Viceland’s Black Market is a fascinating look at the dark spaces of the world, where people do dodgy things for survival, fun and profit. But host Michael K. Williams can’t be everywhere, so sometimes he calls upon more suitable investigators to bring a particular subculture to light.
Enter Enson Inoue. He’s a Japanese-American MMA fighter from Hawaii who entered every fight with the intention of killing his opponent. As a result, he won 12 of his 20 bouts (with no fatalities). “I spent many an hour early in my Jiu-Jitsu career under [Enson] getting choked, arm locked, foot locked, slapped, punched, and worst of all, he would insult you while he beat you up,” recalls journalist Michael Onzuka. “He was having his own type of fun with you, but I always knew he enjoyed every minute of putting some hurt on his opponents.”
These days, Enson runs MMA gyms all around the world, and pals around with both Yakuza heavies and the younger, more egalitarian gangs that roam Japan’s cities. “I was ready to die every time I entered the ring,” he says. “Because of that, a lot of my fans were gangsters.” He’s an older, notorious figure who was once a street fighter himself, which makes him the perfect guy to chat with a range of groups about the illegal underground fighting rings from which they make their money.
Back in 2009, Enson told Nerd Society how he got into the MMA scene: “In Hawaii I used to get into a lot of street fights, so in order to properly defend myself, I found Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Then when I came to Japan to practise controlling my nerves, I thought of getting into the ring once… just once.”
That one fight led to Enson becoming a legend in Japan, winning the Shooto Heavyweight Title in 1997 and inspiring countless young men to step into the cage. These days, since his 2004 retirement (and brief 2010 comeback), Enson has become more of a spiritual figure. He considers his fighting career to be one step on the path to becoming a man, and has demonstrated the less violent side of himself through such acts as raising money for areas affected by earthquakes and tsunamis, and making an on-foot pilgrimage to all 108 Buddhist temples in Shikoku.
As for learning to control his nerves in that first bout, it’s exactly what Enson does in this episode of Black Market, playing it cool as he quietly disarms a drunk Yakuza boss who has taken umbrage at the level of service in an establishment, or chats calmly to young street gang members about their bladed armoury until the police show up to see what’s happening.
Enson Inoue is fearless, knows how to handle himself in a dangerous situation and is comfortable with the idea of dying. That’s why he’s sipping saké ringside while we watch from behind the sofa.
Black Market: Dispatches airs every Thursday night on SBS VICELAND at 8:30pm. The exploration into MMA fighting can be seen on SBS On Demand: