Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sumo and Wrestling

Here's a link to a paper that is written by the UChicago economist partly behind Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt:

The other day in class while talking about Ric Flair and wrestling I had an epiphany. I had seen thee narrative of fixing matches in another sport with a long history. That sport is sumo wrestling. A sport that is heavily fixed, but unlike wrestling it does not acknowledge it. Wrestling's "fakeness" is acknowledged and embraced, for Sumo wrestling it is the lube for the machine. It is not officially acknowledged but is widely-known.
I came across the rigging within Sumo wrestling when watching the Freakonomics film which detailed the Sumo underworld of rigging and throwing of matches. What amazes me is that the Sumo wrestlers seem to rig matches to to ensure the spectacle by allowing as many rikishi to make their quota of wins. In wrestling booking a match serves the same purpose as far as ensuring the spectacle, but this is achieved through giving the crowd what it wants as far as who is the victor. In Sumo for matches to be rigged money must changes hands. Ultimately I think the attitudes towards deciding matches before they happen within each sport depend on the culture of the sport itself. Wrestling knows that it is fake and the focus of the sport is on the crowd and the spectacle; this allows it to not have to deal with the consequences of being fake because it does not contradict any of wrestling's tenets. For Sumo wrestling, the focus on and preservation of Shinto purity rituals means that cheating openly is a definite no. It would, on the surface, present a contradiction that is much easier dealt with when denied than admitted.


  1. I do find it ironic that a sport that touts purity as much as Sumo does is so engaged in illicit gambling activities. That said, I can understand some of the reasons behind it. Every sport needs several stars, so that even the casual fans can have an easily identifiable personality to whom they lend their support. Perhaps with Sumo declining popularity in modern day Japan, this is simply a necessity

  2. I'm glad you made this post. I highly recommend Freakanomics for the way it makes the reader look at social phenomena from the standpoint of an economist. "Incentive" is the magic word here. Indeed sumo wrestlers have a great deal of incentive to remain within the top tier rank of their sport. If I remember correctly, besides catering to the gamblers and outside investors in matches, sumo wrestlers looking out for themselves better remain in the top ranks in order to live a comfortable life. Should they lose one match less than their quota, instead of being waited on and cared for, they become the servants themselves, slaving away for the new top-tier wrestlers. A cruel and unfair situation not unlike the one WWE wrestler's find themselves in.

  3. The corruption in Sumo wrestling does not fully surprise me seeing as it is a money-making venture as opposed to other martial arts that compete for honor and the ridiculous large trophies awarded to tournament winners. For a sport that has so much history and respect among competitors, I would rather see some sort of commission that exposes the corruption rather than sweeping the issue aside. A simple fix would simply be establishing two different leagues: one that focuses on the purity of martial art and another that presents a storyline much like pro wrestling.


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