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Egyptian sumo wrestler hoping to spread game to Middle East / North Africa

  |  February 12, 2014

Osunaarashi, the first professional sumo wrestler from Egypt, answers a question during his press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo on February 12, 2014. Osunaarashi, whose real name is "Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan," is hoping to use his meteoric rise in the ranks to spread through Africa and the Middle East what he once despised as an "ugly sport." AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA
Osunaarashi, the first professional sumo wrestler from Egypt, answers a question during his press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo on February 12, 2014. Osunaarashi, whose real name is 'Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan,' is hoping to use his meteoric rise in the ranks to spread through Africa and the Middle East what he once despised as an 'ugly sport.'    AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan is the quickest sumo wrestler to ever make Japan's elite top division of 42 wrestlers. You'll be forgiven for thinking something sound just a tick off about that sentence.

Shaalan, an Egyptian who is just 22 years old, made his debut in 2012 and is now among the best in the world at his sport, made all the more impressive by the fact that he's the first sumo wrestler from the Arab world.

He's nicknamed Osunaarashi (Great Sandstorm), and says he fell in love with the sport when he first tried it at 14.

As for observing Ramadan at that size? He has to make a couple sacrifices for his profession.

"For me, food is not the a problem, but water is hard for me. During Ramadan, if I did that I would die in the evening," he told Agence France-Presse.

 

Here's the full story, via AFP:

The first professional sumo wrestler from the Arab world is hoping to use his meteoric rise up the ranks of the sport he once called "ugly" to spread it throughout Africa and the Middle East.

"Day by day, my fans in the Middle East are growing more and more," said Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, often called the first Muslim to enter the ring.

"At the beginning, they said 'what's sumo?' and 'why did you choose sumo?'" the 22-year-old Egyptian, who goes by the name of "Osunaarashi" (Great Sandstorm), said Wednesday.

"They say, 'why you choose the sport in which you have to be naked.' It's strange for us as Arab people," he told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

"I want to make sumo famous in my country. So I have to succeed here in Japan," he said, adding his family and friends talk about his "super-star" status back home.

Osunaarashi, who stands 189 centimetres (6 feet 2 inches) tall and weighs 146 kilogrammes (322 pounds), was promoted in October to sumo's elite division of 42 wrestlers, including two grand champions (yokozuna), both of whom are Mongolians.

Nearly 40 foreign-born wrestlers have reached the top division but Osunaarashi, who made his debut in March 2012, was the quickest to do so -- after just 10 bi-monthly tournaments.

At the top flight, he won seven and lost eight bouts in the November tournament before notching a respectable 9-6 tally in January, and said Wednesday he had set his heart on becoming a yokozuna.

As a youngster, Osunaarashi wanted to be a body-builder, but was invited to try sumo at the age of 14 by a local enthusiast.

"I told him I would never do this ugly sport. I don't want to be fat," Osunaarashi said, adding that in Egypt, the sport was often described as a battle between "two elephants".

But when he tried his hand against a wrestler half his weight, he repeatedly came off worse.

"He beat me seven (straight) times. I had a big shock," he said, but added: "I fell in love with sumo."

Osunaarashi has twice observed Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, since becoming a professional wrestler.

"For me, food is not a problem but water is hard for me," he said. On normal days, wrestlers give all they have in the first hour of training.

"During Ramadan, if I did that I would die in the evening."