Trailblazing Egyptian Sumo Wrestler Makes His Mark in Japan
Tokyo. With legs resembling tree trunks and packing the body weight of two average-sized men, sumo wrestling’s “Great Sandstorm” would seem a good fit for the popular Japanese sport.
But Egypt’s Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, the first professional sumo wrestler from both the African continent and Arab world, faces some mighty challenges as he embarks on a quest to become a yokozuna, or grand champion.
The man known by the ring name Osunaarashi, which roughly translates as Great Sandstorm, prays five times a day as a devout Muslim, a tough routine given the intense daily training schedule required for sumo’s highly ritualized contests.
Though small in number, foreigners are increasingly vital members of tradition-bound sumo as more Japanese youngsters with high athletic abilities tend to choose more high-profile sports that have less rigid conventions.
Mongolians have been a dominant force in the sport for years, although Shaalan is among the sport’s first Muslim competitors.
As such, the 20-year-old does not touch the deep-fried pork cutlets loved by millions of Japanese or drink vast quantities of beer and rice wine sake, staples of a diet that sumo wrestlers rely on to bulk up.
But Shaalan, who quit his university accounting degree to enter sumo’s professional ranks, is undeterred, even brushing aside the challenges presented by the holy month of Ramadan when he cannot eat or drink during daylight hours.
“I am confident that I can overcome my challenges,” the burly wrestler said after winning his first two professional-level matches in the western city of Osaka last month.
“I want to become a wrestler who represents Arab and African nations … My dream is to become a yokozuna,” said the Egyptian, who stands at 1.89 meters and weighs 145 kilograms.
Shaalan’s coach, a former wrestler known as Otake, is most concerned about keeping his young apprentice focused amid the media storm sparked by his spectacular debut, which included dumping his Japanese opponent with a powerful arm throw.
“It was very exciting,” declared the novice, who was not allowed to do a one-on-one interview under sumo association guidelines for new recruits.
Otake was less enthusiastic about the victories that earned Shaalan a coveted spot in the sport’s bi-monthly tournaments, although he will start at the bottom of the rankings.
“I will teach him to become more humble as his ranking rises,” the stable master said.