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By Zach Arnold | May 22, 2010
In a pretty remarkable radio interview last Thursday, Jordan Breen interviewed Enson Inoue. Any time Enson speaks, he is always bound to say something that catches your attention and makes you think. If you’re a veteran fan of Mixed Martial Arts, you know what the history of Enson Inoue’s career is and you respect what he has accomplished. He’s an old-school name with old-school ways.
It’s been a tough couple of years for Enson. After he got arrested for possession of marijuana, he found himself in big trouble. In Japan, marijuana is a no-no. While their laws aren’t as draconian as Singapore (execution), Japan is a place where the average citizen is likely to get a few years probation and some jail time.
Able to avoid a long prison sentence, Enson ended up taking a fight booking from J-ROCK for Hidehiko Yoshida’s retirement show on April 25th at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. He won his fight and ever since that point, there’s been a curious interest in Japan as to whether or not he will return full-time to active MMA competition.
With that background information in place, here are some notes from Jordan’s interview with Enson.
What is Enson up to these days?
“My whole life is about the people around me which I call family. To show an example for them to go on with their lives whether it’s their work lives or raising their families to make a right example and in the process of that I’m in the process of making a documentary and writing a book.”
“I’ve actually started about a year-and-a-half ago so it’s been in the works for a while but I’m just really picky about getting what I want, you know, I want to really get a good product out so it’s been taking a while.”
“It’s going to be self-written, it’s going to be all written in my words. The documentary as well will be produced by me, it’s the same thing… you know to have everyone understand that Yamato Damashii way that I’ve learned in Japan and the Yamato Damashii way of taking care of your family, living your life, holding your values, and keeping your honor.”
How did the fight against Antz Nansen come about?
“Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that. One was when I had legal problems here, of course you know I’m an American so I had a green card and they actually canceled my green card and almost deported me out of the country. The only thing that stopped me from being deported was I had over 9,000 petitions sent in from fans all over Japan saying they don’t want to leave Japan so I felt it was a good way to tell the fans ‘thank you.’ I’ve heard a lot of fans saying, Enson Inoue we want to see you fight in the ring after so many years, but you know I didn’t feel like that was justified for me to go risk everything I have and put everything on the line to get in the ring but you know Japan is my home and I love Japan and I don’t want to live anywhere else so when the fans gave me enough power to stay here in Japan I felt it was justified for me to go in the ring and put everything on the line for them again just so they could see the Yamato Damashii in the ring.”
What happened when you got busted for marijuana in your car and got thrown in jail?
“Well, I was very careless, I’m being honest, I really liked the effects of marijuana, not only the high, not only the good feeling you get, the fact that you sleep, I slept really good, I calmed down a lot, I relaxed a lot so I really liked it but I ignored the fact that it was against the law and I got no complaints, you know, I screwed up, I got arrested and did what they did to put me inside, you know I deserved it all because I did take that chance but you know the whole jail experience was overall a good experience for me. I mean, it made me a better person, it gave me a better outlook on life and I think it made me twice the better people that I’ve ever would have been if I didn’t get put in jail.”
“One, I started reading the Bible. Two is I’ve realized how much I need my freedom, how much I cherish my freedom and how [many] things I would sacrifice to keep my freedom. The third thing that I’ve learned was how to appreciate a lot of simple things, you know, there’s a lot of things in life that I overlooked but when you put inside all of a sudden with no notice or no warning, then you know the simplest things like feeling rain on your face, looking outside realizing what the weather is like, being able to decide where you go, what you’re going to do today, even if it’s just sitting in traffic you got the choice to sit in traffic, you got the choice to drive back home, you know you got the choice to do everything you know, I appreciate so many things. My life has been 100% more happy since I’ve been in [prison].” (He’s trying to say that his life is happier after the prison stay.)
There were 9,000 fans who signed a petition and had it sent to immigration. What did you know about it?
“It wasn’t something that I asked for, that’s what really got me excited was I never got on my blog or went to you know MySpace and said, ‘please write into immigration, I want to stay in Japan, write in and help me out’ — it just happened and I didn’t realize it was happening until one day I went in for an interview with the immigration one of the guys that interviewed me was a fan and he looked at me and said, ‘Enson, hey, check this out’ and he flipped through like a whole like maybe 3 inches of papers and I was like, ‘whoa, what is that’ he goes ‘that’s people that want to see you stay in Japan, they’re writing into immigration, this is unbelievable, it’s really going to benefit your investigation’ and I kind of freaked out and I didn’t know how it started, I don’t know who started it, I don’t know what they were writing, I couldn’t even see the papers so I don’t even know what they writing, but the petitions the guy told me that it’s no [expletive] because these guys got to write their names, addresses, phone numbers, everything, so it’s not just where you sign a name.”
How long was your prison stay and how long did the investigation go?
“Well, the prison term that I served was only 28 days, I mean people laugh at it and say, ‘28 days? What a [expletive],’ you know, I know some people that have been in for six years. But you know what? Whether you are in one days or two days it’s just a fact that I lost everything. Whether it’s even if it’s for one day, you lose everything. I mean, zero, you got all your appointments, all the things you’re planning to do, I mean I always thought I was too busy to do stuff but when I went to prison I realize, ‘whoa, when you want to make the time you can actually make the time,’ because everything was canceled, you know so that was only 28 days. The investigation took about 10 months, almost a year, and that was long. That was a trying process that was really stressful because I didn’t know whether I was going to be staying here in Japan or I had a house, a car, I had an ichizoku, a family a following that I created in the last 19 years, I didn’t know if I had to go pick up and start all over somewhere else. It was stressful that 10 months.”
Was your fight on Hidehiko Yoshida’s retirement show a one-off match or are you planning a comeback?
“Yeah, the fight, I took the fight because one it was a good financial offer. Two, I wanted to say thank you to my fans and three I was also to let everyone know that Enson Inoue is back on track, he’s not a druggie, he’s not a pothead, he’s learned from his experiences and he’s back, you know, that’s the basic reasons why I wanted to fight and I was thinking, one fight that’s it, I’m 43, six years out, I don’t know if I want to go through this again, but I felt really good, I felt the most relaxed I’ve ever felt in a fight. I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do but basically I felt really relaxed and I moved really well for an old man so everyone was asking me if there was any chance of another chance, oh hell yeah there’s a chance at another fight. I’m not looking for another fight, I’m not planning to fight again but I’m still in shape, I only gained 1 kg since the fight, I’m still been running, I’m training, I’m training out with my fighters, I’m being more active with the training, more [involved] to the sparring, so if I get the right offer and I feel like it’s the type of opponent that I want to fight, I’ll even be back. It’s not a no, but I’m not telling you that I’m going to fight for sure again.”
You said you would fight for the right offer. What is the right offer?
“OK, the right offer would be a fair offer and how much is a fair offer? There wouldn’t be a number value on it. For example if it’s like the people from DREAM the people that I know just use fighters and take advantage of fighters, they’re going to have to pay me well-over six figures. On the other hand, if it’s a place that shows me loyalty, five-figures, you know it doesn’t really determine the figure itself… determine whether it’s a good offer or not. The opponent would have to be someone that would be willing to go and stand toe-to-toe and try to come and finish me, you know, not try to survive, not just try to win the fight but try to win convincingly, try to knock me out, try to hurt me, that’s the type of people that I want to fight. I don’t want to fight another fight like I fought with Mark Kerr. I don’t want to fight another fight I wrestled Mario Sperry in Abu Dhabi, I want to fight another Antz Nansen, I want to fight another Igor (Vovchanchyn), I want to fight another Frank Shamrock.”
You have a very successful network of Purebred gyms. What is your schedule like?
“The Purebred Gyms, I think a lot of the reasons for the success of Purebred Gyms is because when I meet people and I make ties with people it’s always about true loyalty, you know loyalty that will never die and these people that are running the gyms, I got guys in Guam, Saipan, Thailand, that’s running the gyms are people that understand what true loyalty is and they are holding the fort and keeping it real and alive, but I used to leave Japan twice a month, I used to travel over 150,000 miles a year, going to Guam, Hawaii, going to my other brother gyms in San Diego, the Undisputed San Diego, the Fisticuffs in Washington, go to Thailand a lot, Saipan you know I used to travel all over my gyms and I used to actually visit my gyms once every two, three months, but right now because of my legal problems up until May 2012 I cannot leave the country so until then my boys got to hold it up and hold the fort but as soon as I can travel I’ll be at every gym that I’m affiliated with at least once every two or three months.”
“I really looked at it like, you know, I’m an island boy I’m from Hawaii. Whether it’s Guam, Saipan, or Hawaii I’m an island boy all together and I believe island boys, you know they have a hot blood in them that they like to fight, they have that fighting spirit. When I went to Guam I almost felt like I was in Hawaii because the Guam boys are almost like Hawaii boys and when they asked me to help them with their training you know I didn’t talk any money, I went to their gym or they were training in their garage actually and I went there for free, just worked with them and you know it was the best thing I ever did in my life because I’ve got a lot of brothers now in Guam that you know would die for each other.”
How would you describe the state of Japanese MMA?
“I’d say when PRIDE was up and arriving it was at 100%. With the problems with UFC buying PRIDE and the fighters all going to UFC, I think it actually got knocked off for a while and I think right now it’s back in the comeback so I don’t think it’s near 100% yet but I think right now the fighting in Japan is probably at 40%. It’s making a comeback definitely and it probably will be back, Japan is on a comeback on the fighting and it the home of the Samurai spirit and it will be back. It’s still in the comeback though, I think it’s really hurting right now yet.”
Japan seems to have a lot of boom-bust cycles. How can this be fixed or repaired?
“Well, right now the most popular of events here is now the gangster events that they have here, they have over a dozen gangster events that’s happening all over Japan and this is an event, I say gangster event because they let the yakuza, they let the gangsters, they let anyone fight. They actually have guys on that day calling out people out into the ring who wants to try, like a Toughman competition but it’s an organized Toughman competition and a lot of fighters who get into that they really train but there’s a lot of gangsters that just think they’re tough on the street, they get in the ring and they get worked really bad but I think in the next two years the stars that’s going to help Mixed Martial Arts in Japan is going to be from there because these guys, I mean if you walk in there thinking you are going to see a K-1 type of kick or a perfect punch, you’re going to walk out very disappointed. But if you walk in there trying to see the deeper part of the MMA fight the fact that these guys are fighting for peanuts, they’re not coming out there because they’re going to be put on TV or PPV, they’re not coming out there because they’re going to get a six-figure pay day, they’re coming out there to fight for their pride, their family, their honor. And it’s a whole different level — I mean, when you walk in there and you see these guys fight and you guys see looking at each other across the ring you know these guys aren’t looking at how much they’re going to get paid after the fight, they’re not looking at how much attention they’re going to get if they win, they’re just in there doing it for their honor to be in a ring, man to man, one man against one man, and see who’s going to come on top. It’s a really different feeling in there, and I think we’re going to get the biggest stars from there because these guys are hot, exciting, go out for the kill from the beginning bell to the end bell.”
Yakuza MMA — like The Outsider?
“Yeah, you know it’s a good thing both ways because not only you are helping the MMA world but you are helping these gangsters realize that you can be proper, you can have values and you know you don’t need to react on your feeling all the time. When we first started these gangster fights there were riots like three or four riots at one event, it was like ridiculous because these guys were still gangsters on the street and that’s all they had is that mentality so when their guy lost they’re running in the ring trying to beat up the other guy, they had no idea what a sport was about, but you know I go to the gangster events, I have to go to one next week, I have to go one the following week, I go to one every two weeks to be a guest and I haven’t seen a riot in the past year about and you know these guys are learning how to control their behavior, they’re learning to understand how the world isn’t about the gangster life and you know if you don’t like something you go get it, if you don’t like something you go put it away, if you really like something you just go get it no matter what if you got to steal it, you know these guys are learning values and you know understanding a lot of things so I think it’s working really, really good both ways because gangsters have a lot of good things to offer to people because you know they’re in the news for stealing or beating up people or doing stuff but what is not shown is the honor that they have for each other, the loyalty they feel for their families, those kinds of things are kind of put in the back so these guys can start learning values and start learning to abide by rules that society has man these guys are going to have a lot to offer for the people.”
What is in store for your future?
“Well, I’m definitely going to be more in the fighting scene, train my fighters, the book and the documentary, I’m back you know I’m going to be back in the spotlight, I mean if there’s a fight, there’s a good chance, I say 50/50 I’ll be back in the ring again but the big thing for me now is I hope you have understood that you know I’m not just talking out of my ass or it’s not a thing trying to play a theme about dying in the ring, it’s something that I really feel and I believe that if you ever get a chance to come to Japan, you look me up and we hang out. If you hang out with me and see the people around me and see the way I hold myself and value the things that I do and get to talk to me more on a personal basis, I think you will understand it.”