Local Profile: Sims out to rule the world in sumo

Roy Sims went 3-2 in the Sumo World Championships. 

Roy Sims has been competing in sumo for only 13 months, but he could be on the cusp of making history. The longtime Hollister resident competes in the Sumo World Championships in Osaka, Japan on Aug. 30. The 6-foot-5, 370-pound Sims is coming off a historic performance in the U.S. Sumo Open, as he became the first American to win a gold medal in the open weight division.
The 33-year-old Sims also took bronze in the heavyweight division, competing against some of the top sumo wrestlers in the world. Sims expects to do well at Worlds, but he doesn’t define success in strictly black and white terms.
“I define success by knowing I’ve done everything that I could to prepare and give it my all when it comes to competition,” said Sims, a 2000 San Benito High graduate and director of technology for the San Benito County Office of Education. “I try to learn from every match, and I think success is more of a learning thing and not necessarily the destination.”
It’s that type of perspective that has Sims on the verge of history. Only one American—Emmanuel Yarborough in 1995—has won at the World Championships since the event’s inception in 1992. Sumo, a sport steeped in tradition—it has been around for centuries—has a fervent following in Japan.
In the U.S., however, sumo is basically non-existent. The sport doesn’t do a particularly good job of marketing itself from a public relations perspective. If Sims’ career arc continues to trend upward, he could change everything. Not only is Sims well spoken and thoughtful, but he carries crossover appeal because he’s half Hispanic.
Every time Sims steps into the circle, or dohyo, which measures two feet high and 22 feet across, he knows to respect the sport and his opponent. Matches are over in seconds; anything lasting longer than that is considered a marathon.
The best sumo heavyweights are surprisingly agile, as they are able to shift their hips and weight to get their opponents off balance. The best sumo wrestlers have an innate sense of angles, and they use that skill to outsmart their foes. In sumo, winning a match comes in two ways: either make your opponent step outside the ring or make him touch the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet.
Some wrestlers are adept at winning by grabbing the opponent’s loincloth, or mawashi, to gain a position of power. Despite having just 13 months of sumo experience, Sims has proven to be a quick learner. Several sparring matches with former world champion Byamba Ulambayar have made him mentally and physically stronger as he prepares to take on even stronger competition in the World Championships.
“On the day of competition, I tend to have some nerves, but to avoid that I try to stay in a meditative state and relax,” Sims said. “In the days leading up to it, I’d like to visit some historical sites in Osaka to gain a greater understanding of the area.”
Sims left on Tuesday for Osaka, sans his family. He has a wife, Libby, and they have three children: Emma, 7, Roy III, 4, and 4-month-old Cameron.
Sims comes from a huge family; on major holidays expect no less than 80 people at their family gatherings. They even have their own food competition every year called the Sanchez Garlic Festival—Sims’ mom’s maiden name is Sanchez—which takes place at the house of Margie Barrios, who is Sims’ aunt and the San Benito County supervisor.
Sims has been training with renowned strength and conditioning coach Tony Castro, who is also a longtime Hollister resident. Castro, who will be featured in next week’s Free Lance, also trains top Mixed Martial Arts athletes, most notably UFC fighters Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier.
“By this time next year, Roy will be the favorite to win Worlds,” Castro said. “Roy is an absolute beast, and it’s scary because you’re only seeing the beginning of what he’s capable of. He’s a hell of an athlete and more athletic than some guys half his size.”
Indeed, at a training session two weeks ago in the garage of Castro’s home, Sims ended his workout by doing three sets of 20 repetitions with a fitness ball, transferring the ball between his hands and feet at the top of the movement. It’s a great core workout move that is used by athletes in every sport.
Big, strong and athletic, Sims doesn’t know where or when his latest journey will take him. Sims knows that he’s found another passion in life, a way to satisfy his competitive desire for athletic competition. Sims took up sumo on a whim after a conversation he had with friend Nick Rivera in August 2014.
From there, Sims did some research on the sport, and was ecstatic to find out there was a major tournament approaching in the U.S. Sumo Open. Sims sent U.S. Sumo organizers an email, received a prompt reply and started training immediately. On just three weeks of training, Sims took third place in the heavyweight division.
Sims followed that up by winning the heavyweight and open weight divisions in the U.S. Nationals. When Sims made a return trip to compete in the Sumo U.S. Open on Aug. 8 in Long Beach, he competed as if he was on a mission, taking bronze in the heavyweight division before taking gold in the open weight category, becoming the first American ever to take first in the open division.
When Sims first started training with Castro in April, he threw up almost everyday because Castro had him working hard with kettlebells, which provide a tremendous metabolic workout.
“He just kept on going and going,” Castro said. “That’s the best thing about Roy—he never gives up.”
At a training session two weeks ago, Sims did clean pulls, eventually topping out at 550 pounds. The two got connected through Sims’ uncle, John Sanchez. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sims has had a meteoric ascent in sumo, as he’s excelled in pretty much every sport he’s taken up. In addition to playing defensive tackle in college football for a couple of schools, Sims also wrestled at San Benito High and started training in ju-jitsu starting in his 20s.
Sims remains one of only two players—J.J. Melo is the other—to go straight to a Division I football program on scholarship out of San Benito in the last 22 years. Sims possesses tremendous strength and agility for any athlete, let alone one of his size. He’s as quick and eluisve as athletes much smaller than he is, and he’s already made nice gains in strength and power under the watchful eye of Castro.
Despite being a larger-than-life figure, Sims is often at a weight disadvantage when he enters a sumo match. He’s also going up against some wrestlers who are more experienced, which makes technique paramount. Sims knows he has to get low, use his head to push an opponent out of the circle and utilize the mawashi as an offensive weapon.
If Sims can win at the World Championships, he’ll do his best to help grow the sport. Sims loves the sport and all it represents: tradition, respect and honor. The top sumo pros in Japan earn a handsome living; however, in countries where sumo isn’t as grand—the U.S., for instance—wrestlers work a full-time job to make a living while training for sumo at the same time.
“I’m excited for sumo to get more popular here,” Sims said. “Hopefully in the future you’ll see more clubs where kids can participate in sumo.”

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