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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 7, 2003

Akebono will debut against 'The Beast'

By Kenji Hall
Associated Press

Former sumo grand champion Akebono, right, will take on former NFL player and U.S. K-1 fighter Bob Sapp on Dec. 31.

Associated Press

TOKYO — It's official.

Former sumo grand champion Akebono said yesterday he has formally quit the sumo world and will launch a new career in Japan's K-1, a brutal sport that combines elements of karate, kickboxing and taekwondo.

Akebono (Waimanalo's Chad Rowan), the first foreigner ever to reach sumo's highest rank, had retired from the ring in 2001 but remained a senior member of the association.

The soft-spoken 34-year-old tendered his resignation to sumo's governing body Wednesday. He said he decided to come out of retirement for his three children, who were too young to witness his peak as a dominant yokozuna, or grand champion.

"My kids probably don't remember seeing their father in sumo. I wanted them to see their father fight," he told a press conference. "I couldn't suppress my feeling of wanting to return to fight."

Akebono said he would take on former NFL lineman Bob Sapp, nicknamed "The Beast," in his debut K-1 match Dec. 31.

Under an agreement with the K-1 organization that promotes fights for eight matches in Japan, Akebono might also face ex-heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, said K-1 producer Sadaharu Tanigaki. Tyson signed a K-1 contract in August.

The 6-foot-9, 484-pound Akebono was forced to retire from sumo because of persistent knee problems.

Akebono sought to downplay speculation that he might be hobbled by his weight and possible injuries in K-1, as he was at the twilight of his sumo career.

"When I retired from sumo my body was in bad shape. I have been recovering, slowly but surely," he said.

K-1 is wildly popular in Japan, where bouts are regularly staged before crowds of up to 70,000. The sport has held events in the United States and is seeking expansion there.