New York They waddled across Manhattan's streets, men of vast tonnage wearing nothing more across their alarming girth than mawashis - diapers to those ignorant of the ancient traditions.
Sumo wrestling lumbered into Madison Square Garden with an international mix of sport and spectacle. Most of the 24 wrestlers representing 10 countries in the event had arrived days earlier from Osaka, Japan, where they had competed in the Sumo World Championship.
Other than his luggage, which contained two bottles of Santori whisky he bought in Japan, being lost, Hans Borg, a 324-pound wrestler from Norway, was enjoying himself.
"Usually, you have to pay for everything," he said. "But it's all taken care of here by the promoter."
Borg does not come from the elite sumo stables of Japan. But, like many international competitors, he has a day job and a passion for the sport he believes translates well in the West.
"The rules are very simple, and I think the Americans like the simpleness," he said.
After two sumo wrestlers square off, they attempt to knock their opponent out of the circular ring, known as a dohyo, or force the contact of any body part - other than the flat of the foot - to the ground. Matches generally take 10-15 seconds.
Among the crowd Saturday night were fans with more than a facile understanding of the 1,500-year-old sport.
Barbara Hecht of Hackensack, N.J., first was introduced to sumo 20 years ago, the last time it came to the Garden. She is so taken with the sport she even wrote to the Japan Association to lobby for more sumo events closer to home.
She shrugs off the playful publicity surrounding the New York visit by the sumo wrestlers - the stroll across the street, the feast at a famous deli and the TV spots on talk shows and a music video channel.
"It's nothing to laugh at," she said.
The competition at the Garden night began with a re-enactment of the Shinto legend of sumo. Acrobats flew through the air on harnesses, playing the parts of mountain gods who battled each other, accompanied by traditional Japanese music and dramatic narration. The announcer then cued the crowd, "Let's launch this sport into the 21st century!"
Fans cheered and heckled the wrestlers, based on random criteria that seemed to include nationality and size.
"Germany's the big guy, the little guy is Poland," one fan explained to his friend between sips of beer. When the action waned between matches, others defaulted to chanting "Su-mo, Su-mo."
The crowd did favor one underdog - Bulgaria's Stiliyan Georgiev, who at 250 pounds was almost half the size of the biggest competitor.
"I have techniques, and I'm very fast," he said.
Sydney Carty, a Dutch wrestler, has competed against Georgiev.
"You better have a good start against him," Carty said. "When he gets to your mawashi, you're done."
There are 77 member countries in the International Sumo Federation, 24 of them in Europe, where the sport rapidly has grown.
Organizers estimated the Garden crowd at 9,000 and announced plans for a national tour. The competition was won by Japan's Mitshuhiko Fukao, who earned $10,000.
"It's not a lot, but this is the first time," said Yoshida Yonezuka, a co-promoter of the event and vice president of the sumo federation.
The nearly three-hour program also included a Japanese-style percussion group featuring an enormous odaiko drum, as well as an intermission routine that seemed a cross between break dancing and gymnastics.