Hello Sir and welcome to Talesfromtheturnbuckle.com, its a honor to have a sumo wrestling and pro wrestling legend, Akebono as our guest today. Thank you and welcome!
1. What area in Hawaii did you grow up?
I grew up in Waimanalo, HI, On the windward side of Oahu.
2. What made you want to become a Sumo Wrestler?
I actually wanted to come and learn Japanese, The Trip was free so I decided to take a chance and come here and the rest is history.
3. Who trained you to become a Sumo Wrestler?
My trainer or stable master was Takamiyama aka Jessie Kuhaulua. He was the first to come to Japan from Hawaii in the 60’s. He was also the first american or hawaiian to win the emperors cup in the 70’s. Upon his retirement in the 80’s , he opened his own Sumo school and started giving boys from Hawaii a chance to come and make a name of themselves and I was one of the lucky ones he recruited.
4. What was the training regimin like?
Training is basic. We have our stretching and calisthenics that we do and then its full contact practice.
5. Who was your first Sumo match against?
My first match, I cannot remember the guys name.
6. How did it feel reaching the top division in 1990?
It was a good feeling because I was the first ranking wrestler to come out of my masters stable. He was a very popular person in Japan. In the beginning they didnt have confidence that I would become as good as I did because of my height and lankiness. I was able to overcome that and the rest is history.
7. You won a Fighting Spirit Prize and a Gold Star before you won championships. Describe what the Fighting Spirit Prize and the Gold Star mean in sumo wrestling?
Fighting Spirit is given to young and upcoming wrestlers who are able to show their potential against the top ranking wrestlers. Gold Star is given for technique. For me the Gold Star was a surprise because I always considered my style of Sumo pushing and slapping to be strong but not technical.
8. You won two championships in 1992, How did it feel winning your first championships in Sumo Wrestling?
I was always close to winning several before that, It just wasn’t the right time for me I feel. After winning my first championship I got the taste for it. You always remember your first, just like anything else.
9. In 1993, you received the highest honor in Sumo Wrestling, you made history by becoming the first non japanese wrestler to reach the highest rank of Yokozuna. How did it feel being Yokozuna?
Becoming a Yokozuna at the time was great but not in the way everyone thinks. I never felt like it was a Japanese or foreign thing. I considered myself just another sumotori. I felt like reaching the rank of Yokozuna was just evidence of all my hard work.
10. How many years were you ranked as Yokozuna?
I did active Sumo for 13 years. 8 and a 1/2 as a Yokozuna. 11 as a ranking sumotori.
11. Your thoughts on Takanohana?
Takanohana was my great rival. It was because of the competition between him, his brother Yokozuna Wakanohana, and myself that I was able to do what I did in Sumo
12. You won 11 championships, has anyone in Sumo Wrestling come close to that?
Yes, the most is 34 right now.
13. How did it feel representing Japan in the 1998 Winter Olympics?
It was a great honor to be able to open the Winter Olympics, not only representing Japan but also Hawaii.
14. What is the ring cleansing ceremony?
It is a ceremony from ancient times. Sumo represents pure dignified prosperity. Everything done in Sumo has a reason. Clapping of hands is meant to wake up the gods. Stomping of feet is to stomp out evil spirits. Flipping of hands is to show we have no concealed weapons, etc.
15. Did you become a Japanese citizen?
Yes, I am now in order to stay in sumo association after retirement. You need to be a japanese citizen.
16. After your knee surgery, did you think your Sumo Wrestling career was over?
Yes I did. At that time It was taboo to have surgery. I was told by Japanese doctor that I would eventually need surgery, so I asked him If he could give me an actual date and time and he couldn’t answer. I just decided to go back to the states and have it done. They actually asked me to bring back a video of the surgery.
17. When did you retire from Sumo Wrestling and who was your last match against?
I retired in January 2001. My last match was in November 2000, It was against Musahimaru.
18. Describe your kickboxing/MMA career?
That was something I always thought about. K1 UFC was getting real popular around the same time I was moving up in my Sumo career. It was always something I wanted to try. I wasn’t really thinking about it until they came and called me.
19. What made you decide to enter the world of Pro Wrestling?
Pro Wrestling I have always loved since I was a kid. After entering K1, I got approached and tried my first match. Mutoh San seen my potential and gave me a offer.
20. Who trained you to become a pro wrestler?
I was actually helped alot by the foreigners. Jamal(Umaga), Giant Bernard(Prince Albert/Tensai), Travis Tomko, Taiyo Kea, etc.
21. How did it feel wrestling The Big Show in a Sumo Wrestling match at WWE’s Wrestlemania 21?
It was different because the crowd didn’t understand what a Yokozuna was. To the WWE crowd, I was not the real Yokozuna.
22. Thoughts on Big Show and Vince McMahon?
I was not really used to the showman side of wrestling yet, so when I seen all the videos and stuff leading up to the match, I thought he was a prick until I actually met him. I didn’t realize how much respect and how professional they are. As for Mr. McMahon, I didn’t really get a chance to meet him, just hi and bye.
23. How was it like working for All Japan Pro Wrestling?
It’s good. It’s starting to get better. The one thing I found out about pro wrestling is that there is not only just 1 answer. Everyone has a different answer for the same question.
24. Who was your first match against in your debut for All Japan?
In All Japan, it was a tag match against Arashi who was also a retired Sumo.
25. Your thoughts on The Great Muta?
On Great Muta? Great Character
26. How did it feel being an enforcer and partners with Muta?
I was partners with Mutoh. It was different, like i said earlier, I still wasn’t used to the showmanship side of the business so I always used to have to be told to calm down because I used to take everything so serious.
27. Your thoughts on winning the Tokyo Sports Award for Rookie of the Year and tag team of the year with Muta?
It was a honor
28. How did you like working for New Japan Pro Wrestling?
Different company, different expectations. I feel like the reason I am where I am today is because I was lucky enough to work for different companies.
29. How did it feel winning the IWGP tag team championship?
I don’t think I held that title yet. I won the tag title but not the IWGP championship
30. Your thoughts on working with Masa Chono?
Same as Mutoh San. They are all legends, it was a honor.
31. Describe your match with Brock Lesnar for the IWGP Championship?
It was something that came out of the blue. I was still green in pro wrestling. My kids were the most excited. Good learning experience.
32. Thoughts on Brock Lesnar?
He is a true champion.
33. Your thoughts on working with The Great Sasuke?
A legend with a different style. Something I could never do
34. Who was your toughest opponent in New Japan Pro Wrestling?
Think I would have to say, Giant Bernard.
35.When you wrestled for HUSTLE, describe your gimmicks of Monster Bono, Bono-Chan, Bono-Kun, and The Great Bono?
It was something that was hard for me to do in the beginning. Tenryu San who is also from sumo was the 1 who has taught me a lot about the spirt of pro wrestling. He told me if I have 2nd thoughts about doing it quit now because if I do it half ass it would project that to the audience & that would be worse for me. He told me I might lose fans but I have to start thinking about future Akebono wrestling fans. It was real hard for me to understand in the beginning but now I understand.
36. Your thoughts on your match with Tenryu?
It was a great learning process for me. As I said he taught me a lot about a wrestlers spirit. Look at what he has created now lol!
37. Who was your favorite opponent to work in Dragon Gate?
Dragon Gate was another great experience for me I started out working with Don Fujii who is also from sumo. I liked being the 6 man tag champs for dragon gate.
38. Your thoughts on BXB Hulk from Dragon Gate?
Very charismatic. He can do stuff that I would never dream of. big fan
39. Your thoughts on working with Masato Tanaka for Zero1 Pro Wrestling?
Tanaka San is also another legend. They are the reason why Akebono has become almost a complete wrestler.
40. How did it feel winning the tag titles in Zero1?
Zero1 titles was 1 of the first tiles I won in pro wrestling. It was a great honor for me
41. Your thoughts on working ZEUS?
Zeus is great prospect the only problem is he was so used to working with small guys so his style was small. Since coming over & working with AJPW he has changed a lot. Hopefully we can work together more together as a force here in japan.
42. Your return to All Japan Pro Wrestling, you teamed with Ryota Hama to win the All Asia Tag team championship. who did you defeat for the belts?
We beat Sekimoto & Okabayashi from BJW
43. Thoughts on Ryota Hama?
He was a great prospect when we were working together. He also was 1 of the fastest to win the triple crown from his debut match.
44. How did it feel winning the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship for the first time and who did you defeat for the championship?
I beat Suwama for my first triple crown. It was a great honor for me. I believe a lot in the history of the things so it was big for me to hold something that was held by so many legends.
45. You never got defeated for the championship. Did you have to give up the championship for health issues?
Yes I felt ill. So instead of disgracing the belt & holding on to it & not being able to defend it I decided to give all my belts back & vowed I would get them back.
46. When you returned back to the ring in 2015 you won the tag titles again. Who was your partner this time?
I won the tag titles with Yoshie Yutaka. He is not from sumo but he has size & looks like a sumo wrestler. To me I felt for myself I need a partner like Hama or Yoshie San to bring out the best in me. When you look at those teams it just looks good big and strong.
47. Do you currently still work for All Japan Pro Wrestling?
Yes I do. actually I am on the board of directors now.
48. Do you have anything else you want to discuss or promote?
Just wanted to let you know sorry for taking so long on this. I have a good explanation. The past couple months have been real good for me. The beginning of the year I won the world tag team title. In April I won the 2015 Champions Carnival which gave a automatic shot at the triple crown title against champion Shiozaki Go. Finally May 21st I completed my mission & promise to get my belt back. I am now the new triple crown champion.
Thank you sir so much for your time and good luck with everything!!!
Please visit his facebook page for upcoming events: Akebono