TOKYO >> Two decades after they made news as the first foreigners to reach the exalted rank of yokozuna, it is the medical condition of former Hawaii sumotori Musashimaru and Akebono that has them in the headlines now.
Fiamalu Penitani, who competed as Musashimaru, is in a Tokyo hospital recovering from a kidney transplant, the Star-Advertiser has learned.
Meanwhile, reports say Chad Rowan, who competed as Akebono, is hospitalized in southern Japan.
Word of Akebono being hospitalized was first reported by the Wrestling Observer website and picked up by several other wrestling blogs and websites but reports that he has been placed in a medically-induced coma after suffering a cardiac condition have not been independently confirmed in the mainstream Japanese media by early Wednesday, Japan time.
Several sumo contemporaries of Akebono said they have had no word of his condition.
Akebono, 47, who took up a wrestling and mixed martial arts career shortly after retiring from sumo in 2001, had been in Fukuoka for a wrestling show. There have been no details of his health or confirmation of what might have led to the hospitalization.
Akebono’s Facebook account has been receiving a flood of “get well” messages from fans and friends.
Penitani, 45, told the Star-Advertiser he became ill while golfing in Nara and was diagnosed with a kidney ailment. When doctors told him he needed a transplant, Penitani said, “My wife right away said she would donate one of hers. She didn’t event hesitate.”
His wife, Masami, 43, is a former hula instructor in Japan. The couple have been married nearly a decade and have one son, Joey, who is 2.
Musashimaru said, “I’m feeling better and I’m hoping the doctors will let me go home soon.”
Penitani, a former Waianae High football player, became the 67th yokozuna when he was promoted in 1999. He won the Emperor’s Cup 12 times. He set an ironman record of 55 consecutive tournaments without a losing record.
After retirement he worked as a coach before opening his own Musashigawa stable three years ago. His wife handles the business side of the stable operation.
Akebono, a former Kaiser High wrestler, became the first foreigner to reach sumo’s highest rank when he was promoted in 1993, becoming the 64th yokozuna in the centuries-old sport. He won the Emperor’s Cup, symbolic of a tournament championship, 11 times in a 13-year career before knee and back ailments forced his retirement.
He has lived in Japan since his retirement competing in wrestling and mixed martial arts events and making celebrity TV and other appearances.
A third member of the record setting and much-celebrated Hawaii sumo contingent, Salevaa Atisanoe, who competed as Konishiki, and reached the rank of ozeki before branching out into the entertainment business, is traveling in California and said he is well.