Former sumo wrestler Akebono admits he’s worried about his upcoming K-1 debut against former NFL lineman Bob Sapp but knows there’s no turning back now.
“Sure, this is a totally new experience for me so I’m worried about everything,” Akebono said Wednesday after a training session in Tokyo.
“In sumo, you pretty much know your opponents strengths because you practice against them. In the case of Sapp, I have no idea how strong he is and no idea what to expect.”
Akebono, a Hawaii native who was the first foreigner to reach sumo’s highest rank of grand champion, severed all ties with Japan’s ancient sport earlier this month in order to take up a career in K-1, a brutal sport that combines elements of kickboxing, karate and taekwondo.
He is scheduled to take on Sapp on Dec. 31 in Nagoya.
Sporting dyed hair and an earring, Akebono said he tried boxing once as a kid but things didn’t work out.
“When I was 11, I tried it,” said Akebono. “I got knocked out by the coach and quit.”
The 206-cm, 220-kg Akebono will rely on his size and has been working on his punches for the bout against Sapp, who stands 193 cm and weighs 160 kg.
Akebono’s trainer Steve Kalakoda, who has worked with K-1 fighter Mike Bernardo and several boxing heavyweights, said the soft-spoken Akebono has been working on a left hook and will have some things working in his favor when he steps into the ring.
“Akebono has enormous power,” said Kalakoda. “I’ve worked with several heavyweights over the years and I can tell you he has enormous power. But its going to take more than a left hook to beat Sapp.”
In Wednesday’s sparring session, Akebono landed a few solid lefts but was slow in moving about the ring. The gimpy knees that forced him to retire from sumo two years ago will be vulnerable in any sport that allows kicking.
Akebono trains five days a week and has a rigorous menu that starts out with jogging in the morning and weight training in the afternoon. His goal is to get his weight down to around 180 kg.
“I’ve been training very hard,” said Akebono. “I feel a lot lighter than when I was in sumo. My knees are feeling a lot better but I’ve decided to do this so even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t tell you.”
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