Here's the Beef

updated 05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1993 01:00AM

TIRED OF BEING A 90-LB. WEAKLING? WANNA THROW SOME WEIGHT around? Now you can be a really big man (or woman) without special diets or boring weight-gaining regimens. Yes, thanks to the magic of sumo suits, you too can look like a 400-lb. behemoth. Squash your enemies. Flatten your friends. Get a big crush on that special someone.

But hurry. "In a year or two, no one will be doing this," says John Wilkinson, owner of Total Rebound, a Napa, Calif., company that throws corporate sumo parties at which revelers don 43-pound, rubberized vinyl and nylon suits and roll around on each other atop a padded mat. In the meantime, though, Wilkinson—and a handful of other fast-fad entrepreneurs—are here to indulge anyone who secretly dreams of emulating Japan's blubbery grunt-and-groaners. Since they hit the U.S. market in January, about 100 foam or inflatable sumo suits have been sold, mainly to party promoters and bars. A set—two suits, protective helmets covered by wigs and a padded wrestling ring—costs between $4,000 and $6,000, depending on the manufacturer involved, and can be rented for $200 to $1,500 per event. They have been showing up in bars, at church outings, high school proms and even corporate bashes.

"The primary reason for people to get in the suits is because it's funny," says Peter Herzig, a British-born entrepreneur who staged their commercial debut after seeing a sumo-suited character in a TV beer commercial. "It's a slapstick thing. It was never designed to be a serious wrestling product."

For 14-year-old Mike Bowling, who sumo-ed with his sister Jennifer, 13, at a Burlingame, Calif., exhibition sponsored by a local radio station, it's a matter of all gain, no pain. "When you bump, it doesn't hurt, so you go crazy," he says. Echoes Jennifer: "It's a blast—better than miniature golf." Whether it proves as durable, of course, is anybody's guess. But consider this: One Hollywood bigwig has booked sumo suits for his son's bar mitzvah—in 1994.

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