Halberg Awards: Eugene Bareman looms as standout coaching finalist - Mike Angove

Mixed martial arts coach Eugene Bareman stands out among his very worthy peers, according to former professional fighter Mike Angove.

Bareman, head trainer at Auckland's City Kickboxing Gym, is a finalist for Coach of the Year at next month's Halberg Awards.

After recently scooping awards within the MMA community, Bareman now lines up against Noeline Taurua (netball), Gordon Hay (rowing), Roly Crichton (swimming) and Gordon Walker, who has won three in a row for his work with canoeing superstar Lisa Carrington for NZ honours.

Under Bareman's watch, CKB houses two current UFC champions in Israel Adesanya and Alex Volkanovski, lightweight contender Dan Hooker, top-10 flyweight Kai Kara-France and top-10 WBO heavyweight boxer Junior Fa.

In 2019 alone, Bareman-cornered UFC fighters went a combined 11-1, including title fight victories for Adesanya and Volkanovski.

That remarkable achievement has seen Bareman's team recognised as the MMA Junkie Gym of the Year for 2019 - and all self-funded, without financial backing from High Performance Sport NZ.

For Sky Sport combat sports analyst Angove, next month's winner should be an absolute no brainer. 

"We are talking about a coach with two UFC titles and two more guys who are inside the top 10 in the world in their divisions, in a pinnacle sport that crosses the mainstream media, crosses continents and watched in over 200 countries," Angove told Newshub.  

"That's billions of viewers, so by any measure, you are talking about a huge achievement. 

"So to do that from a tiny little pothole of a country out of a tiny little gym, coming out of Auckland, New Zealand - that is huge. 

"I challenge anyone to come at me with a name of anyone or any team that has done better in 2019 than Eugene Bareman."

Eugene Bareman
Eugene Bareman Photo credit: Supplied
Mike Angove (far left) and Israel Adesanya's team that won UFC gold in 2019
Mike Angove (far left) and Israel Adesanya's team that won UFC gold in 2019 Photo credit: Getty

If not now then when?

And while Angove recognises the remarkable turnaround of the Silver Ferns under Taurua, Angove believes netball has laid a foundation over 30 years of excellence that has allowed for a skilled coach to come in and get the best out of the talent at her disposal.

Bareman has built CKB up from scratch, with only the support of his fellow coaches, and created an environment that breeds the very best fighters in the world. 

"There is no disputing that Noeline Taurua is an exceptional coach - she is superb and she has made a huge difference with the Silver Ferns, but that's an easy story for New Zealanders to understand.

"Understanding what Eugene has achieved, with little to no financial or commercial support, completely self-driven, something that is 20 years in the making - it's a truly remarkable story.

"He is a coach who has fostered an environment of excellence and achieved at a world level across a range of different athletes - that is just exceptional.

"If this was swimming or athletics or just about any other sport that has been in the mainstream for many a year, we wouldn't be having this debate. 

"He's [Bareman] quite happy to shuffle on and do his own thing, and shun the public spotlight.

"But in terms of the coming of age of the sports and how far he's come, that's what needs to be acknowledged.

"If not in a year when you win two global world championships then when?"

Unquestionably the greatest achievement

For Angove, MMA's growing popularity in New Zealand, which has led to a slow acceptance from mainstream media, isn't enough.

The former world kickboxing champion hopes Bareman and Adesanya's Halberg nominations aren't just token gestures in a non-Olympic year.

"The great day will be if we win.

"This is unprecedented for sure and it is great to be recognised, but there would have been a revolt, if these two guys hadn't made the finals. 

"It's unquestionably the greatest achievements by both the athlete and the coach in 2019.

"We are talking about an overall UFC record of 22-1 as a coach in a sport far bigger than almost all sports played in New Zealand."

As for Adesanya's chances of scooping the Sportsman of the Year? Angove says there can be no other name read out than that of 'The Last Stylebender', while he is also adamant he should claim the overall supreme award. 

"For Izzy, I just don't see the other finalists as being on the same level of achievement - across all of the categories 

"I'm a big Tom Walsh fan - he's a superb athlete. Kane Williamson is one of the very best cricketers in the world and a great leader, while Scott McLaughlin was dominant in his field.

"But on a global scale and international competition, we are talking about a greater scale of achievement by Israel."

The Halberg Awards take place at Auckland's Spark Arena on February 13.