NAGOYA, Japan (AP) — In a sport steeped in ancient rituals and Japanese tradition, one young foreigner faces the weighty issue of how to keep faithful to his religious observances and be competitive in one of the biggest sumo arenas.
Wrestling under the name Osunaarashi, which translates as 'Great Sandstorm,' the 21-year-old Abdelrahman Ahmed Shalan is the first professional sumo wrestler from the African continent.
Being an outsider has had its challenges. But while he's slowly been adjusting to life in the elite sumo ranks, the young Egyptian does have a unique problem at the 15-day Nagoya tournament where his rivals rely on every part of their preparation being in sync - the event coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. And for Shalan, that means strict fasting - not something usually associated with the larger-than-life image of sumo wrestling.
"I love sumo. Sumo means everything to me," he told The Associated Press in an interview as the Nagoya tournament was commencing. "I've sacrificed being with my friends, being with my family, being in university. I've put all my cards on the table and now we'll see what happens. I believe in myself and believe in my dream."
Shalan arrived in Japan less than two years ago and has quickly risen up the ranks after only eight tournaments. He made his debut in the elite juryo division last Sunday with a win over Mongolian Oniarashi.
He weighs in at 315 pounds and stands 6-foot-2 tall. While his size is a great advantage, his win over Oniarashi proves he relies on more than just brute force as he calmly got a grip of his opponent's belt after the faceoff and deftly forced him out of the ring.
Since arriving in Japan, the wrestler now known as Osunaarashi has done remarkably well, compiling a 45-7 record and winning two titles in the junior divisions. Only two other non-Japanese wrestlers have reached the juryo division from eight tournaments - Hawaiian Konishiki and Estonian Baruto.