Inoue brothers found career worth fighting for
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Egan and Enson Inoue were world-class racquetball players 15 years ago. Now, they are world-class fighters in mixed martial arts.
"My mom thinks we both shouldn't be fighting," said Egan, who is two years older than Enson. "She doesn't even come to watch. But I think she understands that this is what we've chosen to do and we train hard at it."
Most of Hawai'i knows about Egan. He is the state's most popular draw in mixed martial arts, normally attracting capacity crowds of around 8,000 to the Blaisdell Center Arena for his fights.
Now, Hawai'i will finally get to watch Enson.
"The only fighting I ever did in Hawai'i was in the streets when I was young, and I never got paid for that," he said. "Japan has been real good for me, but I didn't want to have the big regret of never fighting at home."
Enson is one of Japan's most popular draws, and his fights draw 50,000 in Tokyo.
Tomorrow, he will face Florida's Tom Sauer in the main event of Super Brawl 35 at the Blaisdell Arena.
It will be a long-awaited return home for Enson, who has lived in Japan since 1990.
"It's kind of funny how it all came together," said Enson, who turns 37 today. "I originally went to Japan because of (Egan's) racquetball business. But then I started fighting and that got him into fighting, and now that's what we're known for."
Egan was a world champion racquetball player in the late 1980s. Enson was ranked in the top 30.
Enson first went to Japan to expand Egan's E-Force racquetball company. It wasn't long before Enson discovered mixed martial arts, which was barely recognized back then.
"A lot of people call me the pioneer of the sport in Japan," Enson said. "I had no idea. My whole thing about going to Japan was to learn the language so that I could come back (to Hawai'i) and get a job."
For now, he's doing quite well in Japan.
Mixed martial arts has become one of Japan's most popular sports, and Enson is a recognized figure outside of the ring.
His record is 11-7, and his popularity has as much to do with his losses as his victories.
"I guarantee the fans two things," Enson said. "One, I will give everything I have I will move until I cannot move anymore. And two, I will never, ever give up. I would rather die than tap out (to signal a submission)."
That philosophy has earned him the label "Yamato Damashii," which loosely translated means he embodies the Japanese fighting spirit.
"Sumo and baseball are the two biggest sports," he said. "But as far as the other sports, mixed martial arts might be the biggest thing in Japan. If I go to a shopping center, the people notice me.
"That part is hard. If I eat a candy bar in public, people will talk about it. I guess it helps me with my business to be recognized like that, but it's also hard to have a personal life."
The paychecks make it easier. Enson's Purebred mixed martial arts schools in Japan are successful enough to give him an annual salary well into six figures. He also commands a six-figure salary per fight in Japan.
"I'm not just a fighter," Enson said. "I have to be a businessman, a manager for my students, a PR guy, and then I have to go home and raise my family."
Egan has been there from the beginning. He got his start in mixed martial arts in 1995 when he agreed to fill in for a sick Enson on a Japan card.
Since then, they have traveled back and forth between Hawai'i and Japan to serve as "corner man" for each other's bouts.
Like Enson, Egan runs his own mixed martial arts gym Grappling Unlimited in Halawa. Unlike Enson, Egan does not make enough as a professional fighter. His "real" job is in pharmaceutical sales.
"The only thing similar between us is that we both want to win," Egan said. "He's real emotional. I'm more calm. He doesn't mind getting hit. I hate getting hit."
They've had equal talent and opposite styles ever since they can remember. Growing up in Manoa, and then at University High in the 1980s, Egan was always the most popular kid; Enson was the most feared.
"I was class president, he was the school bully," Egan said. "But we always made things work together. We grew up playing basketball and baseball, then we got into racquetball. Now, we're into fighting. It's almost like we always do the same things, but in different ways."
Egan is currently on a fighting break to "take care of some personal business."
He will again be in Enson's corner tomorrow, and Enson is hoping that the Egan fans are there, too.
"I don't think I would be able to come back and do this if not for my brother," Enson said. "You think of mixed martial arts in Hawai'i, you think of Egan Inoue. He built the sport in Hawai'i."
Super Brawl officials have tentative plans to feature Egan and Enson on the same card in co-main events in June.
"That would be something special," Egan said. "If we can help each other, that's a good thing. If it helps Hawai'i, even better."
NOTES: At least seven of Enson Inoue's students from the Purebred schools in Japan are expected to fight on tomorrow's card. ... Two others from Hawai'i are expected to fight Ray Seraille and Deshaun Johnson.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com or 535-8101.