Best of the Week
The little gym producing legends
City Kick Boxing has become one of the hottest training venues in Australasia and is rapidly gaining world renown for punching way above its weight. Newsroom combat sports pundit Mike Angove, who lurks around the place instructing people how to punch and kick each other more effectively, reports.
A little gym in upper Queen Street, Auckland has experienced unprecedented success on the global MMA stage, claiming three dominant UFC victories in three weeks and moving two fighters inside the top 15 of their respective divisions.
Shane Young’s KO victory in UFC Singapore, then Israel Adesanya’s phenomenal masterclass against 8th-ranked middle weight Brad Tavares in the TUF finale, and closing the show with Dan Hooker’s first round KO over BJJ world champion Gilbert Burns at UFC 226, City Kickboxing produced an avalanche of success never been seen in this part of the world before.
Owned by head coach Eugene Bareman and former K1 Las Vegas winner, Doug Viney, CKB is home to a raft of elite professional combat sports athletes across boxing, kickboxing and MMA. Its trainers comprise a who’s who roster of former world and international champions who seem to be successfully passing their torch to even greater heights.
Hooker, known as the “Hangman”, has travelled the world in search of mentors to grow his martial arts prowess, but eventually found the formula that worked for him in his own backyard.
“I’ve been in to camps in the U.S., Thailand and Singapore. I’ve trained with several UFC champions - and training at CKB is the best I’ve come across,” says Hooker.
“I’m not here because I’m homesick. I’m pragmatic and focused. I’m here because I get better training here.”
Bareman, the grizzled, main protagonist at the gym who seldom consents to media interviews, also attributes the success to the experienced core of trainers who form a brain’s trust the fighters can draw from.
“They are the most influential thing here, all highly experienced and very analytical,” Bareman says. “They haven’t stagnated, they’re always improving at a fast rate, trying to keep them self at the tip of the curve all the time.”
The trainers’ list of achievements is impressive. Viney boxed at the Olympics and was the K1 Las Vegas Champion; Bareman himself is a multiple national MMA and kickboxing champion; Tristam Apikatoa was an Oceania Boxing Champion and World Super Heavyweight kickboxing title challenger; Adam Johnson has been one of New Zealand’s top BJJ champions for years and is a trained scientist; while Andre Paulet was a multiple champion on the European wrestling circuit.
“It’s great that we can showcase what we can do from such a small corner of the world."
- Dan Hooker
Dig a little deeper into their heritage, you discover most of the group have fought and trained together for up to two decades, starting from the esteemed Balmoral Lee Gar gym that also spawned K1 Superstar Ray Sefo. It’s unusual for the bond to have persisted over time, as trainers often strike out on their own. Bareman believes a passion to learn and a lack of ego has kept them tight.
“We talk, we share – we are a bunch of fight geeks and over the years we’ve developed a system that is capable of producing elite level fighters. It is intellectual property that we’ve developed and I think it’s something unique that give us an advantage over other gyms.”
An edge over other gyms is typical understatement from Bareman. Combat sports is a world where iron sharpens iron. In addition to four UFC fighters, CKB boasts athletes contracted to Glory, Bellator, One FC (the biggest martial arts organisation in Asia), three current HEX champions (Australia’s version of the UFC), a word rated boxer and numerous international professional kickboxing champions.
Despite the unparalleled success, no one in the team is resting on their laurels. At 28, Hooker is in his prime but feels he and his team have plenty more to achieve.
“It’s great that we can showcase what we can do from such a small corner of the world. But we are not at our peak. I’m more excited about our potential to go all the way to the top - we want to lay down a legacy at a global level.”
Adesanya, who seems earmarked by the UFC as a marquee name, has similar sentiments.
“The title just comes along the way, it’s not my end goal. Those that do focus on that don’t seem to be successful afterwards because they’ve reached the end of their story. For me, it’s about a legacy, being remembered as one of the greats. The belt just comes along the way because it looks good on me.”
Perhaps one of the least hyped but most important factors in the gym’s success is the level of respect and humility displayed, despite the number of big personalities in the group - something Bareman believes is integral in creating and sustaining a collaborative learning environment.
“The guys we’ve attracted are not just athletically good but they are first and foremost, good people. They’ve fallen into our system and built themselves under the ethic we’ve put on them, which is based on being a team and even more heavily based on not being a d####e.”
Adesanya, who is the consummate showman and extrovert outside the gym, embraces the unassuming, family approach in his home gym.
“It’s the people, it’s the energy I get, it’s welcoming. You have old ladies training there and the baddest fighters in the world training there and it’s not awkward or ego driven and they all kind of intermingle and it’s just beautiful. Good people.”
So far, the good people at CKB have amassed a slew of titles. More can be expected. Adesanya and Hooker’s moves in the rankings have put them both on the precipice of genuine superstardom, while at the same time paving the way for the next tier that are hard on their heels.
Although only time will tell if the gym can bring home New Zealand’s first home grown UFC crown, the prospects certainly look good that they will continue to punch above their weight on the world stage. With the success rate so far and the willingness to learn and develop, CKB’s fighters may soon shed the “kiwi underdog” tag, instead becoming outright leaders in the field of MMA.
Some of the up and coming fighters at CKB:
Israel “The Last Style Bender” Adesanya
Ranking: UFC # 9 middleweight, world kickboxing Champion, Undefeated in MMA, ranked inside the top 10 after just three UFC bout
MMA records 14 fights 14 wins 0 losses 12 KO’s
Kickboxing: 79 fights 75 wins 4 losses 29 KO’s
Boxing: 7 fights 6 wins 1 loss 1 KO
Dan “The Hangman Hooker”
Ranking UFC # 14 lightweight, on a four fight win streak, all of his UFC wins have come via stoppage
MMA record: 24 fights 17 wins 7 losses 16 KO’s
Kickboxing record: 23 fights 15 wins 3 draws 5 losses (12 KO’s)
Signed to UFC coming off a fight of the night bonus in UFC Singapore
MMA record: 15 fights 11 wins 4 losses 9 KO’s
Kickboxing record: 11 fights 9 wins 2 losses (6 KO’s)
Kai “Don’t Blink” France
The Ultimate Fighter competitor has won 10 of his past 11 fights since coming to CKB
MMA record: 24 fights 17 wins 7 losses 12 KO’s
Kickboxing record: 6 fights 6 wins (4 KO’s)
Brad “Quake” Riddell
World middle weight kickboxing champion, currently signed to One FC
MMA record: 4 fights 4 wins 0 losses 4 KO’s
Kickboxing: 68 fights 59 wins 9 losses 37 K0s
Boxing: 2 fights 1 win 1 loss
Carlos “Ladies Night” Ulberg
Current Heavyweight King in the Ring, signed to WLF / Glory of Heroes series in China
Kickboxing: 14 fights 12 wins 2 losses 9 Kos
Boxing: 6 fights 6 wins 4 KO’s
MMA: 2 fights 2 wins 2 KO’s