In the early 2000s, there was dangerous heat between former MMA fighter and professional wrestler Enson Inoue and the Yakuza (Japan’s most infamous crime syndicate). A member of the Yakuza was responsible for the early death of the “godfather of puroresu,” Rikidōzan. However, their fates would not be alike. Enson’s confrontation made it clear: he was not one to be crossed.
“Everyone feels fear. What a samurai or warrior is, is what you do when you feel fear.”
– Enson Inoue
Enson Inoue, Modern Day Samurai
Enson Inoue wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and was a former mixed martial artist who fought for organizations like Pride, the UFC, and Shooto.
He has notable wins over world-level fighters Randy Couture, Soichi Nishida, and Andre Mannaart.
A modern-day Samurai, he follows their code, or what he refers to as the “Yamato-Domashi Way” – Japanese Spirit.
After working for NJPW and competing at the highest levels of martial arts in many major organizations, Enson Inoue opened up a gym in Saitama, Japan, where he has trained some of the very best, including Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, a fighter who was the biggest MMA superstar in Japan during the mid-2000s.
Enson Inoue and The Yakuza
The Yakuza is a crime syndicate that originated in Japan and has existed for over 300 years. They have their own set of conduct, hierarchy, and rules they must abide by. While still active, the Japanese government has made life very difficult for them.
According to Enson, in a May 2022 interview I had with him, “In Japan, even till today, if you’re a Yakuza, they don’t allow you to train in the gyms. I had these two Yakuza members who could not train anywhere else. They were friends and wanted to train in fighting, so I said, ‘Come to my gym.'”
Enson continued. “Instead of mixing with the regular members, I made them train with the pro fighters. Kid Yamamoto needed money. I decided to let them have private lessons with Kid. So I helped Kid financially. They would come once or twice a week.”
“Then they mentioned to me, ‘Hey, we’re thinking of opening up a gym. Will you support us?'”
“‘Oh, wow, I’ll support you opening a gym, but with only two rules: you hire two of my fighters.’
“The fighters back then,” Enson explained, “were still working part-time jobs and trying to fight. I wanted my two fighters to make a living off fighting.”
Ultimately Purebred Tokyo gym was created with Kid as the top guy in it.
After some time, the Yakuza member, Eiji, who started Purebred Tokyo with Enson, began avoiding Enson’s calls. Inoue left messages for a month, yet there would be no answer. During this time, there was a bit of a rift between Enson and Kid Yamamoto. So he assumed Eiji had turned his back on him to be with Kid Yamamoto.
Enson felt this was wrong as he was the one who introduced them and had known Kid Yamamoto for a longer period.
According to Enson, in his book, Live as a Man. Die as a Man. Become a Man. (The Way of the Modern Day Samurai), “I was upset but knew that our paths would cross again someday and was in no rush to find him.”
Enson Inoue Teaches A Crimson-colored Lesson
Enson Inoue relayed a time when he caught Kid Yamamoto fighting in an 8-man tournament on television. Enson and a few of his students were watching it live. Later that evening, they were planning on going out on the town. Enson watched his student win, but to his surprise, he saw Eiji, of the Yakuza, in the ring hugging Kid.
According to Enson in his book, “Suddenly my head got really hot as I thought, ‘How can this idiot trying to avoid me have the gall to go on national TV?'”
Enson called some friends and ordered them to find out where the after-party was to confront Eiji. As soon as they found out, they headed there.
Soon, they found Eiji. However, he quickly left the party, went to a park, and Enson and his friends followed him there.
“I remember telling [Eiji], ‘Oh you’re running from me,’ and I would low kick him,” Enson stated in my interview with him.
“He’s not a fighter, so he had no idea how to defend.”
Enson began throwing low kicks that began to hurt Eiji badly.
“With the third low kick, he fell to the ground. I grabbed his suit and stood him back up. ‘You’re gonna run from me? You’re going to disobey me?’
“I backhanded him in the face; he started bleeding.”
Enson wanted to teach Eiji a lesson and make a statement, and he did. Crimson red was dripping down Eiji’s face.
Enson described the immediate response to their intense confrontation.
“Everybody freaked out. The underworld has a real big grapevine. So, word went out to the Chinese mafia- my friends. Three of them came over [as we were still fighting]. They started trying to ask me to stop. Chinese mafia guys weren’t going to get involved. They were just there to back me up.”
The “light” beating went on for a total of twenty minutes. Soon, someone high in the Yakuza named Hasegawa approached.
All of a sudden, several Yakuza members approached Enson, including Hasegawa, who was high up in the crime syndicate at the time.
They were screaming angrily at him. “How dare you beat up my little brother like this! You need to pay!”
Enson believed that he had been wronged and that Eiji had insulted his honor. Enson’s friends stood in between them.
“[Members of the Yakuza were] screaming at me, and they’re about to get into it [with the Chinese mafia].
“‘Okay, wait a minute,’ I thought. This is my problem because if [the Yakuza] touch the Chinese mafia, the Chinese mafia will have a problem with them. It’s going to be a problem, a lot bigger than just me and them. So I told my friends, ‘Let them go.'”
The Tense Confrontation Continues
Tension was in the air. Enson Inoue described the volatile conversation that ensued.
“Okay, whatever you guys want to do, I’m game.” Enson started. “But let me just say one thing. If someone f***s you over and backstabbed me like he did, would you punish him?”
“I would, but look what you did!” an angered Hasegawa responded.
“Well, if I only punished him twenty percent of what I really wanted to do, don’t you think that’s kindness?'”
“Yeah, that would be cool, but look at him,” replied Hasegawa.
“I’ve been hitting him for twenty minutes. If I wanted to hurt him, how long do you think it would be to put him out of commission? Look at him. I only did twenty percent, man,” claimed Enson.
There was a dramatic pause, and Hasegawa’s expression suddenly softened.
“Can you please not do it anymore?” he implored.
“I did what I wanted to do. I sent my message,” Enson concluded.
“Enson, if [Eiji] doesn’t straighten up,” Hasegawa pledged, “I’ll [end his life] myself.”
Tensions eased. Both men shook hands and promised to put the issue to rest.
Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed between Enson Inoue and the Yakuza in this instance. Unfortunately for wrestling great Rikidōzan, who also had his share of dealings with the Yakuza, his fate would end much differently.
On December 8th, 1963, Rikidōzan was stabbed in a Tokyo nightclub after an altercation with a Yakuza member. Considered the “godfather of puroresu,” Rikidōzan was a national hero in post-World War II Japan and considered one of the most famous people in the whole country.
One week after being stabbed, he died from peritonitis on December 15th, 1963. He was 39 years old.
“I’m not saying that I’m stronger than Yakuza,” Enson would later admit. “They could smash me tomorrow if they wanted to. I mean easily.
“I was walking on eggshells. I did take chances in doing what I did, but I still kept my path of Yamato-Damashii: doing what’s right, having my integrity, my honor. The Yamato-Domashii way.”
You can hear the fascinating interview with Enson Inoue and Pro Wrestling Stories author Geries Tadros in full below. The Yakuza story starts at 1:00:50:
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