In the comments of AJB's recent FanPost we got onto a side discussion about the inability of some MMA fans to properly adjust for eras when it comes to fighters of the earlier days of MMA. A lot of examples were tossed around on the comments so I wanted to take a look at some of those names that came up (and some others) and figure out how they should be looked at. As Kid Nate put it “you can't judge how good a fighter was in 1997 by looking at his career the next five years.”
What we mean when we talk about “adjusting for era” is that you don't just take a guy with his exact skillset from 1997, drop him into 2009 and say “now how would he do?” It's like if you were to take Babe Ruth out of an at bat in his prime and drop him into a modern game against a Johan Santana he is probably not going to have any idea how to hit “modern pitching.” Obviously Royce Gracie is a legend but if you don't look at him in terms of when he became a legend and just said “how would Royce from UFC 1 do against GSP or Jon Fitch?” the answer is “not very good.” You have to look at a guy's skills in comparison to those of his contemporaries and adjust that to put him into the “modern game” for a fair comparison. This is the kind of adjustment we're talking about.
We're going to start this semi-regular feature by taking a look at an Enson Inoue and where he would fit into the modern landscape of MMA if we were to properly adjust for era. Today Inoue is looked at by a lot of newer fans as a guy who got beaten convincingly with regularity on the big stage of PRIDE and has a slightly better than .500 career record rather than one of the better under 206 pounders of the pre-2000 era.
What get's overlooked is that Enson was a legitimate threat from 1995 to 1999, going 10-3 to start his career. Of those three loses one was to Joe Estes which he avenged a year later, one was to Igor Zinoviev who we'll get to in a later edition but who was a very legit fighter in this era and the other was to Frank Shamrock in a fight which features one of my favorite fight finder results ever: “DQ (Egan Inoue Ran Into the Ring).” His ten wins were all finishes and included an armbar victory over Randy Couture at a time where Randy was coming off his wins over an undefeated Belfort and UFC Champ Mo Smith. While a lot of the names in those ten wins aren't big names, he displayed some serious skills.
Of course the problem with Enson is that he decided he was a heavyweight and went a little bit crazy with the “no tapping, I will die in the ring” stuff. From 2000 through the end of his career in 2004 Enson went 1-5, losing to the elite of the heavyweight division. Here was a guy who was not a heavyweight getting thrown in with Igor Vovchanchyn in his prime, Mark Kerr when he was still relevant, Heath Herring when he was a top 5 guy, and Nogueira when he was the best heavyweight on the planet.
One of the more apt comparisons to a “modern” guy I can think of for Enson in his prime would be a Renato Sobral. Inoue wasn't ever someone who was going to reliably beat the elite guys much like Bablu but on any given night could pull off a big win over someone who was a legit threat (Enson over Couture, Babalu over Shogun) and was going to beat (and finish) most non-elite guys who were put in front of him.
The armbar on Couture and a nifty highlight package showing the determined and gusty Enson in the full entry.
Update: Kid Nate (resident history geek) chimed in with some stuff that I should have mentioned:
One thing about Enson that you didn’t mention was his tenure as Shooto champ — the only heavyweight (184lbs +) champ in Shooto history. He mostly beat up on Dutch fighters — Rene Rooze, Ed de Kruif — but that’s who was competing at the time.
You also didn’t mention his UFC win over highly touted all-american wrestler Royce Alger — who was one of the first busts from the collegiate wrestling world in MMA. Enson was his first opponent and armbarred him quickly.
When he fought Shamrock it was a #1 contender match — Shamrock as the winner advanced to fight olympic medalist Kevin Jackson for what was then called the UFC middleweight (200lbs and under) title.