Teila Tuli’s entrance into the fray of MMA at UFC 1 was not only his debut fight — it was his retirement fight. For those who are uninitiated, here’s a brief refresher course. Tuli was the sumo wrestler on the receiving end of a brutal roundhouse kick to the head courtesy of Gerard Gordeau in the very first fight of UFC 1 in 1993. It’s been referred to as the kick heard around the world. Not only were several of Tuli’s teeth sent flying out of his mouth, the amount of teeth lost changed depending on who told the story. Parts of the teeth were lodged in the leg of his opponent and remained there for two more fights that night. The kick has become a jumping off point of Ultimate Fighting Championship history. For some, the kick is hard to watch. However, with a first hand eye witness account of the loss, it was even harder to stomach for Tuli. The brutal loss was not just devastating physically, it was also mentally for the retired Sumo fighter. As stated in an interview with Sherdog, it took 10 years for Tuli to admit and accredit publicly that it was in fact him that night in 1993. Thankfully today, with the support of so many UFC fans, Tuli now openly embraces his importance that his role played to the UFC 1 event, accepting his place in UFC history. Prior to UFC 1, he became one of the first foreign born Sumo wrestlers to achieve tournament success in Japan. Going on to mentor Akebono, who was also from Hawaii, he trained at the Azumazeki gym. The purpose of the opening UFC bout was to declare that sumo didn’t compare to the ferocity other traditional martial arts. Tuli, in retrospect, was ill-suited for the fight. He had not in fact wrestled in sumo since 1989, when he campaigned under the name Takamikuni – his real name is Taylor Wily. From the very moment Tuli’s teeth went flying from Gerard Gordeau’s kick at UFC 1, it was clear Mixed Martial Arts was not a sport for the feint of heart. Since then fans have been witness to a number of more gruesome injuries. Thankfully, with the addition in mouth guards, none will ever be so iconic. That’s no disrespect to Randy Coutures tooth that was knocked out by Lyoto Machida flying front kick before my very eyes. Lyoto Machida ironically remains to be the only current UFC fighter who’s practiced the art of sumo as a regional champion — despite what Roy Nelson may tell you. There are, however, two sumo wrestlers outside of Tuli who took a chance on crossing over into MMA. Like Tuli, none of them had more than two wins and they all lost miserably. The next sumo to entire to Octagon was the late Emanuel “Manny” Yarborough. I remember watching his fight the first time like it was yesterday on VHS tape. Much larger then Tuli, this sumo wrestler was an enormous 6’8″ and weighed over 600 lbs. Yarborough took a horrible series of punches to the head at UFC 3 and submitted to the much smaller Keith Hackney, a Kenpo practitioner who earned the nickname “The Giant Killer” with the victory. Yarborough’s biggest claim to fame at the time was that he held the World Record for the heaviest living athlete as the 1995 World Amateur Sumo Champion. Finally, there was Akebono Tarō, also 6’8″ and over 600 lbs who tapped out to the much smaller Royce Gracie at a K1 event. Akebono has managed only one win in 13 bouts in K-1 and mixed martial arts career earning him the nickname Makebono (‘make’
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