The U.S. Sumo Open and the U.S. Sumo Nationals are the two largest sumo events in North America. This leaves the door open for another competition to lay claim to being the third largest sumo event in North America, which the organizers of the Georgia Sumo Open seem determined to do.
This year, the Georgia Sumo Open was held on September 15th in Atlanta, and it was organized by Packy Bannevans with help from Cornelius Booker. Packy has previously competed and placed well in the U.S. Sumo Nationals, and Cornelius is a multi-time semi-finalist of both the U.S. Sumo Open and the U.S. Sumo Nationals. Both of these rikishi (sumo wrestlers) are well-versed with competing in national sumo tournaments, and Packy is certainly experienced in organizing them. The Georgia Sumo Association also helped arrange this event, providing and setting up the mats and dohyo. For a great event like this to happen, it requires the efforts of many people.
The Georgia Sumo Open was held as a part of Japanfest Atlanta, which is a multiple-day celebration of everything Japan. To attract spectators, Packy and Cornelius held a sumo demonstration to educate the public on the sport and its surrounding rituals. It seems that this strategy was a success, as the Georgia Sumo Open garnered an all-time high of 18 rikishi (in addition to 2 officiators) for the primary competition. This is more than double the number of competitors from last year (7), showing the growth of popularity in sumo within the state of Georgia – largely in part to the efforts of Packy and Cornelius. Below is a picture of most, but not all, of the rikishi that competed in the Georgia Sumo Open 2018.
Likewise, the event had a very large audience, as seen in the picture below. It is hard to tell, but I estimate that there may have been 200 people there to watch!
Because the event was held as a part of Japanfest Atlanta and attracted more competitors than usual, the final division (openweight) had to be cut a little short due to time constraints. This did not seem to dampen any spirits, however, as everyone appeared to have a great time – both competitors and audience members alike. I foresee the Georgia Sumo Open growing even more in the future, and I think it can become the clear third sumo event in North America. Maybe in a few years we’ll be discussing “the big three” North American sumo competitions – the U.S. Sumo Open, the U.S. Sumo Nationals, and the Georgia Sumo Open.
I provide some highlights of the competition below. Before doing so, I should thank Cornelius Booker for providing ample information and media for the event as well as fact-checking this article. He spent a lot of time helping, and, without him, I would never be able to write this article and spread the word of the Georgia Sumo Open 2018. Also, I should thank Denise Aldridge, Eric Griffin, and Nicolas Raillon, as they were the ones that took the pictures and recorded the video. All pictures and gifs are property of them, and I put NorthAmericanSumo.com on each image and gif to prevent other websites from using them without their permission. If any readers have any questions about the event, please email me at NorthAmericanSumo@Gmail.com.
Lightweight (<187 lbs.)
I include gifs of two matches for each division. Otherwise, including more gifs would cause this post to become unmanageable on slower computers or internet connections. I would first like to say, however, that each match in the Georgia Sumo Open was extremely exciting. I really hope that entire footage of the event is available and uploaded to YouTube one day. Any fan of sumo – North American or beyond – would really enjoy watching all the matches in the Georgia Sumo Open 2018.
The first lightweight gif is a match between Al Zander and Eric Griffin. Al ended up finishing third, and I include some additional information about him below (along with all other medalists).
Eric put up a very good fight in this match. He had a solid grip, solid positioning, and he kept trying to get Al off balance. Unfortunately, Al’s center of gravity was just too much for Eric. Al kept his feet firm, and he budged hardly at all from the attempts of Eric. Perhaps the most notable part of the bout was Al’s defense from Eric’s throw. Al anticipates the throw, so he ensures that his hips are lower than Eric’s hips. He also anticipates the insight leg trip, so he grabs the knee of Eric. This prevents Eric from regaining his balance after the throw, and a final push allows Al to grab the victory. Quite the skillful execution for someone with only one year of experience in sumo!
The second lightweight gif is a match between Stiliyan Georgiev and Gabe Unick. Stiliyan finished in first, and Gabe finished in fourth. So, this matchup was one of the top lightweight bouts of the day.
Both rikishi started the match very competitively. It seemed that both believed that the other could win at any moment, so they didn’t want to overly commit to any move. Gabe appeared to take the early advantage, getting double wrist control. Stiliyan stayed firm and unmoving, which caused Gabe to transition to an under-hook. Stiliyan’s response made me wonder whether he was planning on this, as he immediately grabbed Gabe’s mawashi. It wasn’t too long before Stiliyan shook off Gabe and tossed him aside. Gabe decided to exit the dohyo rather than make a last ditch effort to win the match. He may have also touched the mat on the shrug by Stiliyan, but it was hard to tell.
The final standings for lightweight were:
- First – Stiliyan Georgiev (Georgia-Bulgaria ; >15 Years Experience)
- Second – Justin Kizzart (California ; 2 Years Experience)
- Third – Al Zander (Florida ; 1 Year Experience)
- Fourth – Gabe Unick (Michigan ; 3 Years Experience)
The picture above includes these top four competitors. From left to right, they are Justin Kizzart, Al Zander, Gabe Unick, and Stiliyan Georgiev. Fans of American sumo will probably recognize Justin Kizzart and Gabe Unick. Both Justin and Gabe have participated in the U.S. Sumo Open for the past several years, and Justin represented Team USA at the World Sumo Championships 2018. Al Zander is a newcomer to sumo, but already placed third in nationals this year. Quite the accomplishment for someone with only a year of experience! Lastly, Stiliyan Georgiev is well-known to fans of international sumo. He resides in Georgia now, but he has represented Bulgaria many times in the World Sumo Championships. One year, he even won it all in the lightweight division!
These four rikishi clearly demonstrate the quality of the Georgia Sumo Open. The winner was a past gold-medalist of the World Sumo Championships; the second-place finisher is a representative of Team USA; the third-place finisher also finished third at the U.S. Sumo Nationals; and the fourth-place finisher has appeared several times at the U.S. Sumo Open. Each of these rikishi are quite accomplished, making the Georgia Sumo Open lightweight division very competitive. Any rikishi should be proud of finishing anywhere close to the top four in this division.
Upper Middleweight (222 – 253 lbs.)
The first upper middleweight gif is a match between Cesar Valle and Jesse Snow. Cesar finished in third place, whereas Jesse finished in second place. Both of these rikishi are relative newcomers to the sport and very talented, so it was a good matchup to test both of their abilities.
The match started very well for both rikishi. Jesse got the better tachiai (start), but Cesar stayed firm and strong. He tried to recover quickly by grabbing Jesse’s biceps and transitioning into a left overhook. Almost as quickly as Cesar found this opening, however, Jesse found an opening of his own. He began pushing with his left arm to ensure that Cesar could not position himself properly for a throw. At the last second, Cesar tried everything he could to keep his feet inside the circle, but it was too late. Jesse took the victory.
The second upper middleweight gif is a match between Cornelius Booker and Jacob Gill. Cornelius finished in fourth place, and Jacob finished in first. Cornelius has been competing in sumo for three years, which was a good challenge for Jacob if he wanted to win it all.
Cornelius started with a very good tachiai, getting the lower positioning. Jacob was able to sneak in an underhook, though, and then get a sideways grip on Cornelius’s torso. Cornelius responded with the right move – he tried to use Jacob’s positioning to throw him. However, Jacob was just too big for Cornelius, and he wasn’t off balanced enough. He stepped through the throw attempt and collapsed on Cornelius for the win. Quite the painful looking loss, but Cornelius was fortunately able to walk away fine.
The final standings for upper middleweight were:
- First – Jacob Gill (Georgia ; <1 Year Experience)
- Second – Jesse Snow (Georgia ; 1 Year Experience)
- Third – Cesar Valle (Rhode Island ; 2 Years Experience)
- Fourth – Cornelius Booker (Florida ; 3 Years Experience)
From left to right, these four competitors are Cesar Valle, Jesse Snow, Jacob Gill, and Cornelius Booker. Some newcomers to sumo filled out the top of the upper middleweight division. I don’t know too much about Jacob Gill or Jesse Snow, other than they both train at the Redemption Jiu Jitsu Academy. It seems that the Redemption Jiu Jitsu Academy is developing a growing contingent of rikishi, and may become a new hub of sumo. Cesar Valle has competed in the U.S. Sumo Open and the U.S. Sumo Nationals, whereas Cornelius Booker has made it to the semi-finals in both multiple times. Cornelius typically competes in the lightweight division. While he is a tenured rikishi, it may have been difficult for him to bump up to upper middleweight, which has a weight limit of almost 70 pounds beyond Cornelius’s typical weight-class.
Given that multi-time U.S. Sumo Open and U.S. Sumo Nationals competitors finished third and fourth, it is clear that the upper middleweight division was also very competitive. I hope that we’ll see more of Jacob and Jesse competing in North American Sumo competitions, and I know that we’ll see Cesar and Cornelius again very soon.
Heavyweight (>254 lbs.)
The first heavyweight gif is a match between Shawn Jackson and Jace Nipper. The newcomer, Jace, ended up finishing fourth, and this was a tough match for him. It should also be noted that Shawn is also a newcomer to sumo, with only a year of experience. Great to see both of these new, talented rikishi competing at high levels.
Clearly Shawn is a powerhouse. I’m sure that he is stronger than Jace, and he could probably out-lift almost anyone else competing in the Georgia Sumo Open. Jace’s sumo abilities, however, are beyond his years. He was able to anticipate Shawn’s forceful attack and use his momentum against him. At the last second, Jace turned his hips and was able to land on top of Shawn. This gave the promising youngster the victory.
The second heavyweight gif is a match between Robert Fuimaono and Darius Campbell. Robert finished in first, and Darius finished in second. Because the heavyweights are always the face of sumo, this was probably the biggest match of the day.
This is the type of sumo that I love to see! Both Robert and Darius tried to aggressively get better positioning and leverage. After a brief stalemate, Robert started to go for his lifts. He kept getting Darius off of his feet, but Darius rode the wave. It seemed that Darius was waiting for Robert to get tired, but it never happened. Robert got one final burst of strength, lifted Darius higher than I thought possible, and dropped him outside for the win. Quite the spectacular performance!
The final standings for heavyweight were:
- First – Robert Fuimaono (Missouri ; 1 Year Experience)
- Second – Darius Campbell (Ohio ; <1 Year Experience)
- Third – Andre Coleman (Louisiana ; 5 Years Experience)
- Fourth – Jace Nipper (Georgia ; <1 Year Experience)
From left to right, these four competitors are Jace Nipper, Andre Coleman, Darius Campbell, and Robert Fuimaono. Like the upper middleweight division, newcomers also filled out the heavyweight division. Although Robert Fuimaono has only been competing in sumo for a year, he has already made a very large impact. He won the openweight division at the U.S. Sumo Nationals this year, and he was the runner-up in the heavyweight division – only behind Roy Sims. Similarly, Darius Campbell has been competing in sumo for less than a year, but he has already made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Sumo Open – which was his first ever sumo event! Andre Coleman is the most experienced of the group. He has won multiple U.S. Sumo Nationals competitions and made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Sumo Open, but he most often competes at the lightweight and middleweight divisions. Competing in the heavyweight division is a little new for him, so he may not be used to competing against 300 and 400 pounders. Lastly, I know very little about Jace Nipper. He has less than a year of sumo experience, and he is a part of the Redemption Jiu Jitsu Academy contingent. He also has a good build for sumo, and I hope to see him again!
I think these four rikishi are prime to shake-up the North American sumo scene. Byamba is still the dominant heavyweight, although Roy Sims may have started taking that title away. Shawn Buller is also in the mix, but there is certainly room for other heavyweights to take the spotlight. I could see any of these four throwing their hat in the mix, perhaps representing Team USA one day at the World Sumo Championships.
As evident from the information above, the Georgia Sumo Open 2018 was a huge success. Packy and Cornelius should feel proud of putting all of it together, and I know that they will keep up the good work in future years. I’m also sure that the audience will continue to grow for sumo in Georgia, and perhaps one day the Georgia Sumo Open will be a full-day event. Only time will tell!
I also want to emphasize the very high level of competition in the Georgia Sumo Open this year. Luckily, I was able to watch many of the matches, and the skill of each rikishi was clearly evident in each match. The lightweights were quick and cunning; the upper middleweights were strong and agile; and the heavyweights were built like brickhouses. If anyone wants to see who has a shot at winning the U.S. Sumo Open or the U.S. Sumo Nationals, they just need to look at the medalists of the Georgia Sumo Open.
At the same time, the Georgia Sumo Open has an accommodating environment. Even those with less than a year of sumo experience were able to comfortably compete, and audience members without any knowledge of sumo are able to enjoy themselves. While the Georgia Sumo Open has among the top of the top in terms of competition, it can also be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. There is no reason to miss this spectacular event!