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Supersized cowboys: Sumo wrestlers shake up the Rodeo, browse Pinto Ranch & prepare for rare U.S. match

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Left to right: Eric Hester, Byamba, Yama (in foreground), and Noro Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Pinto Ranch haberdasher Brian Pansky steams a cowboy hat for Japanese sumo star Yama. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Byamba and translator Jimmy Leung enjoy their new hats. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Byamba examines a hand-tooled saddle with Pinto Ranch's Walter Pye. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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"Y'all do spurs in Mongolia?" Pinto Ranch owner Walter Pye asked Byamba, walking the celebrated sumo wrestler to a large display in the store's luxury tack section. 

The Mongolian-born world champion shook his head, replying "No, not really" through a translator who will be joining Byamba and three other sumo wrestlers on a tour of Houston before a sumo demonstration at the black-tie Men of Menil dinner at the Menil Collection's Richmond Hall on Thursday.

While Pye talked spurs, sumo wrestler Yama — who, at nearly 600 pounds, is a revered athlete as well as Japan's largest living citizen on record — wanders towards the cowboy boots, picking up a hand-embroidered pair selling for nearly $1300 before getting ushered to the cowboy hats for a special fitting.

At nearly 600 pounds, wrestler  Yama is a revered sumo champion as well as Japan's largest living citizen on record.

Noro, the lightest of the group at 300 pounds, explored a collection of saddles by Pinto Ranch's expert leatherworker Julio Peña, while 19-year sumo veteran Waka showed off his handmade alligator belt to a small group of reporters.

"He says he has a friend in Japan who works with animal hides," translated Andrew Freund, executive director of the California Sumo Association, the Los Angeles-based group sponsoring the Houston visit and performance.

"The belt was made for him when his waist was about 52 inches, but he says he's slimmed down recently," Freund explained, adding that sumo wrestlers gain primarily muscle mass, rather than body fat, as part of their training.

Thursday evening's sumo demonstration marks only the fourth time in the past two decades that professional sumo masters of this high caliber, revered in Japanese culture as rikishi wrestlers, will have performed a match live in the United States.

The wrestlers have managed to pack in a full schedule before the main event, including an exclusive tour of the Menil and a trip to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

"I'm excited to eat a lot of beef here in Texas," noted Byamba, who has starred in three films, including Ocean's 13. "That's all we've been talking about for the past few days."

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