Akebono Taro

Sumo Legend Akebono Taro Passes Away at 54

Sumo wrestling legend Akebono Taro has passed away at the age of 54 this week. The Hawaiian-born athlete reached the highest levels of sumo and was the first non-Japanese competitor to reach those heights of success.

Born Chadwick Haheo Rowan in 1965, he would compete across sumo, MMA, kickboxing, and professional wrestling in Japan and in the United States. Against Bob Sapp, he would compete in one of the most viewed kickboxing matches in history. He would also tangle with The Big Show at Wrestlemania 21. Plus, he competed against Royce Gracie, Remy Bonjasky, Choi Hong-man, and Don Frye, across various sports. But MMA, professional wrestling, and kickboxing were never his focus.

Having begun sumo wrestling in 1988, Akebono won two consecutive tournaments and was then awarded the highest title possible: Yokozuna. He was the first foreign-born person to ever accomplish this feat. He stood at an incredible 6’8″ and weighed over 500 lbs. In his career, he would earn first place in eleven sumo tournaments, called bashos.


He was given the name Akebono which translates to new dawn. During the late 20th century, Japanese-born citizens were losing interest in competing in sumo so the association began recruiting overseas. Akebono, of the USA, was emblematic of a new era in sumo.

USA ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel recently stated:

“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.

During Akebono’s prime years, he was lauded for his rivalry against Wakanohana Masaru. Wakanohana writes:

“I really miss him so much. I was talking with him about meeting under a tree in Hawaii with all our fellow sumo wrestlers when we grew older. I couldn’t fulfill that promise, and I’m just so sad. I’ll see you under the tree in Hawaii. I’ll see you there.”

In a recent statement, Akebono’s family said:

“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 kindly asks for privacy during this time of mourning.”