Published on May 12th, 2016 | by Reporters Desk
American Wrestles for Sumo Stardom
By Joseph Baroud, Contributing Writer
Roy Sims is hoping that his success will help propel sumo wrestling in the United States.
Sims also is hoping for success in the upcoming event, May 21, the 16th Annual U.S. Sumo Open National Championships at The Pyramid in Long Beach.
With a couple of medals under his belt — or around his neck — you would think Sims has already been wrestling for many years. Sims stepped into the sumo circle, which is called a dohyo, only two years ago and has helped put the United States on the map in a limited time.
At 34, Sims has won a bronze medal in his first competition, at the Sumo U.S. Open in 2014 and another bronze medal in his weight class — the heaviest one available — in 2015, along with a gold medal in the open-weight class competition. It’s odd that someone would take up a sport at 34 and be dominant enough to take home medals at national championships. It’s because he was an athlete preceding his sumo career.
There’s a separation between mind and body, but, Sims made up his mind about the sport he wanted to play, because of his body type and 376 lb. frame — some being fat, a lot being muscle. He couldn’t find another sport he would be able to excel in at his weight class.
“I wanted to continue to do sports,” Sims said. “ I’ve always thought about sumo being a really amazing, traditional sport.”
In the past, Sims played football and competed in mixed martial arts, judo and jiu-jitsu. He believes that football played the biggest part in his success as a sumo wrestler. Playing on the defensive line consisted of him practicing and training involving a lot of heavy pushing, pulling and moving your opponent out of your way to eliminate the obstruction he’s creating. It was as if he had an early lead when he began, seeing that training for sumo wrestling involved working out similarly.
Sumo is a big sport with a long and traditional history in Japan and Mongolia. It began in Japan as a form of Japanese martial arts. It was used as a trial of strength in combat and also has a tradition in Japan’s Imperial courts. Representatives from each province were summoned to wrestle at the court. Sumo has also been used as a ritual dance where participants wrestle with a divine spirit and the ritual comes in the form of the individual’s movements.
Sims said that it’s been around for almost 1,500 years. He said the sport’s tradition is one of the aspects that attracted him. If the U.S. sumo wrestling community continues its success, then it can build a rich and extensive tradition of its own and attract more Americans to it.
“We got all these great guys that people can start to get behind and I think that’s making it more popular here,” Sims said. “When you got your own guys from your own country that are dominating the sport, that’s about 1500-years-old and plus, you got people like Andrew, who’s really supporting us and because of that, people get an opportunity to look at [the sport]. And when you see it, you’re like, ‘Wow! This is a really fun sport to watch.’”
Andrew Freund is a friend of Sims who helps him locate and sign up for events and tournaments.
“For the longest time, the international community really dominated, even the U.S. Open,” Sims said. “Last year, was the first year an American, myself, won the U.S. Open category.”
The issue with sumo wrestling lacking the major popularity in the United States that exists in other countries abroad is financial. Wrestlers have to spend time and energy raising money in order to compete. It’s also at a point in many cases in which the wrestler must work in order to sustain a living, while wrestling on the side.
That takes away from a wrestler’s energy and time to train. It also leaves them incapable of competing in some events because they lack the funds necessary to cover the registration costs and other costs related to competing in a tournament spanning a few days. This is contrary to wrestlers in some countries who can focus on, and only on, competing.
“The hardest part has been that it’s not a predominantly accepted sport in America,” Sims said. “So, financially, a lot of the burden gets placed on the athletes. Most athletes here that are sumo wrestlers are really paying their own way in and are competing at high levels against countries where that’s their job, that’s what they do.
“They don’t have normal jobs like us Americans, where we work 9 to 5, then we train. They wake up and they’re doing sumo wrestling and we’re going against those guys. That’s probably the hardest thing.”
Thanks to a community with a lot of warm hearts, Sims has help in the area he describes as being the toughest. Sims said he receives monetary support from people in his community, which is Hollister, Calif. Lacking proper sponsors and coaches renders Sims at a disadvantage compared with other international competitors. America loves nothing more than rooting for the underdog though, especially if it’s one of their own.
“I have an amazing community where I come from,” Sims said. “And so, for the most part, my small community has really been the ones that have sponsored me and allowed me to continue. There’s not major sponsorships, there’s not major companies coming into it. Maybe on a small degree for the sumo open itself, but not on an athlete base, it’s just not there yet, here in the United States.”
Sims trains with other top wrestlers in absence of a coach. He said he’s developed good enough and enough relationships to be able to get by without a coach, but would jump on the opportunity to have one if it presented itself.
He also said that it’s key to train with someone who understands the mechanics of the sport. You want to work with someone who knows the proper technique and who is familiar with the way you’re going to be moving your body when you’re wrestling. Since he has began wrestling, his training has focused more on building muscle mass and less on cardio.
His training regimen for the tournament consists of doing judo once a week, yoga at least once a week and weight training five or six times a week. He also cross trains, consisting of various physical activities, such as playing basketball, hiking and even doing yard work. He exercises his mind and soul, spiritually, by meditating and paying homage to the sumo wrestling gods.
His wife Libby helps keep his life and career in order. She arranges his scheduling, sets up his appointments and manages all of the fundraising. Sims couldn’t do that if he wanted to maintain a top-notch, professional, sumo wrestling career.
Sims has a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and criminal justice, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., and is an information technology director. He enjoys the mentally stimulating pace being an IT director involves. He said it helps him stay sharp in the dohyo. He wants to open his own gym, with a dohyo, one day and invite big name wrestlers and fighters that do grappling and sumo to spar and train.
Catch Sims competing in the U.S. Open at the Pyramid in Long Beach from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 21. Admission ranges between $25 and $120. Japanese cuisine will be served on site. Almost 60 competitors will square off in just more than 150 matches. This will be a tremendous opportunity to get to know more about the sport and to watch some of the world’s top competitors.