Emanuel Yarbrough: The Sumo of All Fears, a Classic Interview

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 Emanuel Yarbrough: The Sumo of All Fears, a Classic Interview
(Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Hog-tie Mike Tyson and clone him twice and you still won't have the heft and tsunami power of New Jersey sumo legend Emanuel Yarbrough, whose 6'7" frame supports 770 pounds of pure juggernaut. Yarbrough is sick of questions about how long he can go without a Twinkie, so I asked Manny about meatier things.

 

Many North Americans See Sumo Wrestling as a Battle of the Bulge—Two Big Guys Bumping Bellies To See Who's Packing the Bigger Stomach. Other Than Heft, What Else Do You Need To Be a Sumo Wrestler?

The underlying factor in what makes a good sumo wrestler is fighting spirit and guts. You need the courage just to go out there and do it, and then when you're out there you have to try and get into a different mindset to give you the will to win. I'm a big strong guy so I try to use strength and size to my best advantage.

There are some guys who are fast who use speed to their advantage, and you have some guys who are throwers so they try to use throwing to their advantage. It's a matter of using your strengths to the best of your ability and cutting down on you weaknesses.

 

What Attracted You To Sumo?

It's an unfolding drama where two warriors fight and you don't know how it's going to end. In a match where it's a big guy against a little guy, you would assume the big guy will win, but there will always be instances where that little guy will come out with the victory.

 

You're An Amateur Competitor. What Distinguishes Amateur and Professional?

Basically, anything goes in the pros: you can punch in the face, stuff like that. In amateur, you can hit a person up to the neck but not in the face. Also, amateurs sit in position and the referee starts us; the professionals start themselves—when both hands touch , they fly into action. And they get paid and we don't.

 

What About the Lifestyle?

If you're a pro sumo wrestler, that's a way of life. You're sumo 24 hours a day: you live, train, do everything at the stable. You get to go out from time to time, but you have to get permission from the Oyakata, who is the stable master.

When you become older and more established, then you're allowed to move off, but you still have to listen to the Oyakata. And they can beat you during practice, too. If you do something wrong, they'll take a stick and whup your ass with it.

 

Ever Consider the Pro Route?

Nah. There's a regimen when you start: You have to go through a hazing period where you're treated less than human. You've got to wash guys and get smacked around. It's tough.

 

As a Black American, Was It Hard for You to Gain Acceptance in a Predominantly Japanese Sport?

No. They like seeing a good fight.

 

Have You Ever Gotten Funny Looks on the Streets of Tokyo?

Japanese people basically look straight ahead; it's a straight-ahead culture. I thought I'd get a bigger response when I first went over, but people were cool. In their minds they were probably like, "Holy sheep-shit!"

 

You're around the Same Age as Lennox Lewis—Do You Think You Could Take Him On in an "Anything Goes" Fight?

Five years ago, yeah. Don't get me wrong: I don't like Lennox Lewis. But for me to sit here and say that could whup his ass, I mean that man has gone through a lot.

 

But How Could He Beat You?

It would definitely not be his fighting…actually, hell yeah, he's a boxer! I'd whup Lennox Lewis's ass: all he can do is bod and I can take a punch. Yeah, I'd beat the shit out of him.

 

How Long Do You Think He'd Last?

I'd give him a minute and a half for me to catch up to him, get him down and choke his ass up.

 

Are You into the Meditation or Spiritual Side of Sumo?

I'm not, but I appreciate it. I find it fascinating that you have two men that are basically signaling to the gods that they are fighting without weapons. I like the idea that when you lift a leg, you stomp the devil down to keep him below the fighting surface.You throw salt to purify the ring. I think that's really cool because the sportsmanship in a lot of things has flown out the window, where this thing has continued on for 2,000 years.

 

Any Words of Ancient Japanese Wisdom that Have Rubbed Off on You?

Of course: Motobito Kotosi. "More beer, please!"

 

Are There Any Advantages To Being as Big as You Are in Your Day-to-Day Life?

The only advantage—if there was an advantage—is that when you talk, people will listen.

 

How About the Flipside?

You're not normal. And if your mindset gets the best of you, you're going to feel out of place, because the world wasn't designed for people like me.

 

Ever Wonder What Would Have Been If You Were Normal-Sized?

No, I never contemplated that, because I was always this way, so for me to dwell upon that, I don't know, I have no idea. I have to deal with the hand I was dealt.

 

An abbreviated version of my Q&A with Manny ran in the defunct Rev magazine in the fall of 2002

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