumo Open was in 2014, where he placed second in both the middleweight and openweight divisions. He lost to Erdenebileg Alagdaa (Mongolia) in the final of the middleweight division, whereas he lost to Brodi Henderson (Canada) in the final of the openweight division. He also finished second in both the middleweight and openweight divisions, again, at the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018, coming behind Edward Suczewski and Robert Fuimaono.
Kena’s first match was against a much larger Georgian rikishi, who is certainly a heavyweight. Kena showed no fear, however. He started with a hard charge, getting both his arms around the body of the Georgian competitor and grabbing onto the mawashi from behind. Kena was able to get him to the edge of the shobu-dawara, where the Georgian began to panic. The Georgian tried to get back into the middle, but Kena took the opportunity to keep the pressure going. Almost instantly, the Georgian collapsed, giving Kena the win. This win put Kena at 1-0, a very good start.
[Author’s Note: Gif too long; watch video link above.]
The second match was against a smaller Indian opponent. Kena started with a similar strategy, pushing full force into the Indian, but the smaller opponent was more agile than the last. The Indian rikishi avoided the initial push, and went for a pass-through. After some slap-fighting and arm positioning, Kena was able to grab the mawashi. This resulted in somewhat of a stalemate, until the Indian competitor began to push Kena to the edge of the shobu-dawara. At the very last second, Kena turned his hips, causing the Indian competitor to go out first. Kena clearly won, but it seemed that the Indian opponent did not understand how. Oh well. This win put Kena at 2-0.
The two wins put Kena into the semifinal, where his third match was against another heavyweight. This time, it was the Polish representative, Jacek Piersiak, who finished second. It would be a very difficult battle for the smaller Kena to win. Kena went with his tried-and-true strategy of diving straight into his opponent’s chest. Unfortunately, Jacek was too large and skilled for this to be very effective. The Polish rikishi was able to absorb the blow, grab the mawashi, and push himself to victory. This loss put Kena at 2-1.
Kena’s fourth match was against another larger opponent: the Ukrainian rikishi, Oleksandr Veresiuk, who finished tied for third. Again, it would be a very difficult battle for Kena to win. Kena went straight for the chest again, with no avail. The bigger rikishi absorbed the blow, went for the underhooks, and pushed Kena out of the shobu-dawara as he was trying to grab anything on Oleksandr. This loss put Kena at 2-2.
Although he did not place in the top four, this was a great showing by Kena Heffernan. He has surprising power for a middleweight competitor, which I believe caught his opponents off guard. I would personally like to see some more variations in his strategies. Kena has repeatedly shown that he has top-tier talent, and I believe that adding more to his offensive array could position him as an elite talent on the worldwide scene. Also, I haven’t seen too much of his sumo to be honest, so I was happy to see him do so well. I hope he begins to compete in the US Sumo Open again, as it seems that he is putting a lot of work into growing the sport of sumo in America.
Teams in the Sumo World Championships 2018 were represented by three people. For team USA, the male representatives were Edward Suczewski (middleweight), Shawn Buller (heavyweight), and Kena Heffernan (openweight). The first team to two wins continued, whereas the other team would be eliminated.
[Author’s Note: Gif too long; watch video link above.]
Team USA went up against a very good Team Finland. The first match was Shawn Buller against a smaller Finnish rikishi. They both clashed head-on to give a powerful start to the match. Neither rikishi made much headway, however, and they both began to grapple for better positioning. This ended with the Finnish rikishi grabbing Shawn’s mawashi in the front and back, whereas Shawn was only able to grab the Finnish rikishi’s mawashi in the back. Shawn began shifting his positions for better opportunities, but the Finnish rikishi stayed true. This caused Shawn to wear himself out, as the Finnish competitor began to push Shawn around the dohyo. The match ended with a tired Shawn being slowly forced out, putting Team USA behind 0-1.
The second match featured Edward Suczewski against a larger Finnish rikishi. Edward went straight at him to start the match, showing no fear for his size. The Finnish rikishi went for a sly slap-down, but Edward easily avoided it. Edward was then able to pull off a very nice pulldown by grabbing the mawashi and head of the larger Finnish rikishi. Another very good match by Edward to tie the bout at 1-1. He is certainly a skillful competitor and very fun to watch.
Kena Heffernan was the last American competitor, facing a similarly sized rikishi. Kena began by diving straight forward at his opponent, again using his typical strategy. Unfortunately, the Finnish rikishi had a gameplan, perhaps having scouted Kena in his prior matches. He quickly and forcefully shoved Kena sideways. The Finnish rikishi then grabbed onto the side of Kena’s mawashi, placing his other hand into the side of Kena’s head and neck. Once in position, Kena could do little to fend off the final push to the outside. This loss put Team USA at 1-2 and knocked them out of the competition.
In a rematch, I think Team USA would have a very good shot at beating Team Finland. Not to say that Team Finland didn’t deserve the win (they did), but instead that the two teams were very close to each other in skill. I look forward to Team USA’s performance next year, as I believe that we will only do better with time.
Representing the U.S. women’s team in the lightweight division was Christina Archetti. I don’t know much about Christina. She finished third at the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018, behind Janna Van Witback (1st) and Jessica Hopper (2nd). She didn’t seem to participate in the US Sumo Open, where Janna Van Witbeck finished in the top four (along with American Morgan Chateau). So, I assume that Christina made it to the Sumo World Championships 2018 from other competitors being unable to go. Nevertheless, I have to hand it to her. She showed a lot of heart by competing in this worldwide event.
Christina faced the representative from Chinese Taipei. To start the match, Christina immediately went for the mawashi, which could be a smart move to gain an early advantage. However, her opponent was already gaining forward momentum, and she used the positioning to easily push Christina out of the shobu-dawara. A good effort, nevertheless.
This was Christina’s only match at the Sumo World Championships 2018. I hope to see her at future events, as she obviously has the drive to become a better rikishi.
The United States representative in the female middleweight division was Morgan Chateau. Morgan finished second in the lightweight division at the US Sumo Open 2018, behind Magdalena Macios (Poland). She also finished second in the middleweight division at the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018, behind Mariah Holmes. From the get-go, Morgan was fighting an uphill battle in this event, as the borderline lightweight/middleweight rikishi would be expected to battle firm middleweights in her division.
[Author’s Note: Gif too long; watch video link above.]
Her match was against the representative from Thailand. The Thai rikishi did not make it to the semifinals, so this was a good opener for Morgan. Both rikishi started with quick moves towards the others’ mawashi. The Thai competitor got a better grip. Both of her hand were able to firmly grip the mawashi on the inside, whereas Morgan struggled to snake her arms around to get a hold. After Morgan over-committed to the grip attempt, the Thai rikishi used her momentum against her. Morgan was thrown down, and there was little that she could do to stop it.
It’s too bad that this was Morgan Chateau’s only middleweight showing at the Sumo World Championships 2018. She is a great competitor with a lot of skill and heart. I think if she was able to get only a little bit of a better start, then she could have won this match and possibly made it to the semifinals. I look forward to seeing her at future US Sumo Opens and U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships.
The United States women’s team representative in the heavyweight division was Danna Engelberg. Danna has been very impressive at recent United States sumo competitions. She finished first in the heavyweight division and fourth in the openweight division at the US Sumo Open 2018. She also finished first in the heavyweight division at the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships, ahead of both Natalie Burns and Kaitlyn Mascher. She had to fight to get to the Sumo World Championships 2018, and she proved that she was the best American heavyweight for the spot.
Danna went up against the competitor from Thailand. The Thai rikishi finished tied for third place, so it was a tough opening match for Danna. She would need to take advantage of every possible opportunity to win. Unfortunately, the Thai rikishi was able to get a better start. She was able to immediately slap Danna upwards, making her possess a higher center of gravity. She then lowered her own center of gravity, allowing her to get better leverage than Danna while pushing her out of the shobu-dawara. Danna tried her best after losing her initial positioning, but there was little that she could do.
I foresee Danna Engelberg having a bright future in American sumo, and I think she will continue to win the US Sumo Open as well as U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships. I will say, however, that the top finishers of the women’s heavyweight division were extremely talented. Olga Davydko (Russian), particularly, seems to be a whole different tier of sumo wrestler. To be 100 percent honest, I don’t see how anyone could defeat Olga aside from an accident or slip. If you haven’t watched it yet, be sure to check out Olga’s performance in the heavyweight final.
Mariah Holmes represented the United States in the female Middleweight division. In 2018, Mariah competed in the US Sumo Open. She lost three times to the formidable Undrakhzaya Nyamsuren (Mongolian) in the middleweight division, but she finished first in the openweight division – ahead of both Magdalena Macios (2nd; Poland) and Undrakhzaya Nyamsuren (3rd; Mongolia). A little bit odd, but it showed that Mariah was ready for the national scene. After finishing first in the middleweight division at the U.S. National and North American Sumo Championships 2018, ahead of Morgan Chateau, Mariah also showed that she was ready for the international scene.
Her first match was against a larger competitor from Japan. Unfortunately, I only know the name of the women’s openweight division winner (Anna Poliakova, Russia), as the official winner’s report from the International Sumo Federation cutoff the 2nd and 3rd place finishers. I do know, however, that the Japanese rikishi finished in second place. So, this opening match for Mariah would be a very difficult bout to win.
The match started with some handslapping, as Mariah seemed to be the primary aggressor. Mariah saw the opening she wanted, and went for the underhook and grip on the mawashi. Unfortunately, the larger rikishi stood firm, took a grip of her own, and pushed Mariah out of the shobu-dawara. Mariah went for a toss at the last moment. I think she could have used it to beat a smaller opponent, but she didn’t have quite the strength to toss the larger Japanese competitor. This caused Mariah to lose the match, resulting in a 0-1 record.
Despite losing her opening match, Mariah got another chance to score a win. Her second bout was against the competitor from Germany, who was roughly the same size as Mariah. The German did not make it to the semifinals, so this was a good opportunity for Mariah. And she took it! She started the match with a straight-ahead charge, quickly grabbing the German’s mawashi. Afterwards, there was little that the German rikishi could do, as Mariah firmly pushed her out of the shobu-dawara. Mariah made this match look easy, putting her at a 1-1 record.
[Author’s Note: Gif too long; watch video link above.]
In her third match, Mariah faced a heavyweight from Mongolia. The Mongolian rikishi finished tied for third, so this would be another tough match for our United States competitor. Mariah started the match again by making a straight-ahead charge, grabbing the Mongolian’s mawashi. She tried to make leeway with several lift and shrug attempts, and was actually able to move the heavyweight around. Very impressive by the smaller rikishi. Unfortunately, it was not enough, as the heavyweight was able to maintain composure, get a grip of her own, and push the smaller American out of the shobu-dawara. This ended Mariah’s run at the Sumo World Championships 2018 with a 1-2 record.
Mariah Holmes had an extremely impressive showing and has many things to be proud about. Being generally undersized in the openweight division put her at a disadvantage, but her strength was on-par with the heavyweight rikishi. It seemed like the Mongolian competitor was legitimately surprised at the beginning of their match, and had to take time to adapt to Mariah’s strength. I see only more bright things in Mariah’s future.
For team USA, the female representatives were Morgan Chateau (middleweight), Danna Engelberg (heavyweight), and Mariah Holmes (openweight).
[Author’s Note: Gif too long; watch video link above.]
Team USA went up against an extremely talented Team Estonia. The first match was the heavyweight Danna Engelberg against the smaller Estonian rikishi. Danna did great in this match. She started by getting her arms low, fending off the Estonian’s offense before grabbing the mawashi. She then was able to virtually carry the Estonian competitor out of the shobu-dawara, needing to just give a slight push at the very end. An excellent performance, showing why she is one of the top US rikishi. This match put Team USA ahead 1-0.
The second match was Morgan Chateau against a similar sized Estonian rikishi. I thought that Morgan had this match won. Very early, she was able to get both her hand on the Estonian’s mawashi, in which the Estonian rikishi responded by grabbing Morgan’s mawashi. Both competitors pushed each other around for ages, with the Estonian slightly more on the offensive. I thought that the Estonian would tire herself out after a few failed throws, but she seemed to have never-ending energy. The match finally ended when the Estonian put her shoulder into Morgan and pushed for the win. This put Team USA at 1-1.
Lastly, Mariah Holmes had to face the Estonian heavyweight rikishi. With an overwhelming size difference, Mariah would need to be crafty to win this match. Mariah charged ahead, getting a very low and good center of gravity. She put both her hands on the Estonian’s mawashi, and seemingly tried to lift her. Her weight was too much, however, and the Estonian collapsed on Mariah for the win. This put Team USA at 1-2 and out of the competition.
I don’t think much would change if the third match was redone, as the size difference was too much, but I think Morgan would have a very good chance to win if tried again. Nevertheless, I only see the Team USA women growing in the future, and I’m excited to see these women compete next year!
That is all for the Sumo World Championships 2018! The event was very exciting, and I highly encourage everyone to watch all the bouts (aside from just Team USA). My favorites tended to be the men’s lightweight and women’s heavyweight matches. The lightweight men move extremely quickly and employ certain strategies that are less common in Japanese sumo. It is interesting to see how these different strategies play out. Likewise, the women heavyweights employ a more “traditional” style of sumo, but their skill and strength is extremely impressive. If you don’t watch any others, I highly encourage you to watch these two divisions.
I don’t have any grand takeaway messages about Team USA. We have many talented competitors, but we are still well behind the traditional Sumo World Championship powerhouses (Japan, Mongolia, Poland, and Ukraine). Our rikishi will continue to get better, but the only ways to compete with these other countries is for sumo to become more popular in the United States. I think this is possible. The US Sumo Open is getting more popular in recent years, and more sumo events are popping up. At the same time, there is very little TV or internet presence for sumo, and there are limited opportunities for people to get involved in sumo competitions. For sumo to become more popular in the U.S., these issues need to be addressed first.
As for the style of Team USA, it seems that our offense primarily revolved around yori-kiris (grabbing mawashi and pushing out) and oshi-dashis (front push-out with hands). In other words, we are a very push-oriented team. Many of the other countries incorporated more throws, and we even saw success with throws when we tried them. Even yet, the best countries regularly employed pull-downs and footsweeps, which were not seen as often from our rikishi. To begin to compete with these teams, we need to develop rikishi that can seamlessly perform each of these techniques in match, after match, after match.
Next year, the Sumo World Championships 2019 will be held in Hawaii! While some American rikishi were unable to attend this year, I am sure that all of our best will be in Hawaii. I am also curious to see the audience that gathers to watch sumo in America. We have been getting better audiences for the US Sumo Open every year, so it should be a very good crowd.
That is all for this review of the Sumo World Championships 2018. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at NorthAmericanSumo@Gmail.com. Thanks for reading!