Former RIZIN fighter and one-time Royce Gracie opponent Akebono Taro passes away at 54

By Josh Evanoff - April 11, 2024

Former RIZIN and K-1 fighter Akebono Taro has passed away at the age of 54.

Akebono Taro

The early 2000s were the Wild West in regard to MMA. Over in Japan, that was especially the case. While freakshow fights still go on today, they were never as prevalent as they were two decades ago. One man who competed in multiple of those bouts, is former Sumo champion, Akebono Taro.

The Hawaiian joined sumo in 1988, and quickly found success. Akebono Taro made history just five years later, by becoming the first non-Japanese-born wrestler to ever achieve the rank of yokozuna. However, a decade later, Taro was suffering from money issues and turned to the world of combat sports.

At K-1 Premium 2003, Akebono Taro faced Bob Sapp in front of 45,000 fans in Japan. The sumo wrestler wound up being knocked out in round one, the first of many high-profile bouts. Over the next four years, Taro would compete in various MMA and kickboxing matches. His most high-profile came against Royce Gracie, in 2004.

The former UFC tournament winner submitted Akebono Taro in round one, the first of four losses for the Sumo wrestler in his MMA stint. After a 2006 loss to Choi Hong-Man, he instead embarked on a career in professional wrestling. He was active in the ring all the way until 2017, wrestling for various companies.


Akebono Royce Gracie

 Former RIZIN and K-1 fighter Akebono Taro passes away at age 54

In December 2015, Akebono Taro made one final walk to the ring. Appearing at RIZIN 2, in a rematch against Bob Sapp. Again, ‘The Beast’ won by stoppage, this time fighting under shoot-boxing rules. Taro never competed again after that defeat, largely due to health issues. Over the last few years, the former Sumo champion has struggled.

Sadly, Akebono Taro passed away earlier this month, at the age of 54. The former Sumo wrestler passed away due to heart failure, after being admitted to a hospital in Tokyo at some point in April. The late fighter’s family released a statement last night, confirming his passing.

“It is with sadness that we announce Akebono Taro died of heart failure earlier this month while receiving care at a hospital in the Tokyo area.”

In the last day or so, there’s been an outpouring of support for the former fighter. The WWE, and even the United States ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, have released statements after Taro’s passing on social media.

What is your favorite fight featuring the late great Akebono Toro?

This article appeared first on BJPENN.COM


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