Sumo: Former Yokozuna Akebono Dies of Heart Failure at 54 (Update 2)

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Former yokozuna Akebono in 1992

Former yokozuna Akebono died from heart failure. He was 54.

Hawaii-born Akebono, or Taro Akebono, was the first non-Japanese sumo wrestler to become a yokozuna grand champion. After retiring from sumo, he moved into professional wrestling.

His funeral service will be held for family.

Akebono was scouted by fellow Hawaiian Daigoro Watanabe, who was a former sekiwake-ranked sumo star under the name Takamiyama, and Azumazeki stablemaster at the time. At the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in 1988, Akebono made his debut along with Wakahanada and Takahanada, brothers who went on to become yokozuna Wakanohana and Takanohana, respectively.

Standing tall at over two meters, Akebono rose in the rankings with tsukioshi thrusting push as his main weapon. He joined the juryo division at the spring tournament in 1990 and the makuuchi highest division from the autumn tournament that year. The competition between Akebono and the Wakanohana and Takanohana brothers was fierce. After the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in 1993, Akebono was promoted to the 64th yokozuna. Takanohana became his strongest rival, and they fought many memorable bouts. Akebono won 11 grand sumo tournament titles before retiring in 2001.

While still a sumo wrestler, the American sumo wrestler became a naturalized Japanese citizen. After retirement, he initially remained in the Japan Sumo Association as a stablemaster. In November 2003, however, he suddenly quit and announced his participation in K-1 mixed martial arts. He was knocked out in his debut K-1 match against Bob Sapp on New Year’s Eve that year, which was widely talked about in Japan.