Sumo champs at King
Taken from JHnewsandguide.com
Many athletes stepped in the ring to take on Hawaii’s Kenna Heffernan but all were almost immediately ejected from the ring by the 40-year-old math teacher.
Heffernan dominated the action Saturday at the United States Sumo National Championships at Snow King Hotel.
He went undefeated, took home gold in the middleweight division and beat heavyweight champ Jay Holder in the open division as well. His wins earned him a spot in the world championships later this year in Taiwan.
Heffernan weighed in at a stout 249 pounds — 4 pounds short of the middleweight maximum of 253. Many wrestlers carried soft weight over powerful muscles. But Heffernan was pure brawn.
With shoulders the size of boulders and traps that looked like miniature mountains peering from his neck, Heffernan’s opponents knew they would have a tough time moving the Hawaiian.
In sumo, wrestlers win by one of two ways: either a takedown or by pushing their opponent out of the 4.55-meter diameter ring or dohyo.
Those who stepped in the dohyo were rapidly shown their way out. Others avoided him altogether.
“If I thought I was in shape enough to deal with [Heffernan] I woulda dropped down,” said 260-pound heavyweight James Brewster Thompson. “But I said, ‘No, I still got him by 20 years. Do I really want Kenna’s hands all over my throat and my face? No sir.’”
Thompson, 61, isn’t afraid of much.
The three-time national champion has beaten almost everyone — at least once — who has stepped his way in his 20-year career, including Heffernan just four years ago.
“I shoulda quit on that good note,” Thompson said.
But at 61 Thompson chooses his battles wisely. Well, maybe not wisely. But strategically.
“All of them weighed 400 pounds,” Thompson said of his heavyweight competition. “Nobody was under 300.”
Rather than dropping 7 pounds and fighting middleweights, Thompson chose to remain at 260 and take on heavyweights almost twice his size and half his age. He more than held his own, taking home the bronze in the day’s main event.
“It feels good to be back in that top three,” he said. “And I didn’t think I was gonna get back in the top three to be honest with you.”
Thompson has dealt with many injuries as he’s aged. He injured his back Saturday after slamming an opponent to the ground in victory.
“The body is shot,” he said. “I have massage therapists, chiropractors, everybody working on my ass to stay in shape for this.”
Thompson began sumo wrestling in 1994 at age 41. He has always been the old guy. But 20 years later he digs deep into his experience to handle the 20- and 30-somethings.
“You gotta use a little bit more treachery when you get older,” he said. “I’ve always been hard to throw, and I’m real good at pushing. So as long as I’m technically sound that day I’m gonna do a halfway decent job with the kids.”
Thompson lives in Las Vegas, where he works as a security officer at Monte Carlo Resort, a ventriloquist, a kids program director and a performer at Beacher’s Madhouse at the MGM Grand.
He performs with the Madhouse crew three nights a week and says that’s the main way he stays in shape for sumo.
“I have to work out for my act,” he said. “I’m the oldest strong man act in Vegas. I do feats of strength with jump-rope. I broke the Guiness Book of World Records of jump-roping with three people hanging on me weighing 409 pounds.”
Jump-roping with human beings dangling off him like ornaments on a Christmas tree is just one way Thompson works out. He also trains judo athletes and works with mixed martial arts and jujitsu fighters.
He keeps his body as strong as any 60-plus athlete in the world. But he knows his days in the dohyo are numbered.
“I keep telling people the last 20 years that this is my last year,” he said. “So I’m saying it again, ‘This is my last tournament.’ I may come back as a referee.”
Thompson settled for the bronze as Matt Ritchie and Holder battled it out for the heavyweight crown.
Holder had a frame like Heffernan’s, but with an additional 200 pounds or so. He had the power of an NFL offensive guard and the finesse of a wide receiver.
The Tennessean put on quite the performance. He took down Ritchie in the championship bout with ease and finished undefeated in the division to earn the right to compete in Taiwan.
The final gold medal winner in the men’s division was Andre Coleman.
Coleman had an unblemished record in his route to the lightweight gold, facing stiff competition in doing so.
He beat two-time defending tournament champion Andrew Freund in his round-robin match. He then squared off against Freund for a rematch in the title round.
Having one loss on his record, Freund had to defeat Coleman twice to win the championship.
But the defending champ was no match for the former middleweight wrestler.
Coleman forced him out of the dohyo and needed only one match to do so.
It was Coleman’s first national championship in sumo. He had won several national titles in judo but had never won a title in the middleweight division of sumo.
He dropped 25 pounds before the championships to take the crown for the lightweights.
“It was a hard transition,” Coleman said about switching weight classes. “A lot of weight, a lot of time, a lot of sweat and tears, almost exhaustion. I was almost on my deathbed. So it was pretty bad actually.”
It was a title Coleman had in his sights while spending so many nights in the gym training and trying to drop weight.
“I just put it in my mind that after the weight cut that I did, that I wasn’t gonna let somebody take it away from me,” he said. “I just went out there balls to the wall.”
The men weren’t the only ones who put on a show.
Boise, Idaho’s Amanda Soule took the women’s heavyweight title. The former national champ was back on top after going undefeated throughout the heavyweight draw.
Tiffany Tran won the women’s middleweight title after being uncontested. Jenelle Hamilton took gold in the lightweight division and also won the open division.
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