By Finau Fonua
Tongans are naturally built for Sumo, says Vava’u bred Sumo wrestler, Siosifa ‘Isama’u who represented Tonga in September at the 14th annual USA Sumo Open in Los Angeles, California.
The annual USA Sumo Open tournament is one of the biggest Sumo tournaments outside of Japan. The 142 kilogram Siosifa ‘Isama’u has appeared at the tournament before, winning silver and bronze medals. In this year’s competition, however, ‘Isama’u was ousted in the quarter-finals by a Russian competitor.
Despite the loss, ‘Isama’u was pleased with his effort, “I was happy with the result as I proceeded out of Pool Round after beating two USA wrestlers. However, not satisfied after being defeated at the Quarter-Finals by the Russian Ex-Professional Sumo Wrestler Soslan Gagloev”
A resident of East Palo Alto, California, ‘Isama’u (41) is an accomplished Sumo wrestler and has won numerous medals. He won a silver medal in the 2011 US Open and bronze medals in the 2009 and 2012 US Open tournaments. He is also a former California state heavyweight champion.
In spite of his accomplishments, ‘Isama’u states that his greatest pride is representing Tonga.
“Representing Tonga is a great honour especially here in the States where literally 99.9% don’t know about us. Their first guess is always Samoan or Hawaiian. So, for me to raise the Tongan flag over my head and shoulders is my proudest moment.”
Siosifa ‘Isama’u hopes for more Tongans to take up the sport of Sumo. “I know I’m getting old for the sport but I want to inspire our Tongan youths, both male and female, to explore this sport as we are naturally built for it. There are a lot of opportunities out there that sumo will open the door to, as many of my fellow wrestlers have been cast in movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean, Ocean 12, Keisha and, lately, Let’s Be Cops as well as TV shows and commercials…”
There are many notable Sumo wrestlers of Tongan heritage:
Fiamalu Penitani (Yokozuna Masahimaru Koyo): a professional Sumo wrestler in Japan from 1989 to 2003. The second non-Japanese Sumo wrestler in history to reach the rank of Yokozuna (highest rank in Sumo).
Tonga Fifita (Fukunoshima/King Haku): a professional Sumo wrestler in Japan before switching to American Wrestling (WWF). First Tongan WWF Superstar, performed under the stage name “King Haku”.
Sione Vailahi (Sachinoshima/The Barbarian): studied Sumo in Japan, before switching to American Wrestling (WWF).
Tebita Taufa (Aotsurugi Kenta): professional Sumo wrestler 2001 – 2009.
Minaminoshima ‘Isamu Falevai: professional Sumo wrestler 2001 – 2008.
John Feleunga: professional Sumo wrestler 1986 -1997.