Peerless in the Ring: Meet India’s Only Female Sumo Wrestler

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A young girl lines up against a professional sumo wrestler during an exhibition before the start of the second day of the Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii 2007


Hetal Dave is a 23-year-old Indian woman with an athletic build. Not the most likely professional sumo wrestler — but she’s not letting that stop her.

Dave got interested in sumo through judo, which she practiced since she was six years old. After some time, she started sparring with male sumo wrestlers. “Out of 100 games I’d win 60 — that gave me the confidence to pursue sumo wrestling as a professional,” Hetal told CNNGo. She has already traveled to international games in Estonia, Taiwan and Poland.

(More on photo essay on The Changing Face of Sumo Wrestling)

A form of female sumo called onnazumo started as early as the 18th century, but it didn’t evenly spread over Japan. Onnazumo never enjoyed the popularity of the male version of the sport. Sumo is practiced professionally only in Japan and it’s not exactly female-friendly.

(More on Cleaning Up Sumo)

Females, in fact, are not even allowed to touch the sumo wrestling ring, or dohyo, lest they compromise its “purity.” Osaka’s onetime governor, Fusae Ohta, was even forbidden to fulfill her traditional prize-giving role on the dohyo, much to her chagrin and despite her repeated complains to the Association.

Because sumo is not that popular outside Japan, it’s hard to get a sponsor outside the country. Dave told CNNgo that potential sponsors in India just don’t get it. “They confuse it with the Tata Sumo car, and others just don’t care,” she tells CnnGo.

NewsFeed has a suggestion: Just get Indian car maker Tata to chip in. She’d be a perfect testimonial.