Metro NZ

IRON SHARPENS IRON

Towards the end, exhaustion seemed to almost win: the bodies dragged themselves up from the floor as if gravity had tripled in strength. But, in an instant, a new opponent appeared, and the fighters collapsed into tackles, the weight of their shoulders falling into their fresh antagonists’ hips, forcing them to the floor. For 25 minutes — the length of the five-round Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and lightweight contender Dan Hooker would soon fight — coach Eugene Bareman marshalled the forces of his gym against his top fighters. Against the black padded wall — darker where his hot sweat was daubed across it — Adesanya wrestled, the grace of his long, liquid limbs searing into the mind like a catchy song. Hooker, slim-hipped, his angular but boyish face framed by the red strapping of the ear guards he trains in, appeared almost skinny, until he picked up an opponent to toss him backwards over his head, his biceps inflated with the effort.

Brad Riddell and Kai Kara-France, training for shorter three-round fights, had finished as subjects of the drill, but, after a quick break, joined their two-dozen or so teammates against Adesanya and Hooker. Riddell, also a lightweight, carries the stocky frame of a wrestler, and so perfectly embodies the Hellenic ideal, Roman nose included, he looks like an ancient vase brought to life. Kara-France is a coiled spring of a flyweight — power and strength compressed into a 1.65m frame — whose size soon made him hard to spot among the swarm of bigger bodies. “We’re pushed passed that wall,” he’d told me earlier about this drill, the “Spyda”, “and we can dip into reserves that are [usually] only emulated in the fight.” A week later, for Kara-France, Rid-dell, and Hooker, those fights were to arrive at UFC Fight Night 168, across town at Spark Arena; two weeks after that, Adesanya was to defend his middleweight title, in Las Vegas.

Bareman — barefoot, dreadlocks bunched behind a black baseball cap, stopwatch open on his phone — barked orders: “Change!” he yelled, and one man peeled away from the subject of his aggression for another to appear in his place, a fresh body against which to test the ever-weakening muscles of the

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