A New Journey For The Eldest Inoue

**This article was originally released back in Ultimate Athlete #11 September 2002. It’s only fitting that a Renaissance man like Egan Inoue found the wide-open sport of mixed martial arts. A natural athlete, Inoue boasts a résumé that suggests he’s lived a thousand lives.

A New Journey For The Eldest Inoue

He began studying martial arts at five years old, first training in shotokan karate. Then Inoue moved on to tae kwon do and wing chun before practicing jeet kune do and finally discovering Brazilian jiu-jitsu at age 24. Inoue hasn’t excelled in merely combat sports, however.

He also stood out as a baseball and basketball player as a youngster, holds seven world titles as a racquetball player and is an accomplished diver and spearfisher.

Born and raised in Hawaii as the first of two sons by Japanese parents, Inoue was an easy target for racial slurs. “Growing up in Hawaii, you got two choices: you can be tough or you can be mellow,” Inoue explained. “I heard a lot of ‘Jap’ and that type of stuff, but I was able to walk away from them. I think even if I did walk away most of the time, I still had a rough growing up.”

For most of his early life, Inoue shared a bedroom with a friend who would become renowned in MMA for his enormous heart-his younger brother Enson. “I think we have a really good relationship,” the older Inoue said. “We’re worlds apart. I’m a lot calmer than he is.

But when I get worked up, it’s harder to settle me down. We’re really different how we see things, how we do things. But I guess we’ve grown up that way, so we know how to use each other’s differences to help each other out.”

One instance of Egan coming to the aid of his brother made for a strange scene at Japan Vale Tudo 97. Enson was engaged in a war against Frank Shamrock, and both fighters laid it on the line in a spirited toe-to-toe exchange. Shamrock prevailed, knocking out Enson.

Egan watched from the corner, and when he saw his brother drop, he believed the younger Inoue was in serious trouble.

“If you go back to the videotape, you’ll see when Enson gets knocked out, the referee’s trying to restrain Frank, and he didn’t look like he was going to be able to,” Egan pointed out. “Plus Enson got hit another time after he was out. And I figured if the ref couldn’t get Frank off, I definitely [have to].

I didn’t try to hurt Frank or anything. I actually tackled him is what I did. I didn’t go in there trying to kick him or punch him, I just wanted to stop him.” Egan and Frank still joke about the incident.

It was also Enson who introduced Egan to MMA. “He moved to Japan, and while he was there, he saw some fighting,” said Egan of his brother. “He called me up and told me, ‘You gotta check this out. We can definitely do good in this game.'”

Interestingly enough, Enson’s journey to Japan was also Egan’s doing. Egan was touring the world as an elite racquetball player at the time and was going to compete in Japan. His brother took his place due to an injury, fell in love with the country, learned the language and the rest is history.

As Egan’s pro career in racquetball was winding down, he started dabbling in jiu-jitsu with his brother in between trips. Enson had already progressed rapidly, and Egan began to take the sport seriously. When racquetball tournaments took him to Los Angeles, he started training privately with Rickson Gracie.

Enson was back in Hawaii by then and training with a different Gracie, Relson. Whenever Egan returned after a tournament, Enson invited him to Relson’s school. “He would have me come in and roll with some of his friends just for fun,” he said. “That’s the extent that I actually trained with Relson.”

A rancorous relationship grew between Relson Gracie and the Inoue brothers after Enson moved to Japan. “When Enson moved, I started my own group of guys,” Egan recalled. “That’s when the rivalry started. Relson didn’t like it at all that I was training my own guys and not coming to his school anymore. It was about business. I wasn’t charging any money. I was just doing it so I could get guys to train with.”

The antipathy worsened when Marcelo Tigre arrived in Hawaii from Brazil to challenge Egan. At first it was rumored that Tigre was one of Gracie’s top students, but Inoue contends that’s not the case. “Actually Marcello has nothing to do with Relson,” he said. “Relson just went over to Brazil and found someone that was tough, that he felt would beat me up.”

The rivalry reached its peak when Tigre and Inoue squared off in the main event of Super Brawl 12. Inoue dominated the majority of the first round, punishing Tigre with smacking kicks and drilling him with several punches. Tigre, in turn, was consistently warned by referee Matt Hume for taunting.

As the 10-minute round closed, Inoue slowed considerably, and Tigre took control. He landed a series of left hands on the ground, but was warned again, this time for mixing in illegal strikes. The fight ended quickly in the second round when Tigre broke the rules a final time by kicking a downed Inoue. Hume disqualified Tigre, and Inoue was declared the victor.

“It was a really good fight for me,” said Inoue, reflecting on the battle. “I go through that fight all the time in my head. I learned a lot. I learned that stand up fighting and ground fighting is a whole different game. And I learned how easy it is to get carried away into fighting a stand up game. I know that I should have went to the ground right away with him instead of trying to bang.”

There’s still bad blood between the Inoues and Relson Gracie, though Egan says his strife with Tigre has been squashed. “Marcello and I, believe it or not, pretty much became friends after the fight,” Inoue said. “We were going to try to do a rematch, but that was all about money. It wasn’t because we hated each other; it wasn’t because it was the Gracie-Inoue rivalry; it was just because we should have a rematch.”

A second bout never materialized as Tigre’s illegal tactics were to blame. In a fight meant to set up the rematch, Tigre fought one of Inoue’s students, Wesley “Cabbage” Coreirra, at Super Brawl 15. After taking the brunt of the punishment on the feet, Tigre resorted to head butting and was disqualified once again. Despite Tigre’s rule breaking, Inoue still planned on fighting him again.

All hopes were finally dashed when Tigre traveled to Japan to face Yoshiki Takahashi in Pancrase. Tigre fouled his opponent numerous times in the bout and was disqualified for eye gouging. The result reached Inoue, and it was the final straw. “That’s when I decided it’s not worth it,” he said of a potential rematch. “It’s not worth losing an eye.”

With a second showdown against Tigre nixed, Inoue flew to Japan to take on Guy Mezger at Pride 13. Although it was a disappointing performance and Inoue was knocked out, the match changed his career. “After the Mezger fight, I realized fighting bigger guys like that just doesn’t work,” he said.

Inoue chose to drop down a weight class to fight in the middleweight division, which had recently been created. No longer dealing with size deficits, he has not lost since. The win streak has been especially sweet, considering he returned home for his last four matches.

He says the adrenaline rush from fighting in his backyard outdoes fighting in front of thousands in Japan. “It’s a bigger rush fighting at home because I’m gonna see [the fans] on the street; I’m gonna see them at the shopping malls.”

When Inoue fights, the locals flock to the show. His name has brought in the top four crowds at the Blaisdell Arena in Hawaii, which hosts various types of fighting events. A packed house of friends and family can add pressure, says Inoue. “I try to use it as an advantage.

I’m used to fighting as a foreigner or outsider for my whole athletic career. That’s what I used to drive me. Fighting at home is a little different, trying to use the positive energy.”

Even though he is beginning to flourish at 185 pounds, Inoue, now 37, is ready to move on past MMA. As of right now, he is retired. “One reason I’m retired is because I’ve been waiting to become a pharmaceutical rep, and the job opened up,” he said. “I went through the whole interview process and I actually got hired. I’ve been waiting for that for years. And the other thing is my age. I’m at the end of the road, almost.”

Working as a pharmaceutical rep will also allow an improved family life. “I’ll definitely have a lot more time with my kids,” said Egan, who has two girls-ages four and five. “At least, I don’t need to worry that I’ll get hurt and not be able to play around with the kids.”

Inoue says there is only one match that would deliver him from retirement. “I’m hoping that Shooto will give me the opportunity to fight their number one guy at my weight,” he said. “That will definitely bring me out.” Inoue is speaking of Shooto champion Masanori Suda. “I want to take his belt,” offered Inoue as the only source for his desire to fight Suda. “I want that Shooto belt.”

He also wants the fight to be in Hawaii, where the Blaisdell would undoubtedly be filled again. “I compete pretty well here and I think the people in Hawaii would love to see something like that.”

The bout may never happen, though, and Inoue’s career may have already concluded. “I asked that [Shooto] could do that by early next year,” he said. “They’ve been resisting for a while, so I’m not betting on it.”

Even if Shooto doesn’t send their champion to Hawaii, Inoue will be satisfied with his stint in MMA. He’s had a fulfilling career: winning matches in Pride, Shooto and Super Brawl; defeating a rival; and dominating as a middleweight while setting attendance records in his home state.

He plans to keep running Grappling Unlimited (www.grappling-unlimited.com), which has produced recent heavyweight contender Wesley “Cabbage” Coreirra. His retirement may seem abrupt, but for a Renaissance man like Inoue, there are a million obstacles to conquer and only so much time.