UFC 234: City Kickboxing coach Eugene Bareman talks Halbergs, Melbourne and New Zealand MMA

As far as unsung heroes go, they don’t come much more reluctant than City Kickboxing 'sensei' Eugene Bareman.

Overshadowed in the intrigue and excitement surrounding New Zealand's Shane Young, Kai Kara-France and Israel Adesanya's upcoming performances at UFC 234 in Melbourne have been the efforts of the humble coaching mastermind, who's been the architect behind the new wave of Kiwi talent sweeping the promotion.

Bareman's unassuming converted garage, tucked away among generic office blocks and motorway overpasses - which he originally founded with the intention of catering solely to general fitness - was officially the third-most successful UFC gym in the world last year, with an overall record of 8-1.

Add lightweight Dan Hooker to the mix and City Kickboxing is home to four of the five currently contracted Kiwi fighters on MMA's biggest stage, along with Aussie featherweight star-in-waiting Alexander Volkanovski, and rising heavyweight boxers Junior Fa and Hemi Ahio.

That earned Bareman a spot on the shortlist for Coach of the Year at the Halberg Awards, recognition that, after a hasty bit of googling, he's been predictably quick to deflect.

"I'll be honest, I needed to do a little bit of research about just what the award was about," Bareman told Newshub.

"I've had a lot of people help me get to this point and I've had a lot of input from other people. I've learnt off a lot of people and a lot of great coaches, so I was definitely apprehensive about being at the pinnacle of this and taking that limelight, when it should be shared among all of us.

"In saying that, what I did think was pretty cool was that our little small sport, which I care so much about, was mentioned in some way among all those big mainstream sports."

With three of his fighters featured on Sunday's pay-per-view card, the self-confessed gym "hermit" believes the event represents a milestone, not only for Bareman's gym, but for New Zealand mixed martial arts in a broader sense.

"It's a landmark time for the gym, landmark time, I hope, for the country.

"I lock myself in these four walls, so I don’t know too much about what's going on outside of here in terms of the interest, but I hope the country is really recognising what this means and getting behind it."

One of the primary tenets of Bareman's training ethos has been his all-inclusive approach to gym work. Drop by a packed training session any given evening of the week, and you'll find the likes of Adesanya and Hooker sweating it out alongside a host of amateur hopefuls, the belief being that the rising tide will lift all the boats.

That's never been truer than through the past six weeks, where the dynamic created by conducting three fighters in simultaneous training camps for the same UFC card has been uniquely inspiring.

"The vibe in the gym is absolutely amazing. It's pumping at the moment, because we have a very close-knit team and that team recognises when someone else is fighting, so they all rally behind that person - whether they're fighting in the UFC or a smaller promotion.

"All the other boys that are an integral part of preparing them have really rallied together and are getting in behind them, and giving them that massive push that they want.

"If those boys are successful like I know they will be, it'll be because of all those other people rallying behind them."

As a former Muay Thai professional, Bareman is all too familiar with the plight of a fighter, and his pupils will tell you that while he demands plenty from his fighters, he sets equally high expectations for himself.

"Eugene breaks down guys like nobody else," Adesanya said. "He breaks down film for hours, just collecting data."

"He makes you question do you really want to do this," adds Kara-France. "Because if you want to do it, you really have to put 100 percent into it.

"It's not just like a nine-to-five job, Monday to Friday. If you want to really get to that next level of elite fighting, you need to eat, breathe and sleep combat sports.

UFC 234: City Kickboxing coach Eugene Bareman talks Halbergs, Melbourne and New Zealand MMA
Photo credit: Instagram/@itskiwirob

"That's what he's really big about at our gym. We just take it a lot more serious.

"We train on a Sunday as well, so we don’t really get weekends off - we only really get half days off."

Operating alongside the likes of veteran trainer Doug Viney and ace wrestling tutor Andrei Paulet, Bareman has always had complete confidence that New Zealand's coaching resources were of an elite global standard and set out - in his own unique way - to disprove the tired notion that Kiwi fighters needed to be based abroad to carve themselves a pro career.

"He always knew New Zealand had the better training and technique, but he kind of wanted us to see for ourselves," said Kara-France, referring to his stint at famed Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket. "You had to go over there to realise the grass isn’t greener on the other side.

"I got to train with a lot of different coaches, bodies, different looks and styles, but to come back to NZ, you realise we've had it good this whole time. We don't need to go overseas to get these world-class training camps, we can do it all in our backyard."

Bareman is almost blissfully unaware of the impact he and his coaching staff have had on his beloved sport in Aotearoa.The numbers don’t lie and the ever-increasing number of bodies streaming through his gym on a daily basis speaks for itself.

"I don’t have social media," he admits. "I'm just at the gym every day and then I go home, that’s it.

"But what I do understand is that my gym is absolutely packed. I'm looking for more space.
"People are definitely recognising that it's a sport. It's becoming a mainstream sport.

"It might not be there yet in this country, but it's becoming an option, at least for young people."

UFC 234: City Kickboxing coach Eugene Bareman talks Halbergs, Melbourne and New Zealand MMA

Bareman - in his characteristically measured and deliberate manner - stressed the importance of continuing that momentum this year, after a watershed 2018.

"We need to keep learning. That’s been a massive part of this gym, making sure we're staying on top of the learning process and making sure were not getting complacent.

"We're always striving to improve.

"Longer term, it's about getting the next generation ready, which we're already doing with the help of these guys who are being successful now, because they're inspiring a lot of people to come into the gym."

If Adesanya achieves what's widely regarded as inevitable by capturing the UFC middleweight title, both his and Bareman's names should be at the forefront of Halbergs consideration next year.

Regardless, he doesn’t expect any monetary assistance coming from the likes of High Performance Sports New Zealand as a result. On the contrary, he prefers it this way.

"It's been like that forever and maybe part of our success has been that struggle, has been that we've had to use our ingenuity a lot. Up and coming fighters get nothing, they live in my gym on my mats, they live in their car.

"We haven't had the funding, we haven't had the money, we've had to come up with all this intellectual property on our own. We might not do that if you put $100,000 in our back pocket.

"We might get someone else to do it and it might be a little bit different, so I wouldn’t change anything.

"It doesn’t bug me, but maybe one day - hopefully - there will be a little bit more backing from these agencies and stuff, you never know.

"But if it never happens, it doesn't matter. New Zealand combat sports, MMA, kickboxing - we're still going to move on and do our thing."


Contact Newshub with your story tips: