MMA: The City Kickboxing Effect - Rising Kiwi lightweight John Brewin levels up for Brave CF title bid

You can add John Brewin's name to the lengthy list of athletes who have had their momentum derailed by the madness of 2020.

After a pair eye-catching wins in 2019, the 26-year-old Aucklander was anointed the Middle Eastern-based promotion Brave CF's Breakthrough Fighter of the Year and was steamrolling his way to a No.1 contender bout against England's Sam Patterson when the pandemic reared its unavoidable head.

Months later and after a frustrating period of negotiations, 'Trouble' has finally found a willing opponent in ex-UFC veteran featherweight Rolando Dy, who he'll square off with at Brave 45 in Bahrain on Friday November 6 (NZ time).

"A whole bunch of top lightweights have turned this fight down or said the timing is not right over this past year," Brewin tells Newshub.

"As far as I'm concerned, I've agreed to fight every top lightweight in the division. Those guys didn't show up so they go to the back of the line.

"I'm just really looking forward to putting a big stamp down and saying nobody else fights for this belt until I do."

Victory over Dy would be the ideal way to round out a year of huge personal and professional growth for Brewin, who's cerebral beyond his years both as a fighter and a human being.

Brewin has spent the first two years of his life as a pro fighter training out of Bali MMA - one of Asia's most reputable fight gyms - after Kiwi head striking coach Mike Ikilei recognised the potential in the former schoolboy rugby star and urged him to roll the dice and relocate to live and train full time in Indonesia. 

That ultimately led to his opportunity with Brave - one of the planet's fastest-growing MMA promotions that has quickly established a foothold across Europe and Western Asia, boasting a roster of increasingly genuine world-class talent.

As it so often does, life outside of that comfort zone has taught him some valuable lessons, both inside and outside the cage.

"I learned how important it was to hustle, what it was like to be a pro, living overseas, all of these lessons that came from this massive change," the 5-1 Brewin recalls.

"That was a tap on the shoulder that I'd never really got in anything before… and that's what you're really craving for, for someone to believe in you.

"I was in my safety zone in New Zealand before then, with a negative outlook on most of the things I was doing. But what Bali taught me was that everything we need or want in life, we have it right here."

That epihpany coincided with the realisation that he needed to be closer to one of his primary sources of motivation - his whanau.

"When you go overseas and away for two years you see your friends' photos, they look exactly the same as when they were 18. When your mum calls you on Facebook messenger, you see two years on your Mum's face," he says.

"I thought - this isn't right. To be over here saying that I'm doing it for these people that I love, my family and my Mum. It wouldn't be right for me to stay there for another three years."

Fortunately for Brewin, one of the most successful fight gyms on the planet just so happens to be right on his doorstep.

Having had a chance to test the City Kickboxing waters on a quick trip home last year, Brewin knew instantly that's where his next step lay.

"The energy in there and everything, the family vibe, the system," he recalls.

"It's great being abroad and doing it on the cheap, but I knew that If i wanted to go somewhere in this game, then I need to be in these four walls. They've got all the knowledge."

Brewin celebrates after his win in Romania last year.
Brewin celebrates after his win in Romania last year. Photo credit: Supplied

Before he left Bali, Brewin sent head trainer Eugene Bareman a text saying how much he'd enjoyed his experience there and asking if he could join them after his return on Christmas day.

Bareman's response? "Good, we're training no Boxing Day, see you then".

"People come into your life at different points when you need them. There are different stories behind what specifically [Auckland MMA's] Hamish [Robertson] gave me and what specifically Mike [Ikilei] gave me, and those lessons were really critical at the time," says Brewin.

"But it's almost like the old prophecy of 'when the student is ready the teachers appears'.

"Eugene, for me, is a very stoic coach. He definitely won't build your ego up. He will just say very accurately, almost zen-like in a haiku form, summarise what you need to learn.

"He has a brilliant mind and he just works, man. He won't come back from a big fight and say 'this is what so and so did well', he'll only point out what they did wrong. 

"That, I think, is the difference. That's what's breeding such a winning culture there at CKB." 

With a full year under his belt at the Eden Terrace gym - home to six UFC fighters - Brewin insists the painstaking focus on detail and repetition that is the gym's hallmark has transformed him as a fighter.

"I'd never given skill work the necessary respect," he admits.

"It's not about sparring thousands of rounds, it's not about lifting weights. It's about spending so much time in the gym drilling and getting the techniques down.

"You think you know how to throw a jab? You don't know that there's 35-odd different jabs to 35 different places and 35 different ways to throw them.

"Look at the top fighters like Dan [Hooker] and Izzy [Adesanya]. It's not that they are more athletic. It's their skills.

"Their skills are incredible, more than you'd know, and they're in there before classes doing the same drills over and over and over. They drill it to perfection.

"Others are like 'oh, I've learned something, time to move on'. Not at CKB."

Dedicated strength training and dietary guidance have also lightened Brewin's load, allowing him to concentrate on matters of the mat.

Brewin has now returned to the scene of his rugby exploits, King's College, where he lives and works as an on-campus mentor, which gives him the chance to impart some of his own wisdom in an area for which he has a ton of passion.

"I have time to do more for the youth and the community I'm in at the moment, and that's something I want to go in deeper with.

"I know I still have a long journey ahead of me in terms of achieving my own personal goals. But when it comes to helping my community, I know that one thing that is going to help me is getting a bigger platform, so that's what really drives me forward.

"It's not about getting yours, it's about you building something that you can eventually share with others."

As for his immediate challenge in the desert this week, Brewin is itching to test drive his shiny new skills against the 13-9 Dy, who will be at a significant reach disadvantage. 

At 6ft 1in tall, Brewin is a nightmare for fellow lightweights to contend with, using efficient and deceptively powerful striking at range in tandem with a sneaky submission game.

City Kickboxing teammate Shane Young also holds a win over the Filipino, and Brewin has been taking full advantage of that resource.

"I've only trained with guys at CKB for the last year and I know how good those guys are. What happens when I get back into the real world and go in live?

"It's going to be a finish. Quick, slow, however he wants to play it, however deep he wants to go.

"This has been the best year of my life and I'm going to finish it on a high."