Hawaiian-born Sumo legend Akebono Taro dies at the age of 54 in Tokyo, Japan

MixCollage 11 Apr 2024 12 38 PM 4751

Sumo wrestling great Akebono Taro has died. He was 54.

Akebono, born Chad Rowan in 1969, was the first foreign-born wrestler to reach the level of “yokozuna” — or grand champion — in Japan. Growing up on the rural side of the Koolau Mountains in Honolulu, Hawaii, he moved to Tokyo in the late 1980s and won his first grand championship in 1993. At the peak of his career, he reportedly weighed in at 500 pounds and stood 6’8″ tall.

Akebono Taro

“It is with sadness that we announce Akebono Taro died of heart failure earlier this month while receiving care at a hospital in the Tokyo area,” the family said in a statement.

His wife Christine Rowan, revealed that he died “within the past week” but declined to give details in an email to The Associated Press. “I had to tend to personal matters that needed to be done prior to publicly announcing my husband’s death,” she said.

READ MORE:  Video - UFC champ Ilia Topuria shows off his power ahead of proposed title fight with Max Holloway

According to local media, the Sumo legend had been battling illness since collapsing in the city of Kitakyushu seven years ago. He succumbed to his ailments earlier this month at a Tokyo hospital.

Akebono Taro

Millions Pay Their Respect to Akebono Taro

The United States ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, offered his condolences on X, writing:

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Akebono, a giant in the world of sumo, a proud Hawaiian and a bridge between the United States and Japan.

“When Akebono became the first-ever foreign-born grand champion, sumo’s highest rank, in 1993, he opened the door for other foreign wrestlers to find success in the sport. Throughout his 35 years in Japan, Akebono strengthened the cultural ties between the United States and his adopted homeland by uniting us all through sport. I send my sincerest condolences to his family and friends and to sumo fans everywhere.”

Akebono Taro

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green wrote in a Facebook post that Akebono had “inspired untold numbers of our youth that with determination and hard work, attaining your dreams is possible.”

A champion in both the land of his birth and his adopted island home, he served as an ambassador for Hawai‘i in Japan and his legacy will live on,” Green wrote.

The 11-time grand tournament winner retired in 2001 due to repeated knee injuries. More than 11,000 spectators attended his leaving ceremony.

READ MORE:  Khamzat Chimaev backed to land second round KO win over Robert Whittaker at UFC Saudi Arabia: 'He's got power'

He briefly worked with World Wrestling Entertainment in 2005, competing in a sumo match with WWE Superstar Big Show at WrestleMania 21. Akebono won the kayfabe clash with a koshinage, throwing his opponent entirely out of the ring.

Akebono vs. Big Show