SAND STORM RISING
Egyptian aims to become first Arab yokozuna
Tokyo -John Gunning, Journalist
On March 13th 2012 sumo will have its first ever African wrestler when Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan makes his debut on the raised ring.
The 20 year-old Egyptian has vowed to live up to his new fighting name of “Great Sand Storm” and sweep all before him.
“I don’t want to lose any fights” Shaalan said after a recent training session at Otake sumo stable in Tokyo’s Koto district.
Although he has only been in professional sumo for five months, Shaalan (who goes by the nickname “Boody”) believes he has the ability to be competitive at a high level.
“I can beat [much higher ranked stablemates] fifty-fifty. In the beginning it was zero. When I start in March I want there to be no comparison between [my opponent’s] sumo and my sumo. When I fight I want [it so] nobody will stop me.
With a successful amateur career behind him – Shaalan won several World Championship medals at both junior and senior level – it’s not surprising that the switch to professional sumo has gone smoothly, although he stresses that the two versions of the sport are incomparable. “The spirit – it’s so different. I feel here it’s the real dohyo. There is something strange. It takes you. When you fight you feel that. You feel you are in a war. A peaceful war”
Life outside of the ring however has taken more time to get used to, with Shaalan admitting that he found the stoic nature of many Japanese people surprising. “Here they are so calm! In Egypt [people are far] more emotional.”
It has also been an adjustment for his stablemates to have a practicing Muslim in their midst, and it caused quite a stir the first time Shaalan did his daily prayers.
“One of the wrestlers said “Huh? Boody what are you doing? – And when we pray we don’t speak – Boody? Boody! Boooooody! After I finished I said I was praying and they were like ‘why don’t you pray like Christians? [makes sign of the cross] It’s easier for you and you can talk to us.” [laughs] The others quickly got used to it though. “Yes there is no problem with that. Even if they watch the TV and feel that I am praying they turn off the TV or make [their] voices low. They respect me so much on this point.” Describing his relationship with the other fighters as “perfect” he added “They are so kind and I love them so much”.
Being the first African and Arab in sumo means that before even setting foot in a ring Shaalan has been the subject of countless newspaper columns, magazine articles and television reports. “It’s not difficult to deal with” he said when asked if the media attention was a distraction, “but I feel it’s a big responsibility when I found many people love me. I must make them proud of me.
If that wasn’t pressure enough, Otake stable is also the home of legendary former yokozuna Taiho. Replicas of his record 32 Emperor’s Cups are on display in the training area and portraits of him hang over the ring. Shaalan though claims they provide incentive rather than pressure, then pauses before adding “Motivation also comes from within. It’s coming from here [points to his heart]. If you really have a dream, you have the real motivation”.
For Shaalan that dream is clear. “I want the Arabian people to know about sumo. I want to change history. [To be] the first wrestler from Africa, Middle East, Egypt [to become] yokozuna. I want the Japanese people to know about Islam and the Arabian people. Most of the things they know…they know the bad. I want them to know that there is nothing in this life that is fully bad. Everything has a bad part and a good part. The good and bad is not in what [people] believe. The bad point is in the people. There are people who can make everything bad, who can make it good.”
“Boody” is determined to be one of the latter.