Old sport, new format: Why sumo wrestling may just work at Pru Center

World Championship Sumo event Sunday promises nonstop action from competitors who are more athletic than you might expect

When the heights and weights of the competitors are rattled off — 6-foot-5, 386 pounds … 6-4, 340 … 6-1, 386 — it’s just what you would expect from sumo wrestlers.

Here’s what you may not expect when the wrestlers compete Sunday at the Prudential Center in a “World Championship Sumo” event: Professionally trained athletes capable of competing in up to a dozen matches in a single night — capable of being part of seemingly nonstop action in a competition that lasts just over two hours.

That’s the way Noah Goldman, president of the International Sumo League, sees it. And why he’s so excited to bring his version of sumo wrestling — what he calls the perfect sport for the 21st century — to New Jersey.

Goldman is confident the latest combat sports entry at the Pru Center has everything needed to attract a sports fan — especially one who already has an inkling toward mixed martial arts, boxing or legitimate wrestling.

“Sumo is the perfect sport for today’s audience,” he said. “The athletic ability, the explosive nature of the contact between the sumo fighters, is incredible.”

And easier for anyone to enjoy.

“The rules are very simple,” he said. “It’s knock someone down, or out of the 15-foot circular ring. The matches usually are a minute or less, which means it’s nonstop action and perfect for everyone’s attention span.”

Noah Goldman, left, celebrates with one of his event winners.

The International Sumo League is new this year. It features two levels of competition, Club Sumo (which plays to approximately 1,000 fans in smaller settings) and World Championship Sumo (which plays larger venues).

Goldman is aiming to bring a sport that is nearly 2,000 years old — and still immensely popular in Japan — to the masses. He feels he has the modern-day formula to do just that.

World Championship Sumo will follow the basic age-old rules of sumo, but the competition format is dramatically different.

Large competitions in Japan are held over a number of days (or weeks), with each wrestler competing just one time a night. Sunday night’s event will feature 12 competitors in numerous best 2-of-3 matchups.

In the event, the six first-round winners, plus two wild cards, will advance to the quarterfinals. From there, the event will continue to use the 2-of-3 format while working up to a champion.

Goldman said the format adds to the excitement.

“The audience will really get to see the style and personality of the wrestlers as they go from round to round,” he said.

The ethnic makeup of the competitors also varies. Goldman said the league has wrestlers from Russia, across Europe and throughout South America — in addition to the U.S.

The most recent Club Sumo event, held last week at White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, was won by Abdelrahman Elsafy of Egypt.

Goldman said the variety of countries involved adds to the event. Of course, it’s the competition itself that he feels will win fans over.

“Most people don’t realize that sumo is more than 1,800 years old,” he said. “It’s really the progenitor and the source of all the martial arts.”

And, even though Goldman is billing the tour as the “Biggest Show on Earth,” it’s more than just two big guys banging against each other. There is immense skill and training required, he said.

“Pushing, slapping, punching, tripping — really anything to get your opponent down,” he said.

Well, not anything.

You can’t gouge somebody’s eye, you can’t do a punch that comes from outside your shoulder length — so no roundhouse punches or chops — and you can’t go for somebody’s genitals (always a good rule of thumb), Goldman said.

“It’s pure strategy, strength and athleticism that lets you win,” he said. “The audiences see that — and they’re really excited by that level of content and strategy.”

This is why Goldman believes sumo can appeal to the masses.

“Sumo is, by definition, the cleanest combat sport that there is in the world,” he said. “It’s two fighters that get into a very closed circle, but without the outcome of injuring your opponent or causing them to be unconscious.

“It’s where Fight Night meets nightlife. Anyone that likes to be entertained and likes sports will love it.”