Henri Hooft on the transformations of 'Rumble' and Belfort

The Blackzilians team mark the end of another training session - Ryan Loco

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Vitor Belfort gave the lie to that with a recent string of head-kick knockouts. Former professional kickboxer Henri Hooft has changed Belfort's game while coaching at The Blackzilians and he has done the same for Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson, as we saw in his UFC 172 shutout of Phil Davis.

The Blackzilians are a team stocked with elite talent in almost every weight-class you care to mention.

Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Anthony ‘Rumble' Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Michael Johnson are just a few of the fighters to be found on the mats there on a daily basis.

Most of the team have world-class grappling skills, whether in wrestling, jiu jitsu or both. Most of them thought they had world-class striking skills as well, until the arrival of Tyrone Spong and his kickboxing coach Henri Hooft.

A former competitor on the K-1 and Kyokoshin Karate circuits, as well as the insanely tough Dutch kickboxing scene, Hooft has been sparring partner and trainer to multiple champion, K-1 Grand Prix champions Peter Aerts and Remy Bonjasky among them.

When Spong joined The Blackzilians three years ago Hooft came along with him. It quickly became apparent to him that there were improvements which could be made in the striking department. Hooft began working with the team on a daily basis, and these days things are very different.

"When I first came here three years ago I used to spar with the guys all the time and beat them all up, do what I wanted with them, even though I was 40 years old. Now I still spar - we have like an open sparring thing every Friday night - and I have to be very careful because everyone is dangerous," he smiles.

"The main things behind the improvement have been sparring really hard and working on the basic simple stuff. My fighters all have good low kicks, good high kicks, straight punches and good forward pressure.

"I don't really do a lot of the crazy stuff, the jumping around spinning stuff. We work all the ‘101' stuff and develop ourselves so that the opponent has to prepare for us, we don't prepare for them."

The impact Hooft has had on his charges has been noted, most recently in the case of Anthony ‘Rumble' Johnson and his one-sided win over Phil Davis at UFC 172. Johnson demonstrated an accomplished and intelligent striking game which he didn't possess even a year ago.

"When I came here the stand-up wasn't that impressive. They didn't really spar hard enough. So Anthony was moving too much, running too much, so I got him putting more pressure on," Hooft explains.

"Every day I've just been showing him when he has to do something and why. Over and over with combinations and sparring; over and over with understanding why he has to do stuff. We're not just throwing kicks or punches for the sake of it. He has the brains to think about why he is doing stuff, he can understand it.

"He can wrestle but now he can also stand up and spar with guys like Tyrone Spong, and I think if you can spar with a guy like Tyrone - I mean really spar with him - then you don't need to worry about the level of your stand-up any more.

"So what I saw from Anthony on Saturday wasn't a surprise for me, I have seen it in the gym."

Another Blackzilian who has demonstrated a whole new range of striking ability under Hooft is Vitor Belfort. If ever there was a fighter who showed that old dogs can be taught new tricks, Belfort is he. His striking arsenal today boasts a completion which edges upon mastery.

Belfort was a jiu jitsu prodigy and the speed and power of his hands was awesome from his earliest years as a competitor. But he delved only rarely into the back pages of the striking catalog. He had a well-rounded skill set but didn't often deploy it.

"I saw Vitor kicking in training and I was like ‘wow, why don't you kick in your fights man?' He said, ‘I have fast hands, I use my hands' and I said ‘Well yeah, if you have fast hands that makes your kicks even more dangerous, you set them up with your hands,'" Hooft recalls.

"And then suddenly he went out and scored three high-kick knockouts. [Like against Bisping,] we worked a lot of body kicks and head kicks with the left leg, setups and stuff. If you know when you have to kick somebody it makes everything different.

"Anybody can kick but knowing when and why is what makes you dangerous. That's the difference that comes from working with a technical coach."

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