Akebono, Hawaii-Born Sumo Champion in Japan, Dies at 54

Taro Akebono, a Hawaii-born sumo wrestler who turned the game’s first international grand champion and helped to drive a resurgence within the sport’s recognition within the Nineteen Nineties, has died in Tokyo. He was 54.

He died of coronary heart failure in early April whereas receiving care at a Tokyo hospital, in line with a press release from his household that was distributed by the USA army in Japan on Thursday.

When he turned Japan’s sixty fourth yokozuna, or grand champion sumo wrestler, in 1993, he was the primary foreign-born sumo wrestler to attain the game’s highest title in its 300-year fashionable historical past. He went on to win a complete of 11 grand championships.

Akebono, who was 6-foot-8 and 466 kilos when he was first named yokozuna at 23, towered over his opponents. He was identified for utilizing his peak and the attain of his arms to his benefit, retaining his opponents at a distance and shoving them out of the ring.

Akebono’s rivalry with the Japanese brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana, each grand champions, was a significant driver of sumo’s resurgent recognition within the Nineteen Nineties.

Taro Akebono was born Chad George Ha’aheo Rowan in Waimanalo, Hawaii, in 1969. He moved to Japan in 1988 on the invitation of a fellow Hawaiian wrestler.

In 1992, a 12 months earlier than he turned grand champion, the council that decides which wrestlers are worthy for that honor had denied it to a different Hawaiian, saying no foreigner may possess the dignity befitting the title.

Akebono later stated in interviews that he hardly ever thought of his nationality within the ring, considering of himself as a sumo wrestler at first. He turned a naturalized Japanese citizen in 1996.

“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m an American, I’m going to go out there, plant my flag in the middle of the ring and take on the Japanese,’” he told The New York Times in 2013.

He gained acceptance and recognition within the sumo world partially as a result of folks in Japan appreciated his devotion to the game.

“He makes me forget he is a foreigner because of his earnest attitude toward sumo,” Yoshihisa Shimoie, editor of Sumo journal, said in 1993.

Akebono is survived by his spouse Christine Rowan, daughter Caitlyn, 25, and sons, Cody, 23, and Connor, 20, in line with the household.

In 2001, he retired from the sport at 31, citing power knee issues. He went on to coach youthful wrestlers, and in addition competed in kickboxing, skilled wrestling and combined martial arts.

“I am retiring with a feeling of great gratitude for being given the chance to become a yokozuna and experience something open to only very few people,” he stated on the time of his retirement.

Motoko Wealthy contributed reporting.