Mike Passenier is a kickboxing coach of some repute. Aside from his own stable of fighters - Badr Hari, Gokhan Saki and Murthel Groenhart among them - he has also been a go-to coach for MMA names like Paul ‘Semtex’ Daley.
Recently the former DREAM and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem also retained Mike’s services. Training sessions have been conducted at The Blackzilians gym in Florida and at Mike’s Gym in Amsterdam. Its early days but Passenier is confident he can help reverse Overeem’s fortunes.
“For a couple of months now I have been the head coach for Alistair’s camp and that’s been a lot of fun. We train in Miami, that’s nice. We train in Amsterdam, that’s good. Alistair is making good development with his stand up,” he tells Fighters Only.
“He’s getting strong again, he’s hard-hitting again. Not that he wasn’t hard-hitting but you know how it is with MMA fighting, its a different kind of striking. He has a fight with Frank Mir on November 16 and we will see what happens.”
FO: Is Alistair still a Blackzilian or is he joining the yellow-and-black mafia of Mike’s Gym?
“Yes, well, he’s a Blackzilian. By contract he is with Glenn Robinson, the manager. He lives in American and trains at The Blackzilians.
“But when I am there I like to train outside (separate) from everybody because I am the type of trainer who likes to scream and shout. I like to push and shove and demonstrate. I don’t want to embarrass Alistair, I don’t want to embarrass the other Blackzilians, training while I am loud-mouthing on the other side [of the room].
“I don’t want to interfere with other trainers, so we train at night when everybody is out. That’s what we do when I am there. At my gym… well at my gym I do what I want, because its my gym, haha! Nobody is looking back and forth when I scream at somebody.
“I am building a new [training] room with half a cage and one ring, just one treadmill, one cross-trainer. All different types of bags. Its so I can retreat [from the main room] and take my fighters to the side. As you know I have a lot fighters. I had a working relationship with King Mo but its difficult because of the distance its off and on. Because of the time and things he has to do in America its difficult.”
FO: Is there now a formal alliance between Mike’s Gym and The Blackzilians?
“When I started training with Alistair I wanted it to be right for everybody, including The Blackzilians and also for Glenn because he put a big effort in Alistair’s career. People who know me know that before I commit myself to anything I rather take it slow first.
“Glenn and I just started out so we will see what happens and take it from there. I was in Miami and I saw some good things and I saw some flaws, I just pointed out to Glenn ‘If it was my gym I would do it like this…’
“But you know, The Blackzilians are also working with Dennis Krauweel because Rico Verhoeven has been staying there. Also Robin Van Roosmalen has been staying there. So that’s what holds me back. I can be friendly and I can be nice but I don’t want to be too friendly with opponents.”
FO: Where would you draw the line in terms of being ‘friendly’?
“We can say ‘hi’ but I don’t want to your friend because then I can’t fight against you. And if I can’t fight against you then it costs money. And if I don’t bring money home I can’t feed my children and that’s a problem. Because a man is supposed to feed his children and support his family.
“And if you are too friendly to each other you cannot give a good fight. Well, if you look at the K-1 MAX fight between [my guys] Murthel Groenhart and Arthur Kyshenko, there you have a rare example of two guys who can be friends and beat each others’ heads in.
“But most of the time its ‘Oh I don’t want to fight him. He’s my friend, I talk to him on Facebook, I was playing with his children’, you know? Don’t get soft man. Stay on point. Just give the audience what they deserve, a good fight. Its not about one friend saving another friend’s life.”
FO: Is this why your team has this reputation for hostility towards outsiders? They are very much a clique and keep to themselves compared to a lot of other teams. That’s where this ‘black and yellow mafia’ label arose.
“So lets get back to my previous statement - we don’t want to be too friendly to anybody. If I am going to tell a joke I would rather tell it to people I love than tell it to some strangers. They don’t seem to get it anyway. You can be friendly, like colleagues, but its nothing more than this.
“‘Yeah he’s my friend,’ - OK, but then you fight him and you don’t want to knock him out. High price to pay for friendship. Or you get offered a fight, you don’t want to fight him, but then he gets a fight [somewhere else] and you don’t so it costs you money.
“This [game] is strictly business. That’s what it is. I am friendly with other coaches but the bottom line is ‘no emotions’. We are not some ‘black and yellow mafia’, we just are who we are. We are one of the few gyms in the world who comes to fight every fight.
“There is not one fighter on my team who can say ‘I don’t feel like fighting, I will just show up and get the money’. I would say ‘OK, well shake my hand and good luck because you will do it without me. You don’t fight for me anymore’. Because I don’t think its fair.
“If you’re a man who goes out to work and you have to buy a ticket for your sons, daughters, then you have to get to the arena, drive 100 miles, buy drinks, food - you have had to stand up every day and work, maybe a full week, just for this one evening.
“And then if the fighters don’t produce, that is shame. Because they make five or six times more than this guy who is supporting them and paying to see them. Its like they are f--king him in the ass. Its no good. So that is why we don’t slack off. We are there to fight.”
FO: You made your point powerfully there. You mentioned a moment ago that you have “a lot of fighters” - how many are we talking?
“Gokhan Saki is fighting in the GLORY 11 heavyweight title tournament on October 12 in Chicago. He is looking great in training. A lot of times guys get to the top and start slacking off. He is the opposite, he is working harder.
“I think he has a good chance of winning - two of the three opponents he might face, he has already knocked out (Daniel Ghita and Anderson ‘Braddock’ Silva). First he fights Rico Verhoeven in the semi-finals. Rico is a guy who people don’t really know yet but he is very dangerous.
“I tried to sign him up for our stable at age 15 but he went with Dennis Krauweel, who is also an excellent trainer. No hard feelings, but now we are standing opposite each other. He has been progressing very well lately but I don’t think he is on Saki’s level yet.
“Then, aside from Alistair I have Badr Hari, he is making his return on November 8 against Alexey Ignashov. I still have Melvin Manhoef, he is fighting Samedov. I have Sahak Parparyan, he was supposed to be fighting [at GLORY 10] but his face was broken [in his last fight] and I don’t think it was healed up good to fight in this tournament, so we chose a tournament a month or two later.
“I still have Arthur Kyshenko, he fighting in Germany soon, a tough fight. I have Murthel Groenhart of course. The fight [at GLORY 10] was disappointing for him. He has gotten stuck somewhere. I don’t know how we are to evaluate this but first I must discuss it with Murthel before I can say anything. I have Dion Staring fighting in Russia in October. I have Murthel’s brother… I have also my own guys coming up, guys I’ve had since ten years old.
“And I’m leaving out a lot of people there, I have a lot more.”
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