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American Pizazz Meets the Staid Traditions of Sumo

Two giant, shirtless men bow respectfully and then hurl themselves at each other in a violent pas de deux that ends with a victory in seconds.

But the setting for this tussle on Saturday night was not Tokyo or Osaka, but the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. There, a boisterous, nearly full crowd got an in-person look at sumo wrestling, an ancient Japanese sport that is rarely seen stateside.

Before the matches began, Melinda Wilkerson, who like most in the crowd was set to see sumo live for the first time, said she expected to see “some talented athletes.” Her husband, Brett, clarified: “Some big talented athletes.”

That they did. Twelve wrestlers listed between 210 and 397 pounds squared off under the aegis of World Championship Sumo, which is organizing a series of exhibitions in the United States.

Wrestlers assemble before the match.

Despite the “world championship” name, the entrants were a cut below the champions who wrestle in Japan’s top division, which holds six events per year.

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