Akebono, aka Akebono Taro, is one of several former sumo wrestlers now participating in puroresu following retirement from sumo. One of few Japanese sumo from outside Japan (he was orignally an American), he was the first foreign-born sumo to attain the rank of Yokozuna, or Grand Champion-the highest ranking in sumo. His sumo name, and now his real name, means “New Dawn” in Japanese.
Born Chad Rowan in Hawaii, he attended college on a basketball scholarship but sat out his freshman season due to injuries. He planned to study hotel management but he had always been interested in sumo from watching television broadcasts. A family friend introduced him to Azumazeki Oyakata, the former Takamiyama, who also originally hailed from Hawaii. After some persuasion, Azumazeki agreed to let the young Rowan join his Azumazeki stable. He flew to Japan in early 1988. Adopting the shikona of Akebono (“new dawn”), he made his professional debut in March 1988, at the same time as brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana, both of whom also eventually rose to the status of Yokozuna. Akebono rose rapidly through the ranks, equaling the record for the most consecutive kachikoshi (majority of wins in a sumo championship) from debut, reaching sekiwake before suffering his first makekoshi losing record. He was promoted to Juryo in March 1990 and to Makuuchi in September of the same year. He made his top division debut in the same tournament as Wakanohana, as well as Takatoriki and Daishoyama. In the November 1990 tournament he was awarded his first special prize, for Fighting Spirit, and in January 1991 he earned his first gold star for defeating Yokozuna Asahifuji. In March 1991 he defeated Ozeki (Champion) Konishiki in the first ever match between two non-Japanese sumo wrestlers in the top division.
After a slow start to 1992, he rallied to win consecutive championships in 1992 & 1993 and thus earn promotion to Yokozuna, becoming the first foreigner to earn the rank. He had met the stipulation of winning two consecutive tournaments that had been mentioned by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council when turning down Konishiki the previous year, and was also seen as having conducted himself with the dignity and humility necessary for such an exalted rank. One commentator remarked, “He makes me forget he is a foreigner because of his earnest attitude towards sumo.“
Akebono’s reign lasted 8 years. After Takanohana fell ill, Akebono was given the honor of representing Japan in the Opening Cermonies of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Akebono also led other sumo wrestlers in a ring cleansing ceremony at the Opening Ceremony (also meant to cleanse the stadium itself). Akebono competed until January 2001, when injuries forced him to retire. After his retirement, he became a member (or elder) of the Japan Sumo Association as a coach, or oyakata, and worked with his former mentor in the Azumazeki stable. He helped train the Mongolian wrestler Asashoryu, who also became a Yokozuna, and Akebono instructed him on how to perform the dohyo-iri, or Yokozuna ring-entering ceremony. Akebono also appeared on TV commercials and opened a restaurant during this time. He would soon fall on hard times and left the Association in 2003 to join K-1, who offered him a chance to clear his debts by fighting for them. His record is only 1-11 in his K-1 & MMA career. Because of this, he has been referred to as Makebono (make meaning “lose” in Japanese) by some fight fans and magazines in Japan.
Following this Akebono found his way into puroresu and was trained by Satoru Sayama (First Tiger Mask/Tiger Mask 1). He first appeared in Hustle, in comedy roles “Master Bono” and “Bono-kun”, in a storyline where he was the offspring of The Great Muta (Keiji Muto) and Yinling. He also is a serious wrestler, having competed in New Japan’s G1 Climax Tournament in 2007 and also regularly competing in All-Japan although he does maintain freelancer status much like Yoshihiro Takayama. Akebono makes occasional appearances in Dragon Gate, where he participates in trios/6-man matches, as well as sometimes appearing in other promotions. In 2009 he formed a giant yet effective tag team with rookie Ryota Hama, a former sumo himself, after defeating Hama in the rookie’s All-Japan debut match. In September 2009 the sumos won the All-Asia Tag Team Championships, the first major titles for both. Akebono capped a remarkable year by winning the Open The Triangle Gate Championship in Dragon Gate and was honored by Tokyo Sports with one of it’s prestigious Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Awards, being named 2009 Tag Team Of The Year with Hama. Following this win, he & Hama decided to name their team SMOP (Super Megaton Ohzumo Powers), a name reflecting both their size and their former sumo careers. They split up after losing the All-Asia Tag Team Titles in early 2010. Today he still competes mainly for All-Japan but maintains freelancer status and participates regularly in ZERO1 with occasional appearances in Dragon Gate and sometimes in the indies.
Akebono became a Japanese citizen in 1996, giving up his American nationality. At this time he was also required by Japanese law to change his legal name, which he did from Chad Rowan to Akebono Taro. He is married to Japanese-American teacher Christine Reiko Kalina, who he married in 1998, and have a son and a daughter.
Stats & info:
Real name: Akebono Taro (born Chad Rowan, changed legal name in 1996 per Japanese laws upon becoming a Japanese citizen)
Weight: 500 pounds/235 kg
Experience: 6 years (as pro wrestler)
Finishing move: Body Press
Current affiliation: Independent/Freelancer, but competes mainly for All-Japan & ZERO1
Ring Entrance Theme: “Time To Fight”
1-time All-Japan World Tag Team Champion
1-time All-Asia Tag Team Champion
1-time Open The Triangle Gate Champion
1-time NWA Intercontinental Tag Team Champion
2005 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Rookie Of The Year Award
2009 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Tag Team Of The Year Award (with Ryota Hama)
Career record: 654-232-181 (win-loss-absent)
Highest rank: Yokozuna (Grand Champion)
11 Yusho (Tournament Championship) Wins
6 Sansho (Special Prizes)-4 Outstanding Performance, 2 Fighting Spirit
4 Kinboshi (Gold Stars, notations used to record a victory by a lower-ranked Maegashira over a Yokozuna)
http://www.akebono64.com/ (in Japanese but also available in English by clicking “English” on most pages, the blog is in both English & Japanese)
Ring entrance music: