Few MMA gyms have attained the kind of success that City Kickboxing has garnered in recent years, but in 2019, the New Zealand team stood all alone.
Most notably, City Kickboxing produced a fighter many, including The Body Lock, consider the Fighter of the Year, newly-crowned UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Under the masterful eye of City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman, himself a standout for many’s Coach of the Year, Adesanya took the UFC by storm in 2019.
The undefeated middleweight continued to build on his increasingly exponential success in 2019, compiling a 3-0 record during his year in the Octagon. Adesanya kicked off his campaign in February, taking on the man widely considered to be the greatest middleweight to ever compete, Anderson Silva. In what would play out as a beautiful display of tactical, if not devastatingly damaging, striking prowess, Adesanya would showcase the skills that led him to a lauded kickboxing career against a somewhat surprisingly game Silva. Adesanya’s artful kicks and other slick striking were interspersed with entertaining ‘taunts,’ animé and video game references, and dances.
Then ranked sixth in the middleweight division, Adesanya would earn a clear decision victory against an aged Silva, saving the UFC 234 show, which took a hit when then-champion Robert Whittaker was forced to withdraw from his title bout with Kelvin Gastelum, in the process.
Adesanya would go on to earn an interim title shot against Gastelum for his performance, facing the Ultimate Fighter Season 17 winner just two months later at UFC 236. Fans were kept on the edge of their seats until the end of the thrilling bout, with the bloody and battered opponents slugging it out until the end. Adesanya would win the war of attrition, coming just short of punching Gastelum out in the final seconds of the fifth round en route to a judges’ decision.
Next, Adesanya scored his most impressive and significant victory as a mixed martial artist; the Nigerian-born New Zealander dispatched of pound-for-pound talent and then-champion Robert Whittaker with relative ease in the pair’s unification bout at UFC 243. Adesanya scored a second-round TKO of the ex-titlist, becoming the unified and undisputed UFC middleweight champion.
But Adesanya was not the lone City Kickboxing staple to win a UFC title in 2019. No, that wasn’t enough for Bareman and co.
The gym also secured the UFC featherweight title, as Alexander Volkanovski completed what was one of the most impressive twelve-month stretches in recent history.
Though Volkanovski’s dominant three-fight stretch officially began on December 31, 2018, this writer feels as though his breakout knockout performance against Chad Mendes at UFC 232 was close enough to play a role in City Kickboxing’s Gym of the Year-winning year.
As Bareman will point out, he is not Volkanovski’s head coach, but City Kickboxing was vital in the former rugby player’s incredible year. After besting Mendes inside two rounds to close out 2018, Volkanovski faced the two greatest featherweights in MMA history, Jose Aldo and Max Holloway.
Volkanovski stifled the games of both Aldo and Holloway in ways rarely seen before, almost completely shutting down the offense of each opponent – both of whom are known for their dominant offensive attacks. The Aussie defeated Aldo in Brazil, earning a shot against Holloway, who he beat in the co-main event of the blockbuster UFC 245 event.
In addition to the two UFC champions housed at City Kickboxing, the gym also amassed a dominant record in the UFC on the strength of breakout campaigns from several of their fighters.
Dan Hooker emerged as a lightweight contender in 2019 with wins over James Vick and former title challenger Al Iaquinta, respectively. Following a hellacious beating from Edson Barboza in 2018, Hooker’s bounce back in 2019 has been nothing short of exceptional.
Former Ultimate Fighter contestant Kai Kara-France returned to the UFC in 2018, but he went 2-1 in the promotion during 2019. The flyweight contender is now ranked in the top ten in his division and dropped his lone loss of the year in a barnburner against fellow top tenner Brandon Moreno.
City Kickboxing stalwarts Brad Riddell and Shane Young also scored victories in the UFC, with the former topping James Mullarkey in an instant classic and the latter outpointing a well-rounded Austin Arnett.
In total, City Kickboxing scored two UFC titles and amassed a total UFC record of 11-2 (Adesanya (3-0), Volkanovski (2-0), Hooker (2-0), Kara-France (2-1), Riddell (1-0), Young (1-0), and Luke Jumeau (0-1)) to cap off what The Body Lock has voted the best year of any MMA gym.
American Top Team (#2)
Another twelve months, another successful campaign for Coconut Creek Florida’s American Top Team.
The prolific gym is known as one of the sport’s finest, having won multiple Gym of the Year awards to date. American Top Team houses too many top athletes to list, but many standout performances from the gym’s finest led to the gym’s second-place ranking.
Jorge Masvidal emerged as the breakout star of the year, as the UFC’s ‘BMF’ champion became one of the most popular MMA fighters in the world on the strength of three straight knockouts of Darren Till, Ben Askren, and Nate Diaz, respectively.
Hardcore fan-favorite Kyoji Horiguchi captured both the RIZIN and Bellator bantamweight titles before injuring his knee and suffering an Upset of the Year knockout loss to Kai Asakura in August. Bantamweight teammates Pedro Munhoz and Marlon Moraes established themselves as top UFC contenders, too.
Dustin Poirier, like Masvidal, broke out as a fan favorite in 2019, defeating pound-for-pound talent Max Holloway to capture the interim UFC lightweight title, even going on to have some success against champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in their UFC 242 unification match.
At welterweight, Colby Covington headlined one of the biggest events of the year in one of its most thrilling fights, and Douglas Lima once again captured Bellator gold.
To top things off, Lightweight Natan Schulte and women’s lightweight Kayla Harrison both took home over $1 million dollars by winning their respective divisional tournaments in the PFL.
Fortis MMA (#3)
Much has been said about Fortis MMA’s quick rise to the top of the MMA team rankings, which has been carefully overseen by head coach Sayif Saud. The Dallas, Texas, gym is home to a slew of UFC, Bellator, PFL, and LFA talent, and higher profile names appear to be continuing to move to Fortis in droves.
Fortis, which is the Latin word for “strong,” has seen several of its patrons go on to dominant 2019. Light heavyweight Alonzo Menifield, welterweight Alex Morono, lightweight Diego Cesar Ferreira, and bantamweight Miles John each scored a perfect 2-0 record this year, and quickly rising welterweight contender Geoff Neal won thrice.
Ryan Spann, one of the top emerging prospects at light heavyweight, also notched two wins in 2019.
Standout regional prospects Austin Lingo, Mohammed Usman, Elijah Johns, and others also dominated the year.
The Texas gym also dominated this year’s Dana White Contender Series, with a seemingly endless stream of fighters appearing – and winning – on the show.
Voting Results for Gym of the Year
- City Kickboxing (27)
- American Top Team (16)
- Fortis MMA (8)
- Tiger Muay Thai (5)
- Sanford MMA (3)
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.