Former sumo wrestler takes on college football
But an arrest for marijuana possession in September 2008 and his allegations of match-fixing weeks later eventually got him a lifetime ban and led to him leaving his adopted home of six years.
Three years later, at Webber International University, a private NAIA school just 45 minutes south of Disney World, Gagloev’s future is slowly straightening out. And he is finding both solace and redemption in a new sport: college football.
Last month, Japan’s sumo association began questioning dozens of top wrestlers in a growing investigation into the same bout-fixing charges that Gagloev made before his dismissal. He says it’s given him vindication, but also strengthened a dream to one day play in the NFL. It’s a long shot, he knows, but part of a larger healing process for a man that has already had one career taken away.
“I came to reach an American dream and I understood clearly at the time that I need time to do that,” Gagloev said with the aid of an interpreter. “I need time to get adjusted. I need time to achieve. … I sacrificed my family just to come to this country and go to school and learn the culture and learn the football and do the best I can.”
Entering his second year at Webber this fall, the 6-foot-4 offensive and defensive lineman has already undergone a major physical transformation from when he arrived here in 2009. He knew only of football through television then, barely spoke a word of English and was armed only with a handful of contacts, including California Sumo Association director Andrew Freund.
In California, Gagloev also came across contacts that eventually led him to Webber and a chance meeting with Nodirbek Talipov, a fellow Russian.
Through his ties with Webber professors, Talipov had helped several international students get enrolled there. He immediately did the same for Gagloev, and the two became friends.
“When I met him he was a little disappointed by himself and he didn’t speak much English,” Talipov said. “All of that frustration got into him. I met him and I convinced him, ‘Give me two or three months. You can definitely be who you want to be in this country.’”