June 5, 2023
'It was pretty reckless': Fighter Eugene Bareman reveals how coaches united the team ahead of UFC 281

‘It was pretty reckless’: Fighter Eugene Bareman reveals how coaches united the team ahead of UFC 281

City Kickboxing veterans praise Eugene Bareman’s “intense” methods of bringing them together for UFC 281.

At a performance on Monday The MMA lesson, the teammates described a verbal smack from Bareman to motivate them after a break in training that he and other coaches felt was unacceptable. That came after a multi-day stretch of brutal sparring sessions that left everyone “absolutely exhausted,” said lightweight Dan Hooker.

Bareman also had a knife — or knives, depending on the source — that certainly made an impression, although no one seriously expected him to use it during his speech. Others have been shunned or ridiculed for bringing blades to practice. For UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya and his team, working with the city kickboxing patriarch and his close-knit family is just part of the equation.

“He’s just a freakin’ maniac,” joked Adesanya, who said he often bears the brunt of Bareman’s criticism but thanked the coach for the nudge.

The teammates say they are stronger than ever as they prepare for various opponents at UFC 281 on Saturday. No matter how difficult things got, Hooker said he never considered training anywhere else.

“I will train at City Kickboxing forever, no matter how many times Eugene yells at me and does stuff like that,” he said. “That’s what separates us. So he’s able to push and goad us and break us emotionally because there’s no back door. There is no leaving. We are in it for the long term.”


UFC lightweight Brad Riddell, who faces Renato Moicano on Saturday’s preliminary card, could sense a storm brewing as he arrived in New Zealand from a stay in Thailand, where his family has roots. Midway through the “Spider Circuit,” a multi-opponent gauntlet of eight, five-minute sparring rounds, he noticed that the rounds were a little long. Then he noticed that they were no longer on the clock. Bareman had stopped the timer.

“He said, ‘I’ve got time – I’ll quit when I quit,'” Riddell recalled the coach’s words.

The next day the track was even harder. Again the timer was stopped and they continued hitting it with each other.

Bareman estimates he doubled the sparring rounds at least once.

“I had to show a side of myself that I don’t show often,” he said. “I had to be tough, I had to be mean. If the sparring went on for an hour and I wasn’t satisfied, I’d let them run another hour.”

Riddell, after another tough day of sparring, said the coach sat them all down and let them have it. Hooker said Bareman “yelled at us, told us we sucked, and [said] We were smug and average and he asked more of us.”

Adesanya ended up being one of the coach’s goals. The UFC middleweight champion said it’s not uncommon to get an ear as a gym veteran. His status as a famous fighter did not exempt him from criticism. He was initially angry at the tirade, adding that Hooker told the coach some of the things were “unnecessary.”

“He’s human and he makes mistakes, so he got it in his head that this kid needs a kick in the butt,” Bareman’s Adesanya said. “But I haven’t. I’m glad he did. But I was already strengthened. … I remember the speech. It was pretty reckless. At the time I was like, ‘What the hell?’”

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 meant for show and tell rather than intimidation.

“Do you know this fidget spinner? He has knives,” Adesanya said.

Riddell wasn’t too upset by the meeting. He believes the veterans weren’t necessarily the primary targets of the gathering.

“We have a very family/team-oriented environment there,” he said. “There are younger fighters that come in and maybe get the wrong idea and get a little complacent, maybe because of the relationship 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 really long time, so we have a different relationship with some of the newer fighters that are coming in. Maybe he had the feeling that they were slowly becoming more relaxed. At the end of the day, it’s a high-risk, high-reward job. So maybe it was necessary to make everyone understand that he is first and foremost a coach and his job is to help us win and everyone is on the same pitch.

Ulberg, a former model and potential contestant for the New Zealand version of The Bachelor, didn’t take any of it personally.

“I think everyone reacts differently to that,” he said. “I motivate myself and like many other guys in the team, [they] They motivate themselves anyway, but it’s really good to have someone to push them at some points in the camp. I think that was more of an emotional part for everyone to come together as a team. Everyone reacted differently to it. I took it over.”

Bareman explained that when confronted with his team, he had to “break camp” in order to bring them back together. He said he and the other coaches noticed a waning of enthusiasm well into camp, and they unanimously decided to tackle it head-on.

At other gyms, Hooker said, there might be a line that a coach wouldn’t cross for fear of offending his students. Not so with Bareman.

“The boys weren’t happy,” said the coach. “They didn’t like the way they were treated. It was easy to say. But also, we are sober about this. If you’re not happy, that’s your fault because you’re not reaching the peak of your abilities, the abilities we believe you can achieve. This is your fault. This is not our fault. We do everything we can because that’s what we do as coaches.

“We put everything into these guys. You have to do your part. You have to come to the gym and do 98 percent, 95 percent. You must do 100 each time. That is the expectation and we are going to the extreme limit and it has achieved the desired result.”

For Hooker, the words came at just the right moment. The 32-year-old fighter had risked and failed in two high-profile bouts against current champion Islam Makhachev and Arnold Allen (on his featherweight return). Hooker noted that every time he went against Bareman, he paid for it in the cage.

“[Bareman] know it’s nothing personal,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust him. I’m just headstrong You’re telling me now I can’t run through that wall, I’ll try.”

This time, Bareman said, Hooker was the first to join the new program.

“It had to happen because it’s just there to wake everyone up,” Hooker said. “Maybe we were complacent. After that we definitely reached a new level. … We rose to the challenge. We’ve definitely reached a new level, a post-life threatening experience.”

So the knives could have helped too.

“Knives were drawn,” Hooker laughed, gesturing to his chair. “Real knives. He would have had her in that chair. … He’s always packing.”

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