City Kickboxing vets credit Eugene Bareman’s “intense” methods for bringing them together for UFC 281.
During an appearance on Monday’s The MMA Hour, the teammates described a verbal beatdown from Bareman to motivate them after a lull in training that he and other coaches deemed unacceptable. That came after a multi-day stretch of brutal sparring sessions that left everyone “absolutely exhausted,” lightweight Dan Hooker said.
Bareman also had a knife – or several knives, depending on the source – that certainly left an impression, even if no one seriously expected him to use it during his speech. Others have been shunned or mocked for bringing blades to practice. For UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and his team, it’s just part of working with the City Kickboxing patriarch and their tight-knit family.
“He’s just a f****** weirdo,” joked Adesanya, who said he often bears the brunt of Bareman’s criticisms but thanked the coach for the push.
The teammates each say they’re stronger than ever as they each prepare for separate opponents on Saturday at UFC 281. No matter how hard things got, Hooker said he never considered going anywhere else to train.
“I’m going to train at City Kickboxing forever, no matter how many times Eugene screams at me and does these sort of things,” he said. “That’s what separates us. So he’s able to push us and prod us and break us down emotionally, because there’s no back door. There’s no leaving. We’re in it for the long haul.”
UFC lightweight Brad Riddell, who faces Renato Moicano on Saturday’s preliminary card, could sense a storm brewing when he arrived in New Zealand from a stay in Thailand, where his family has roots. In the middle of the “spider circuit,” a multiple-opponent gauntlet of eight, five-minute sparring rounds, he noticed the rounds were going a bit long. Then he noticed they were no longer on the clock. Bareman had paused the timer.
“He’s like, ‘I’ve got the time – I’ll stop when I’ll stop,’” Riddell remembers the coach saying.
The next day, the circuit was even harder. Again, the timer was paused, and they continued to slug it out with each other.
Bareman estimates he doubled the sparring rounds at least once.
“I had to show a side of me that I don’t often show,” he said. “I had to be tough, I had to be mean. If the sparring went for an hour and I wasn’t satisfied, I made them go for another hour.”
Riddell said after another hard day of sparring, the coach sat them all down and let them have it. Hooker said Bareman “shouted at us, told us we sucked, and [said] we were are being complacent and being average, and he demands more of us.”
Adesanya wound up as one of the coach’s targets. The UFC middleweight champ said it wasn’t uncommon to get an earful as a veteran of the gym. His status as a famous fighter didn’t exempt him from criticism. He was initially angry about the tirade and added Hooker told the coach some of the things said were “unnecessary.”
“He’s human and he makes errors, so he got it in his head that this kid needs a kick in the butt,” said Adesanya of Bareman. “But I didn’t. I’m glad he did. But I was already stepped up. ... I remember the speech. It was quite ruthless. At the time, I was like, ‘What the f***?’”
Adesanya added that Bareman “probably” had a knife during the meeting. Once, he said, the coach brought a machete to the gym. But he said the blades were for show-and-tell rather than to intimidate.
“You know that fidget spinner? He has knives,” Adesanya said.
Riddell wasn’t too thrown off by the meeting. He believes the veterans weren’t necessarily the primary targets of the meeting.
“We have some very family/team oriented environment there,” he said. “There’s younger fighters that come into that and can maybe get the wrong idea and get a bit complacent about things, maybe because of the relationship that we’ve had with Eugene and other coaches.
“For Israel, and [Mike] ‘Blood Diamond’ [Mathetha], and me and Carlos [Ulberg], we’ve been with them for a very long time, so we have a different relationship to some of the newer fighters that come in. Maybe he felt that they were starting to get more relaxed. At the end of the day, it’s a high-risk, high-reward job. So maybe it was what was required was to make everybody realize that he’s a coach, first and foremost, and his job is to get us to win, and everybody’s on the same playing field.”
Ulberg, a former model and would-be contestant on New Zealand’s version of “The Bachelor,” didn’t take any of it personally.
“I guess everyone responds to that differently,” he said. “I motivate myself, and just like many other guys on the team, [they] motivate themselves anyways, but it’s really good to have someone to push them at some points of the training camp. So I guess this was more of an emotional part for everyone to bond together as a team. Everyone responded to it differently. I took it on.”
Bareman explained that in confronting his team, he had to “fracture” the camp to bring it back together. He said he and the other coaches noticed a dropoff in enthusiasm well into the camp, and they decided unanimously to address it head-on.
In other gyms, Hooker said, there might be a line a coach wouldn’t cross because he would be afraid of alienating his students. Not so with Bareman.
“The boys, they weren’t happy,” the coach said. “They didn’t like the way they were being treated. You could just tell. But also, we’re unemotional about that. If you’re not happy, then that’s your fault, because you’re not performing to the utmost of your ability, to the ability that we think you can perform. That’s your fault. That’s not our fault. We’re doing everything we can, because that’s what we do as coaches.
“We put everything into these guys. They have to do their part. They have to come into the gym and perform at 98 percent, 95 percent. They have to perform at 100 every time. That’s the expectation, and we push that to the utmost limit, and it got the desired result.”
For Hooker, the words arrived at the right moment. The 32-year-old fighter had gambled big on a pair of high-profile fights against now-champ Islam Makhachev and Arnold Allen (in his return to featherweight) and come up short. Hooker noticed that every time he went against Bareman, he paid for it in the cage.
“[Bareman] knows it’s not a personal thing,” he said. “It’s not like I don’t trust him. I’m just headstrong. You tell me right now I can’t run through that wall, I’m going to try.”
This time, Bareman said, Hooker was the first to get on board with the new program.
“It had to happen, because it’s just to wake everyone up,” Hooker said. “Maybe we were being complacent. After that, we definitely reached a new level. ... We met the challenge. We definitely reached a new level, post-life-threatening experience.”
So the knives may have helped, too.
“Knives were pulled,” Hooker laughed and pointed to his chair. “Legit knives. He would have had them on this chair. ... He’s always packing.”