Hawaiian-born sumo and professional wrestler Chadwick Haheo Rowan, better known as Akebono or Akebono Taro, passed away on April 11 Japan Standard Time. He was 54 years old.

Akebono entered sumo in March 1988 and became a star soon after. Standing at 6-foot-8 and weighing 514 pounds at his peak, Akebono had the physical tools and training needed to become a major star in the sport. And despite his non-Japanese background, Chadwick Rowan managed to become the first non-Japanese person to ever reach the rank of Yokozuna, which is the highest rank possible in the world of sumo wrestling. This success caused Chadwick Rowan to give up his American citizenship in 1996 and become a full-fledged Japanese citizen. After doing that he legally changed his name to Akebono Taro, though as a pro wrestler he usually went by his first name only.

After retiring from sumo wrestling in 2001, Akebono switched to the pro wrestling world. He was taught basic fundamentals by Riki Choshu and Keiji Muto, but didn’t have his first major match until 2005. Incidentally, his first big match was at WWE WrestleMania 21 against the Big Show in what was billed as a sumo match.

After starting a promising run in Muto’s All Japan in 2005, Akebono would, like many other big names of his time, bounce around different puroresu promotions for seasoning and exposure. He showed his serious side in places like All Japan, New Japan, and NOAH as a monster heavyweight that appeared impossible to overcome.

Interspersed during his pro wrestling career was an experiment on Akebono’s part as he tried his hand at both MMA and kickboxing. He participated in four MMA fights between December 2004 and December 2006, losing all of them either via submission or decision. And during the period from December 2003 to December 2015 he took part in ten kickboxing matches, losing all but one of them. He was also one of many big names in Japan to take on Bob Sapp when Sapp was taking Japan by storm as one of the most charismatic and magnetic combat sports draws in that country’s history. One of these events, K-1 Premium 2003, drew a crowd of approximately 45,000 to the Nagoya Dome and is said to have been watched by around 43% of all TVs in Japan, equating to an estimated 54 million people.


But Akebono, like his WWE equivalent The Big Show, wasn’t above doing comedy and sillier antics for the sake of entertainment. When he wrestled for HUSTLE, a WWE-style entertainment promotion, he found himself involved in one of the company’s more surreal angles. After The Great Muta sprayed his poison mist into Yingling The Erotic Terrorist’s crotch, she became pregnant and eventually laid a colossal egg. This egg hatched and from it emerged Monster Bono, which was Akebono with a pacifier in his mouth. Together Monster Bono and his ‘father’ Muta would team together in one of the strangest father-son angles in modern wrestling history.

But when he took things seriously, Akebono was a force to be reckoned with. His career accomplishments include tag team gold in Dragon Gate and DDT Pro-Wrestling, as well as heavyweight title reigns in both Pro Wrestling Zero1 and All Japan Pro-Wrestling. He was most successful in the latter, winning the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship twice, once in 2013 and then again in 2015.

Unfortunately, health issues became apparent for him as early as his first reign. By 2015 he began to lose his ability to wrestle consistently. After failing to get his new promotion Odo off the ground, Akebono continues wrestling until April 2017. His last wrestling match saw him wrestle a six-man tag match for DDT alongside HARASHIMA and Yasu Urano against Shigehiro Irie, Yoshihiro Takayama, and Yuto Ajima.

Soon afterwards he was hospitalized for what would later be announced as acute heart failure. He survived that ordeal by being placed in a medically-induced coma for two weeks, during which he was said to have lost 130 pounds. In the months and years following that, little news came out regarding Akebono, with the few details that did emerge noting that he was struggling with physical limitations, memory loss, and speech difficulties.

TOP PHOTO: Akebono and Don Frye. YouTube photo