Meat Bomb

Konishiki, the quarter-ton sumo wrestler from Hawaii, has set off an explosion of new interest—and controversy—in the hidebound national sport of Japan
May 17, 1992

Once again Japan is threatened by a mountainous marauder who mashes everything in his path. Once again the behemoth's thunderous footfalls have kindled fire storms everywhere, from the backstreets of Osaka to Atami Castle in Nagoya. And once again the overlords of this island nation are conspiring to stop him. Only this time the enemy is not a 50,000-ton, flame-belching sauropod named Godzilla. This time he's a human being, a sumo wrestler known as Meat Bomb.

Godzilla, you may recall, was a nuclear freak who washed ashore after being loosed by American scientists. Meat Bomb, whose real name is Salevaa Atisanoe, but who fights in Japan under the alias Konishiki, is a Hawaiian-born Boogie-board freak who caught the sumo wave while hanging loose at Waikiki. "When I left home for Tokyo in 1982, I didn't know what sumo was," says the first non-Japanese to breach the top ranks of this medieval backwater of sport. "In fact, I didn't even know Godzilla had been to Japan. In those days I was into true-crime police dramas, like Hawaii Five-0."

There are subtle differences between the two. Konishiki (pronounced ko-NEESH-kee) is scrupulously polite. He bows, he defers to his superiors, he comports himself with solemnity. "Godzilla was gloriously rude," observes Michael Browning, a Far East correspondent for The Miami Herald. "He's the one visitor who can enter a Japanese home without taking his shoes off—because he has no shoes and usually comes in through the roof." And while Godzilla hated hightension wires. Konishiki revels in hightension face-offs. But, as Browning notes, "both have guts to spare."

When it comes to guts, no athlete can match Konishiki. At 6'1" and 580 pounds, he is roughly square. A veritable waterfall of flab, he weighs about 175 pounds more than the typical sumo wrestler, 100 more than his chunkiest rival and 50 more than the average Japanese household. "It's a deceptive 580," says Konishiki. "Fifty pounds of it are always jiggling." Flesh, great bulging rolls of it, hangs off him by the bucketful. It ripples from his chest, beetles from his breasts, wobbles around his legs, arms and thighs. Konishiki's belly is so vast that you could hide a Butterball turkey in his navel. His frame appears to move in sections: If he turns too quickly, the rest of him takes a few seconds to catch up.

At a time when Japanese leaders are criticized for not importing American goods, an American import has risen near the summit of their national sport. Konishiki is the first foreigner to reach the rank of ozeki (champion). He has won two of the last three bimonthly bashos (sumo tournaments) and finished a respectable third in the other—a run that would normally be enough to tip the scales in favor of his elevation to yokozuna (grand champion). But Konishiki's huge success has posed a giant dilemma for the sport's ruling body, the cabalistic Sumo Kyokai. No gaijin (as foreigners are called) has ever been honored as a yokozuna, and the Kyokai is reluctant to set a precedent with Konishiki. The council met following Konishiki's victory in March at the basho in Osaka and ruled out further consideration of his elevation until after the two-week tournament in Tokyo that began on Sunday. Sure, Konishiki had gone 13-2 at the last basho. But his two losses, council members said, were ugly. "We want to make doubly sure that Konishiki is worthy to be a grand champion," explained Hideo Ueda, a sumo official. "Therefore, we decided to wait for another tournament."

The yokozuna sits atop a multilayered hierarchy of about 800 wrestlers. "Yokozuna are immortals," says Konishiki reverently. "It's like getting into the Hall of Fame. You stay there for life, man." The induction of a yokozuna, something that has happened only 62 times since the birth of modern sumo in the 1750s, involves an elaborate three-hour ceremony on the grounds of the venerable Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Though other wrestlers move up and down the rankings according to their results, a yokozuna can never be demoted. But he is pretty much obliged to step down when he begins to lose more bouts than he wins. This usually happens in his mid-30's. Then the wrestler gets his topknot cut and withdraws to a lethargic O-shaped old age.

Because there is now no active yokozuna—the last one retired last Friday because of injuries—the Kyokai is desperate to shore up the sport's top rank by naming others. "Like it or not, sumo is show biz," says Lynn Matsuoka, a Tokyo-based illustrator of sumo books. "Yokozuna are not only part of the pageantry, they're big box office." Based on his record alone, Konishiki is the leading candidate. But the Kyokai is torn between taking sumo to a wider audience and not wanting to dilute what it regards as a living heritage.

Yokozuna are appointed partly for winning major events, partly for producing consistently high scores. But there's another, more elusive requirement: hinkaku, an innate and somewhat mystical aura of dignity that many Japanese find wanting in Westerners. Japanese chauvinists oppose the idea of conferring the honor of yokozuna on a non-Japanese. In a recent issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju. novelist Noboru Kojima argued that the promotion of Konishiki "could lead to renunciation of the identity of Japanese spiritual culture." The piece was titled "We Do Not Need a Foreign Yokozuna."

But sumo insiders have an additional objection. Konishiki, they say, has transformed an ancient form of stylized combat into a survival of the fattest. The rules of sumo competition are simple: You win by forcing your opponent to the ground or outside the 15-foot circle of rice straw enclosing the ring. You lose if any part of your body other than the soles of your feet—even your hair—touches the floor. Bouts are generally over in a few seconds; very few last more than 20. A wrestler of Konishiki's size and strength, therefore, has an overwhelming advantage. But "if strength were the only requirement for yokozuna," protests one sumo official, "then why wouldn't we just get lions, bears and elephants to fight?"

Konishiki, who arrived in Japan knowing little Japanese but learned to speak it flawlessly, takes the critical jabs philosophically, saying, "It's their sport, and I don't want to light the system. The best I can do is rack up the wins. If I keep winning, they'll have to do something."

About the only action the Kyokai has taken is to reprimand Konishiki for something he—or an impostor—may or may not have said. In a story on April 20, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's leading financial newspaper, quoted Konishiki on the subject of his denial of grand-champion status: "Strictly speaking, this is racism." The following day, The New York Times reported that in a telephone interview Konishiki said, "If I was Japanese...I would already be a yokozuna."

The remarks nearly sparked an international incident. Japan's prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, defended the Kyokai's selection process. Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe fretted that Konishiki's accusation might further strain Japan's relations with the U.S. Noting that Americans are sensitive to racial discrimination, Watanabe said, "I would like to ask that this problem develop no further."

It didn't. On April 21, after being summoned before the Kyokai and ordered to "become more humble," Konishiki denied making either statement. A tearful Meat Bomb claimed he had been "misinterpreted" by the Nihon Keizai reporter ("If I said it," Konishiki said, "I didn't mean it the way he wrote it") and asserted that a prankish apprentice had impersonated him to the Times. ("I didn't know what was happening," Konishiki said, "I was in the shower.")

Konishiki's younger sister, Kahau Sunia, is less diplomatic. "He should tell the Japanese he's not a foreigner," she says. "After all, they already own everything in Hawaii."

The small lacquered flute is made from the wing bone of a heron. It emerges from its sheath honey-colored and gemlike. Konishiki plays a Japanese melody. The tone is pure and limpid, as plaintively beautiful as the flight of the heron.

A beatific look comes over Konishiki. His face is round and pleasantly tough, with a slight ironic twist at the edge of his smile. He wears that smile whether he's barreling opponents out of the sumo ring or warbling Japanese pop songs to his reedy bride, Sumika, a fashion model who weighs about as much as his elbow. (He proposed last summer by saying, "Let's work together toward yokozuna.")

Their wedding in Tokyo in February drew more than 1,000 guests, including many of the country's top politicians and businessmen. A Japanese TV network anted up nearly half a million dollars for broadcasting rights. This real-life Beauty and the Beast knocked the Winter Olympics off the air for two hours. "In no other sport in the world do you get this kind of attention." Konishiki says. His voice is surprisingly soft, coming from a man the size of the Imperial Palace.

Konishiki's every move—as ponderous as it might be—is fodder for gossip columnists. ""Journalism in Japan is a rat race, and journalists are a bunch of rats," Konishiki says contemptuously. "I'm constantly getting quoted by reporters who never interviewed me. The rest ask me the same asinine questions: What do you and your wife talk about? What is it like being married to you? Do you want to have a boy or a girl?" The question that never gets asked is, Do they or don't they? "We do," says Konishiki slyly. We'll leave the rest to your imagination.

According to the popular press, Konishiki celebrated his 28th birthday last December by downing 120 bottles of beer, 10 quarts of tequila and 10 shots of whiskey. "That's ridiculous," protests Konishiki. "I don't drink whiskey."

So what about the beer and the tequila?

"That's only partly true. The 10 quarts of tequila is right, but I drank more than 120 bottles of beer."

Did he get Meat Bombed?

""No, but the next morning I felt like I had 23 hearts, and all 23 were in my head, pounding."

The Japanese public thirsts for this kind of information. And most of the time Konishiki doesn't mind dispensing it. "I'm treated like royalty," he says. "I'm a walking god."

Old women and young children rub him for good luck like some giant Buddha. Teenage girls swoon at the sight of his huge haunches. Konishiki masks line the shelves of Tokyo toy stores. A fan club gave him an apron with a diamond not quite as big as a Ritz cracker to wear in sumo's lengthy prematch ceremonies.

It seems clear that Konishiki is the biggest reason for the sumomania currently sweeping Japan. All six of this year's bashes have sold out well in advance, including the three in Tokyo's 12,000-seat Kokugikan stadium. Ringside seats bring scalpers more than $4,000 apiece. Paychecks for the wrestlers are equally fat, and sumo wannabes are flooding into Japan from all over the world. The Kyokai pays Konishiki a percentage of tournament gate receipts, which adds up to about $100,000 a year, but he makes at least twice that much from exhibitions and prize money, and still more from endorsements—which comes in handy in a city as expensive as Tokyo. "I'd love to make millions of dollars like the American ballplayers in Japan," Konishiki says, "but I guess that's part of the discipline in sumo. You take what you get."

It was Hawaiian sumo wrestler Jesse Kuhaulua, the first non-Japanese to win a basho in the top division (in 1972), who brought Konishiki to Japan. Now 19 Hawaiians wrestle there (and one of Konishiki's older brothers, Junior, competes in Japan in something called shoot boxing, a cross between street fighting and kick boxing). None of the Hawaiian sumo wrestlers approaches Konishiki's dimensions. The closest is Akebono, a 6'8" giant trained by Kuhaulua. But Akebono, though an impressive 450 pounds, lacks Konishiki's advantageously low center of gravity.

Konishiki's Jovian girth makes him practically immovable. But it also raises concerns about his health. Konishiki makes light of the weight issue. "My only regret is that I can't fit into the rides at the Tokyo Disneyland," he says. "And when I go to a movie, I've got to sit in the aisle."

Would slimming down—if that's the phrase—hurt his game? "I try not to go all psycho about it," Konishiki says, "but it probably wouldn't hurt to lose 70 or 80 pounds."

Kuhaulua disagrees. "Sumo wrestlers depend on their weight," he says. "If they lose any, they lose a sense of themselves. Some have lost careers after losing weight. It's a mental thing. What worries me more about Konishiki is the possibility of injury. Big men like us are slow to heal."

Kuhaulua is saying this while lying on a futon at a training stable in Osaka. His head propped up by towels, the 400-pounder looks as immobile as Jabba the Hutt, and nearly as grotesque. He has been in this position for most of the last 10 days. "I turned my ankle," he rasps. A blow to his larynx in his early sumo years left his voice sounding like dry toast being scraped.

On the wall is a poster composed by one of Kuhaulua's Japanese proteges. Its inspirational message reads:

PLEASE, THE BOSS
DON'T EAT! MEAT, FISH LIKE TUNA
EAT MUCH! VEGETABLE, FRUIT, TOFU
GO FOR A WALK!
DON'T GO TO HAVE A DINNER
KEEP YOUR LIFE

"I know nothing about nutrition," Konishiki tells a visitor to his parents' modest home on Oahu. "When you're raised in a family that's barely making it through life, you eat whatever's in front of you." The visitor takes a step back.

Konishiki is the eighth of nine children of Lautoa Atisanoe and his wife, Talafaaiva. Lautoa, a thickset fellow with a perpetually tired expression, brought his family from Samoa, where he had been a schoolteacher, to Oahu in 1959 and got a job as a naval rigger. He was determined to give his children, who would eventually include Salevaa (nicknamed Sale), more than an eighth-grade education.

The Atisanoes lived in a Samoan community on the leeward side of the island. They were poor in a Polynesian way. Everyone slept on mats in a communal room and showered outdoors beneath the banana trees. Lautoa had been a "high talking chief" in his village in Samoa, and once installed in Hawaii he built a church out of scrap wood. "The family had a deep sense of respect for protocol, ritual and etiquette," says Earlene Albano, Sale's sixth-grade teacher in Nanakuli. "I think that's why Sale adapted so well to Japan."

Sale grew up fat but strong. By age 11 he weighed 180 pounds. "He was intimidating to look at," says Albano, "but he never intimidated anyone."

No one intimidated him, either. "We used helmets and shoulder pads when we played football on the street," says Sale's former classmate Darrin Zablan. "But nothing fit Sale, so he just wore himself."

At Honolulu's University Laboratory High, Sale made a name for himself—Big Sale—as the school's undisputed champ in the bench press (550 pounds) and squat powerlift (600 pounds). He also played noseguard on the football team. Albano's son played for a rival school.

"What do you do when Sale hits you?" she once asked her son.

"You bounce, Ma," he said.

Too slow for college ball, Sale considered a career as an undercover cop, as if ex-noseguards of his size could move around incognito. "You know," he says, "like on a SWAT team, running through doors, banging heads." He pauses. "It's not too late, is it?"

A week before his graduation from high school, a scout sent by Kuhaulua spotted Sale on the beach, cutting class. "No thanks," said Sale when the scout told him about sumo. "I don't have the stomach for fighting."

"Oh, but you do," said the scout.

"Forget it," said Sale.

The scout persisted, coming back two more times. He told Sale that Kuhaulua was due in Honolulu any day, and the scout could introduce them. "He's a celebrity in Hawaii," Konishiki says. "So I figured, why not?"

"The deal is to just go there," Kuhaulua told Sale. "Once you're there, it grows on you." Over his parents' objections, Sale sallied forth. "Trip was free," he says. "How could I lose?" He was then a lithe 380 pounds.

Kuhaulua apprised his charge of sumo's hardships. "I had 20 years of them," Kuhaulua says. "The moment I arrived from the States in 1964, I felt blind, deaf and extremely dumb. I could only talk to two or three people. And there was still a lot of resentment left over from World War II." Kuhaulua made enormous efforts to fit in. "Trying to live like the Japanese was really tough, man." he says. "I had to learn their culture, their life-style and their language, and to accept their attitude toward foreigners."

Kuhaulua fought under the ring name of Takamiyama, which means High Mountain. He reached seikwake, the third-highest level in sumodom. But he never challenged for elevation to yokozuna. "I didn't have the concentration to get higher," he says. "The guys who make yokozuna are special people. They're really different."

Konishiki entered the Takasago stable in Tokyo in 1982. He had shaved his head just before his graduation from high school. It was his last defiant act for a long time.

Konishiki heaves his monumental body through his training stable with the swagger of a young chieftain among his tribesmen. And if a sumo stable is not a tribe, it certainly has enough totems and taboos to provide anthropologists with doctoral theses for generations.

"I'm back in the Stone Age, man," Konishiki says.

Tradition permeates the very clay that the wrestlers, called sumotori, stomp on. "You've got to look at sumo with a sense of humor," Konishiki says. His laugh sounds like the sputtering cough of a small motor. "The foreigners who have a hard time over here can't laugh about it.

"But," he reflects, "there's a time to take things seriously."

When he first got to Tokyo, his stable boss named him Konishiki, after a yokozuna who fought in the late 19th century. "All I know is that he was small and had five wives," says Konishiki II, sighing. "We live in a different world, man. That was back when you could have 20 wives, and they wouldn't sue you for anything."

The life of a young sumotori borders on indentured servitude. Most aspiring wrestlers join up around 15; they add bulk by basically force-feeding themselves. Konishiki had no problem with that, but the required uniform—the briefest of briefs—put him off. "I didn't want to walk around in diapers," he says. "But I'm here, and I'm wearing them."

His initiation was brutal. Stablemasters spat at him, threw salt into his mouth and whacked him with bamboo canes. One night an older wrestler stumbled in drunk and knee-dropped the sleeping Konishiki on the head. "No reason," Konishiki says with equanimity. "He just had an urge to knee-drop somebody, and I was there. It was strictly first come, first served."

Another boozy veteran bashed Konishiki in the face with a beer bottle. "I wanted to get back at the guy, but I couldn't," Konishiki says. "When you're a rookie, you're a dirtbag. You can only take hits, you can't give them. It ain't like America."

But Konishiki could take some solace. "They only abuse the most promising guys," he says. "And they abused me every day. I got so used to pain that I forgot what pain was." He dutifully performed apprentice chores: bathing and feeding his tormentors, sponging the sweat off them, running errands for them and even wiping where 350-pound sumotori can't wipe. The only way to freedom from these indignities was to fight up the rankings until he was privileged to use beginners as his own servants.

As he relates his story, Konishiki is straddling two plastic beer crates in the dim, drafty basement of the Shinto shrine where he trains. A dozen blotchy-faced stableboys stand around a clay ring, slapping their thighs and swaying from side to side. Some pound their palms against round wooden pillars sunk into the ground; others splat together like mating water beds. Konishiki is wearing a voluminous blue and white kimono imprinted with palm trees. Two minions work on repairing and reoiling his topknot of hair. "I'm his slave," says Cosier (Fats) Gaspar, one of the six junior wrestlers in Konishiki's retinue. "But that's O.K., because he's a great master."

Gaspar, a 295-pound minnow from Oahu, came over last year. He played—what else?—noseguard at Arizona Western College until he blew out his knee. He had to sear several tattoos off his shoulders, leaving hideous scars, because sumo's strict rules forbid any "impure" body markings.

Gaspar's toughest task may be waking up Konishiki every morning. "I've got to jump on his back," Gaspar says, "then punch him in the head and yell, 'Get up! Get up!' "

Konishiki usually lifts weights, shoves and splats until lunch, then eats. And eats. He eats enormous bowls of rice and huge quantities of beef, pork, chicken, fish, tofu and vegetables boiled together in a high-calorie stew called chanko-nabe. The stew will do, he says, but what he craves most is American mayonnaise—he keeps a private stash of Hellmann's. "Every once in a while I have to get away and find a place that sells hot dogs," he says, "or something American."

All work and no poi did not make Konishiki a dull boy. With quick, jarring rushes and epic shoves, he became the fastest-rising sumotori in the Land of the Rising Sun. He made it into the highest of the sport's six divisions after only eight tournaments, a modern record. Along the way he beat some of sumo's greatest stars. But he apparently got too good too quickly for his hosts.

A strong xenophobic tide swept over Konishiki in September 1984 when he finished second in the Emperor's Cup tournament. "The Japanese never really care what color or nationality you are," he says. "That is, until you near the top of the rankings." A stop-Konishiki movement was formed. The 20-year-old was assailed because his flesh was not molded and muscled like that of a classic sumotori. He was disparaged with names like Dump Truck, the Hawaiian Monster, Meat Bomb. "Actually, I always liked Meat Bomb," he says. "I'd imagine my face on the cover of SI under the words, MEAT BOMB EXPLODES IN JAPAN."

Irate fans tried to ban the Bomb. They nailed a Konishiki doll to a tree outside a temple, sent him hate mail and death threats. There were rumors of sinister plots to injure him in practice, tempt him with bribes, spike his food with sugar to induce diabetes. "I was sure somebody was going to walk up to me in the street and stab me in the back," says Konishiki. "It scared the hell out of me." One newspaper stole his diary and ran excerpts. Another paper demanded that tournaments be canceled if Meat Bomb became a yokozuna. A third branded Konishiki "the worst shock ever to befall Japanese society since the arrival of the Black Ships," referring to Commodore Perry's fleet, which forcibly opened Japan to Western trade in the 19th century.

There were calls to start teaching sumo in grade school so that Japan might produce wrestlers who could beat Konishiki. There was even an anti-Konishiki chant that translated loosely as: "Fool, hippo, street musician. Your mother's belly button sticks out. Your father's belly button has seven colors! I'll stick a hand in your ear and rattle around in your molars."

Gradually the vibes got to Konishiki. He was like a rookie pitcher who gets shelled his second time around the league. He slumped badly and then injured his left knee. He even lost his celebrated calm. After one loss he chucked a TV out of a second-story window. "You can't tell me Michael Jordan scores 45 points every game," Konishiki says. "He has his down days, too."

The bottom came when a stablemate threw out all of Konishiki's letters from home. "I'd read those letters every night, over and over," Konishiki says. "They were what kept me going. When they got thrown out, I cried. I asked myself, Why the hell am I here?" Pride kept him put. "I couldn't go until I made something out of myself," he says. "That's what sumo taught me, man—how to live alone. I'm in this for myself."

He persisted with courage and a Zenlike single-mindedness. In 1987 he made ozeki. Of course, it took him five runner-up finishes in tournaments instead of the usual three. He declared his independence before matches by parading around the ring in an apron embroidered with the Statue of Liberty.

He won his first tournament, the Kyushu basho, in November 1989 with a 14-1 record. Pushing tears away from his eyes, he said, "My dream has come true." It was a very un-Japanese display of emotion, and it moved one editorialist to write, "I wonder what thoughts were contained in those teardrops.... We would only like to ask Konishiki to understand the spirit underlying sumo and to continue his career."

As Japan warmed to Konishiki, his confidence rose. Last November he showed up at the Kyushu basho without a bandage around his bum knee. He had worn one for six years. He won with a 13-2 record and credited his victory, in part, to a new diet: high-protein, low-fat crocodile meat. In no time he had dropped his weight to a more manageable 504 pounds.

When tush comes to shove, Konishiki is as unstoppable as a bullet train. And it's a fairly fearsome sight to behold the quivering blubber of the heftiest wrestler in sumo history attempting to squash you. "It's like he's Amtrak, and you're sitting in a Volkswagen bug," says Gaspar. "If you value your life, you've got to bail out." For a locomotive, Konishiki is capable of astonishing feats of balance, agility and brute strength.

To avoid getting blubbered flat, Konishiki's opponents try to outmaneuver him with speed and guile. His greatest weakness used to be an inability to get out of his own way. He would blow off the mark, start slapping and pushing, and just when he thought his opponent was positioned for the Big Heave, the other guy would duck low, hook Konishiki's leg and send him crashing to the clay. "Nobody can beat Konishiki one-on-one," Gaspar says. "You have to halve him and control the half you've got."

There are 74 carefully recorded tricks and dodges used to fling opponents out of the dohyo, the small clay ring. Early on, Konishiki relied on the oshidashi and the tsukioshi, a couple of open-palmed slapping moves. But when he started struggling in the mid-'80s, he perfected the yorikiri (force out), in which Konishiki grabs his opponent's belt with two hands and hoists him over the edge of the ring. The Joy of Sumo, by David Benjamin, calls this the missionary position. "The best thing about Konishiki is that he can keep cool," says Kuhaulua. "Now he can read his opponent left or right. In the past, he was all offensive."

At the March basho in Osaka, the championship came down to a contest between Konishiki and fellow ozeki Kirishima, a compact 280-pounder with movie-star good looks (he was introduced at a Paris exhibition as the "Alain Delon of sumo"). Despite—or maybe because of—his size, Kirishima is one of Konishiki's nemeses.

Konishiki cantilevered up to the dohyo wearing a skimpy twist of dark-colored silk with stiff tassels. His oiled black hair was tied back and sculpted into an elaborate topknot in the shape of a gingko leaf. Konishiki had the look of a man composed within himself. His mien was benign and patient, his face smiling and polished. His eyes gave away nothing.

The bout began with a lengthy war of nerves known as niramiai, in which the opponents glower at each other. "That's where you can win or lose," says Konishiki. "If you can stare down your opponent, you can feel him break." Sometimes Konishiki is the one who gets stared down. "Little boogers get in your brain," he says. "Your mind goes all kamikaze, and, man, you can't even spell your own name."

Konishiki and Kirishima faced each other in a crouch, balancing balletically on their toes. They straightened, clapped their hands, slapped their chests and lifted their legs to the side as high as their bulk permitted. After much foot-stamping, they swiped at a mound of purifying salt. Great fistfuls of it flew across the ring in shimmering parabolas. The spray showered the kimono-clad referee, who sported a dagger that he was too decorous to use in retaliation.

Konishiki has become the undisputed master of niramiai. According to The Joy of Sumo, he "wins a lot of his matches by just sitting there. His pose is a bludgeon. He seems to grow before your eyes."

The combatants returned to squatting and eyeing each other grimly. Then they rose again and dug out more handfuls of salt. K & K repeated the cycle several times, like anxious hockey players circling before a face-off. The spectators—many waving fans who bore Konishiki's image—squealed their approval.

Suddenly, a charge. Kirishima smashed belly-first into the gelatinous pile of Konishiki. Almost half a ton of muscle, gristle and chanko-nabe collided with a curious spattering sound, as if butter were being flung against concrete. The two banged bellies like rutting male moose vying for supremacy.

It was all over in 10 seconds. Kirishima tried to pull Konishiki off balance. Unpulled, Konishiki slapped him to the edge of the dohyo with a kind of heavy-footed grace. Kirishima got a hand on Konishiki's belt and tried to flip him. Unflipped, Konishiki casually snatched Kirishima's belt and bundled him out by yorikiri.

The victory provoked cries of "Banzai! Banzai!" throughout the indoor stadium, although there was a smattering of boos. Cushions rained down on the dohyo, and fans leaped up from their tatami mats to cheer. They screamed and clapped: Many were visibly drained. Konishiki gazed down at the spectators. Sweat gushed down his chest like rain in a storm gutter.

At the awards ceremony he was given a huge assortment of prizes, including a ton of beef, a year's supply of gasoline, Coke, mushrooms and chestnuts, and 5,000 eels. He spouted like a happy whale, leaving the ring announcer moist with spray. Later he said, "Damn! Why didn't they give me something I could work with, like a million dollars?"

The next day he flew from Osaka to Honolulu. Since their wedding, Konishiki and Sumika have had four receptions in various corners of Japan. In Hawaii they planned two more—one a Samoan feast.

Konishiki straddled two first-class seats, and though the divider had been removed, he looked as if he had the worst seat in coach. He spent much of the flight plopped on the floor. "I'd like to be a sumo as long as I can," he said. "If I last another five, six, seven years, I'll be happy. But I'm not really into what's after sumo yet. I don't even think about tomorrow. That just slows me down. I never take two days at a time. Just one day. My way."

At dinner the flight attendant asked Konishiki to choose between pecan, apple and strawberry cream pie. "Just dump them all on my plate and mix them up," he deadpanned. "Don't even bother to slice: I'll eat the whole pies. What's the difference? It all goes to the same place anyway." When he got up to stretch, the plane seemed to list.

When the plane landed in Honolulu, Konishiki waddled out and headed for customs. One line was for U.S. citizens, the other for foreigners.

Meat Bomb laughed, a self-deprecating laugh from deep in his throat.

"Hey," he shouted to no one in particular. "Where's the line for walking gods?"

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)