Enter Phil Baroni, a charismatic knockout artist from Long Island, New York, who started 2003 following a first-round save by Amar Suloev and an 18-second blitz of the first man to own the title from the 185 pound UFC, Dave Menne, in 2002.
He had the punch, the confidence and the charisma to become a star in the Octagon, and while he lost his first fight of 2003 in a rematch against former Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland, “The New York Bad Ass “had a victory over veteran Evan Tanner at UFC 45 in November 2003 which would put him in a privileged position to challenge the middleweight belt.
Here’s what Baroni had to say before this pivotal meeting with the future champion.
Like most of my colleagues who cover mixed martial arts, I remember my first impression that Phil Baroni was strong. Interestingly enough, it was not the “NY Bad Ass” that made this impression, but his sister.
Sitting next to the ring for Baroni’s UFC debut against Curtis Stout in February 2001, I couldn’t even hear Trump Taj Mahal’s packed house over the screams of his brother.
“Come on Phil! Make him Phil!
After Baroni was announced winner of the Stout decision, I asked this young woman, “Do you know him?”
“He is my brother,” she said proudly and began to tell me how her then-unknown brother would become a champion.
I kept that in mind and – all New Yorker’s Italian bias aside – kept a close eye on Baroni, who, without the benefit of a vast amateur milieu or a regular combat team atmosphere, roared through the ranks of the UFC, helped not only by the punching power, but a behavior that was so rash, it had to make you smile. He was a child who understood – he barked, went to war inside the cage, and won or lost, the mouth continued.
This is the “It” factor. Baroni has “It”, and Friday night he will bring those qualities back to the Octagon against tough competitor Evan Tanner at UFC 45 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. And if you think that the fact that it was his first fight since he suffered from a torn pectoral muscle in April softened him, come on, it’s Baroni.
“When Evan Tanner picks up his jaw from the floor, ask him how my rehabilitation went,” said Baroni.
Here we go.
All boastful apart, Baroni respects the fighters with whom he finds himself in the cage, whatever he may say. And against Tanner, he faces a fighter who will descend from the light heavyweight to make his middleweight debut. The last fighter trained by Team Quest who abandoned a weight category was Randy Couture. And we all know how it went.
“Evan Tanner is a good fighter,” admits Baroni. “He fought for the title at 205, he is like 6-2 at the UFC, he has a full game and he trains with Team Quest. He’s a good fighter and a good test. And when I knock it out, it will prove that I deserve a title shot at 185. “
But a chest tear is a serious injury and not to be taken lightly. However, Baroni, in a true warrior style, ignored the doctor’s recommendations for his recovery.
“It happened in April,” said Baroni. “It was supposed to be a year of recovery before I could train hard. (During the layoff) I ate a lot. I was like 238 pounds. I just eat a lot in Vegas, going to the buffets. On August 1, I cleaned up my diet and started training completely. You will see a Phil Baroni bigger, stronger, faster, meaner and more edgy than you have ever seen before this Friday evening. This is my reward for all the training, suffering and sacrifices I have made since August 1. I’m going to remove it from Evan Tanner. It’s a happy time for me. I can’t wait to go and do my thing. And you know me, when my head is straight, I hurt people. And my head is right. ”
But is Baroni making a mistake by fighting so hard in his first fight after his surgery?
“I don’t know why he would sign to fight me,” said Baroni de Tanner, who just lost by knockout to Rich Franklin earlier this year. “It’s the stupidest thing he has ever done.” In fact, it is not wise for anyone to sign a fight with me because I have an intention – and it is bad – and that is to hurt people. “
It was this bluster that made Baroni loved and hated in the world of Internet chat rooms. But while Baroni, a major university psychologist, appears to be the master of marketing himself as a villain, the Long Island native takes offense at the suggestion he stages for show business.
“It is not true,” he said. “I’m fed up with this shit. I’m just me. I’m not afraid to say what I say and say what I think. I don’t punch and the writing is on the wall with me. What you see is what you get. I’m not a fake. I’m the real f ** king deal. I say the s ** t everyone thinks, and they’re just scared of it. say. It’s not marketing, it’s just me. And I just enjoy what I do. I have fun with my life and I live my dream. I do what I want to do. These other guys , they’re trying to jeopardize their fighting lives. They want to be movie stars, actors, and broadcasters. All I want is to be the best fighter in the world, book for book. I could give a f ** k on movies or TV or whatever, I want to be the best fighter in the world. If someone in this sport could be a movie star, it would be me, but it’s not my thing. i am It’s a fighter, and that’s why real fans like me. They know I come to fight, I bring my heart into the ring and I never say die. And those who hate me are just jealous. They don’t like guys who set and reach goals. They are afraid to take risks. “
If you have followed Baroni’s career for a long time, you will see that not only his career, but his whole life, has been a giant risk. He crossed all the peaks and all the valleys that you could imagine, some self-inflicted, others because of the politics and the general apathy of those around him, but through it all, he scrapes and always claws at the top, ready to do whatever it takes to get to the top. However, when you ask him where this type of drive comes from, he hesitates and falls silent for a moment (which may well be for eternity for Baroni).
“It’s a difficult question,” said Baroni, before continuing.
“I would say that my biggest influence has been a lack of influence, not having anyone there and me choosing my own path,” he said. “I made mistakes and fell on my stomach, but I didn’t give up and I persevered and made things happen. If you asked me who my model was, I didn’t have one. There was no one for whom I really looked. It may be unfortunate, but it made me who I am. And I’m not saying that I’m sort of, shape or form, a model, but I believe that hard work will solve everything. And when things are not going well, don’t give up; keep going and keep trying. And I show it in all my fights. “
He had his ups and downs in the cage, the ups being all the fights without the name of Matt Lindland, which he lost in November 2001 and February 2003. Yet, despite the losses, he is still among the most most popular of the UFC, and one of the few bright lights in a relatively boring 185-pound division. But Baroni does not wait so long. In fact, he verbally carried out a coup on the currently undefeated division.
“I declare myself the number one middleweight in the UFC and to date I am the UFC middleweight champion,” said Baroni, 27. “So every time I fight it’s a middleweight title fight. I’m the best fighter in the UFC middleweight division. Regarding (the former middleweight champion Murilo) Bustamante, I think he left his brain in Japan after the last pride, so I don’t think he will come back. It proves what I would have done to him if Dan Henderson was able to do it. let things work the way they are. I’m just going to beat everyone. I hit everyone’s ass and I’m going to make them give me a title. ”
We will wait for him to do it in a conventional way, but title or no title, Baroni will always be the essential television for combat fans. There are no secular tactics and pray or poke and catch, just a constant shock and dreadful style bombs that rain. And when the fight is over, he leaves “NY Bad Ass” in the cage and becomes Phil Baroni again. If in doubt, check it when the cameras are off.
“I’m the first at a show, I’m taking photos and signing autographs for the fans, and I’m the last to go, doing the same thing,” said Baroni. “I appreciate the fans because basically they are the ones who write my checks. Without the fans, there would be no sport. So I really like them. And those who hate me, always hate them. They can drink all their haterade and go to bed pissed off. I go to bed happy every day. I have a daughter, a car, a house, a life. I don’t hate it. I hope everyone does good in their thing . I do not really understand. “
This is what happens when you succeed and it will not be easier if the Baroni star shines even more in the years to come. He knows it, but for his friends, his family, his sister (the one who shouts for him to win), and above all, for himself, he is still only Phil.
“This is who I am and who I have always been,” he said. “If you never saw me when I was fighting in high school, I was like that. When I did kickboxing and boxing, coming, I was like that, and I always will be. I like to be me and I like to do my thing. ”
But it would not be an interview with Baroni without asking for a prediction: not for Friday, but for the year to come…
“This year will end with a vicious, vicious and vicious knockout, then I will start 2004 in the same way, eliminating all those who fight in this division,” said Baroni. “I don’t care who they are or what they know, where they come from or whatever. I knock them out and I see myself declared the number one average weight in the world. You can ask Dana White; I refuse to fight bullshit. I only fight the best fighters. That’s why I chose Evan Tanner. He fought for the title, he won many fights in the UFC, and everyone knows him. People think that coming out of this injury, I am a big outsider. I am never an outsider. “
A controversial playoff at UFC 45 continued a losing streak that included a second loss to Tanner and a loss of submission in 2005 to fellow Long Islander Pete Sell. Baroni was finally going to make it to PRIDE, reviving his career with a 4-2 race in which he finished all of his victories. He would struggle in his next seven fights, going 3-4, but returned to the Octagon, losing to Amir Sadollah in 2009 and Brad Tavares in 2011. Baroni has fought sporadically since then, but in victory or defeat , “The New York Bad Ass” has always given fans a show.
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