Hawaii sports world mourns the loss of Akebono

Hawaii sports world mourns the loss of Akebono

The world is mourning the loss of Akebono Taro, one of Hawaii’s most legendary athletes and an iconic figure in sumo wrestling. Born Chad Rowan, Akebono has passed away, leaving behind a legacy as a beloved ambassador of the islands and a trailblazer in the sport of sumo.

Standing at 6 feet 8 inches, the former Kaiser High School basketball standout and one-season player for the Hawaii Pacific University hoops team, transitioned into sumo wrestling, where he made history. Akebono became the first non-Japanese-born wrestler to ever reach the grand champion status of Yokozuna, the highest rank in sumo.

Following his sumo career, he found success in professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, earning a spot in the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

Former Hawaii sportscaster and ESPN anchor Neil Everett shared his memories of covering Akebono’s career, highlighting his representation of Hawaii on an international stage. “Well, I think part of the impact, Rob, is that, you know, he represented Hawaii. You know, in Japan, kind of like the way some of our sports stars have represented Hawaii on the mainland. And it’s like, you know, you’re carrying the weight of the entire state with you. When you go to Japan, you carry Hawaii with you, when you leave. And he represented Hawaii well, you know, he reached the top of the mountain in sumo.”

Everett recalled his personal encounters with Akebono, describing him as a figure of immense popularity and warmth in Japan. “I happened to go over there to report on sumo when I was a sportswriter reporter in Hawaii. And he couldn’t have been kinder. You know, he was Michael Jordan in Japan. So it was really something. Something I’ll never forget, something that put a lump in my throat today when I heard he had passed. And I think it’s always to remember, he wasn’t just a big kid. He was a big kid with a big heart.”

Rich Chou, a promoter for K1 and Rumble on the Rock, brought Akebono back to Hawaii in the early 2000s for a fight at Aloha Stadium during his MMA/Kickboxing days. He remembered Akebono as a gentle giant and a proud islander.

“Being that humble warrior but always conscious to represent where he was from. Despite the fact that at that time he was living in Japan and very much became a part of that community and their culture but I knew that fighting that fight in Hawaii was a very big deal for him because he really took it upon himself to want to make sure that he represented. All the great ones I think felt that responsibility and carried that pride with them and he certainly is at the top of the list.”

Akebono died of heart failure earlier this month at a Tokyo hospital, survived by his wife, daughter, and two sons. The family plans to hold a private celebration of life.

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