Sumo wrestling legend and the first-ever foreign-born sumo wrestler to become Yokozuna, or Grand Champion, Taro Akebono has passed away age 54 from heart failure.

Akebono made his name in wrestling mainly with All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), and had three matches in WWE including a sumo match against the Big Show. Akebono held many championships during his career, including but not limited to the AJPW Triple Crown Championship two times, the AJPW World Tag Team Championship three times, and the NWA Intercontinental Tag Team Champion twice.

Many of Akebono’s fellow wrestlers, fans, and those involved in the wrestling business left messages in remembrance of Akebono — born Chadwick Haheo Rowan — and in support of his family.

AEW’s Samoa Joe paid tribute to Akebono on X: “RIP to the Mighty Akebono. The epitome of a Yokozuna, both a warrior and a gentlemen. A hui hou.”

Another AEW star, Lance Archer, wrote: “Very sad. On one of my first trips to Japan ever. He treated me and others to Ribera Steak (more than we could eat!) and My first Japanese Karaoke experience! He surprised us all with his amazing singing! God Speed Akebono San!”

Former ECW and NWA wrestler Steve Corino, who currently works behind the scenes for WWE, also spoke about Akebono’s passing. “Woke up to a text that Akebono has passed. Sad. I was fortunate to spend a good amount of time with him in Japan. He was so good to me. Taught me about Hawaiian and Japanese culture. He also taught me about kindness and self-respect. He will be missed. Rest well my friend.”

Sean Davis, one-half of the former tag team the Heartbreak Express, shared his own Akebono stories. “Need to take a break from all of my shameless self promotion to remember someone who was incredibly kind to me. Akebono was and is a TRUE LEGEND in Japan and when Phil and I toured there he instantly took us in as HIS guys. How? In so many ways. From letting us sit next to him on all night bus trips. To having us sit as his dinner tables. To sharing his dressing rooms with him every night of our tour – which guys like us did not do. To smarting is up with how to act around the Yakuza when in one of their towns or clubs. My favorite story was when I was having trouble reaching my mom to tell her we were ok after an earthquake he called her from his cell phone to first tell her what a ‘good son’ she had raised and then to let me talk to her. I said, ‘Mom, you just talked to a sumo wrestling legend’ – she got a kick out of that. Then when we shared a ring with him, he did his best not to crush us, which he could have. I will never forget his kindness. RIP my friend”

Joseph Cabibbo, better know by his in-ring name of Almighty Sheik, paid his respects as well. “Never have I ever met a gentler giant. Rest in Power Akebono. When you asked me for that match, I meant it then and I mean it now…there ain’t no way I’m gonna take on that challenge big man. Thank you for your kindness and friendship, you are a real one.”

Former AJPW wrestler Kurt Beyer — son of The Destroyer — took the time to once again highlight the achievements of Akebono on Facebook. “Oh man. Akebono passed away today. For my U.S. friends, Akebono, born in Hawaii, was the very first gaijin (foreigner) Yokozuna! There were a couple who came close before him — Jesse Takamiyama and Konishiki — but Akebono was the first to break through that barrier. And for long-term residents like me, it was a huge achievement — an achievement that absolutely elevated ALL of us long-term gaijin. We finally had a Yokozuna of our own. I will always love Akebono for that. RIP Akebono.”

Two promotions which Akebono had worked for, Pro Wrestling NOAH and New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), posted tributes for him on X, with wrestlers in NOAH showing their respect to Akebono by holding a moment of silence for him while his picture was held in the ring.

His legacy as the first America to achieve the rank of Yokozuna meant that his passing extended far beyond combat sports, and into politics. His death was distributed by the Associated Press and covered at countless news outlets.

TOP PHOTO: Akebono with, left, The Almighty Sheik, and right, Steve Corino.