July 31, 2008 / 6:47 AM / 11 years ago

How fat is fat? Sumo heavy pledges more poundage

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Japan’s heaviest sumo wrestler has promised to live up to fan expectations and pile on even more pounds after being promoted by the association of a sport famed for its fatties.

At 232 kg (511 lbs), 24-year-old Yamamotoyama is the heaviest Japanese native in the sport, according to the sumo association which this week pushed him up its ranks due to his prowess in a recent tournament.

“I will aim for 241 kilograms (531 lb) to live up to people’s expectations. I will start gaining weight today,” Yamamotoyama was quoted by media as telling a news conference on Wednesday.

Fans have compared the up-and-coming grappler with the now retired Susanoumi, who previously held the weight record for Japanese wrestlers at 240 kg (529 lb) when he was in the ring in 1998.

“He only has eight more kilos (18 lb) to go,” gushed one female television announcer about Yamamotoyama.

Bigger is often seen as better in sumo, where behemoths clad only in loincloths wrestle in a clay ring.

But wrestlers often suffer from obesity-related health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Yamamotoyama, a record-heavy rookie at 233 kg (514 lb) in 2006, is known for his voracious appetite and reportedly chomped down 146 pieces of sushi at a single sitting.

Lately, though, he’s been skipping breakfast in hopes it will make him more nimble.

“I am full of joy, but hungry,” Yamamotoyama was quoted as saying after a winning performance in the lower ranks this month.

According to the sumo association, Yamamotoyama is the heaviest native Japanese in sumo, but Russian-born Oorora outweighs him at 254 kg (560 lb). Hawaiian-born former wrestler Konishiki holds the record at 284 kg (626 lb).

Sumo dates back some 2,000 years and retains many traditional Shinto religious overtones, but has seen an influx of foreigners in recent years as young Japanese shun its harsh lifestyle.

Reporting by Naoto Okamura, Editing by Linda Sieg and Miral Fahmy

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