By Ferd Lewis, Advertiser Staff Writer
Former Kahuku High football player Sitaleki Latu could become the sumotori who re-establishes Hawai'i's tie to the sport of professional sumo.
Azumazeki stablemaster Jesse Kuhaulua said he hopes to bring the 6-foot-6, 350-pound former offensive tackle to Japan to rebuild a nearly 40-year relationship that was severed when Fiamalu (Musashi-maru) Penitani retired from the ring in 2003.
There were no Hawai'i sumotori participating in the just-completed Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawai'i at Blaisdell Arena, an absence that has been blamed for the low turnout of just over 4,000 for each of the two days.
Oshima, head of the tour for the Japan Sumo Association, told reporters he believed the low attendance, was "a result" of the absence of Hawai'i sumotori who were once plentiful and said he hoped more could be recruited.
Five Hawai'i-bred sumotori ・Kuhaulua, who competed as Takamiyama, Salevaa (Konishiki) Atisanoe, Chad (Akebono) Rowan, Musashimaru and George (Yamato) Kalima ・made it to sumo's top salaried division, the makuuchi, from the among two dozen recruits from the state.
Kuhaulua, who began the pipeline when he left Maui for Japan in 1964, said he hoped to renew the tie before he leaves the sport in 2009 at age 65, the mandatory retirement age.
"I've talked to him (Latu) four or five times and feel he'll be a very good prospect," Kuhaulua said. "He's a big, strong kid."
Wayne Vierra, who wrestled in Japan under the name Kamikiiwa and achieved sandanme rank before his career was cut short by surgery, has trained Latu for several years with the amateur O'ahu Sumo Club.
"He's really good. I mean, he's got the size and physicality," Vierra said.
Vierra also coached Latu on the Kahuku High junior varsity football team as a freshman.
Vierra said Latu, whose senior season for the Red Raiders was 2005, "fell in love with it (sumo) even more," after seeing the first night of the Hawai'i tournament Saturday.
Kuhaulua, who left yesterday for Japan, said he would like to have Latu in his stable, but under the sport's current cap of one foreigner per stable could not immediately take him.
A recruit from China currently fills that spot in Kuhaulua's Azumazeki stable.
But Kuhaulua said he will talk to other stablemasters who have or are anticipating openings to see if they might be interested.
Under current rules for recruiting, foreign prospects must spend an unspecified time learning about Japanese language, culture and sumo life before they can officially be enrolled in a stable.