MMA Campfire Tales: Phil Baroni

| March 5, 2013 | 11:58 am | Reply

It was May 10th, 2002.  The fully regulated sport of MMA was just starting to emerge from the darkness of straight-to-video hell, prompting me to throw away my membership to Video Thunder and find a friend with cable television.  While the spectacle of yesteryear was now just a wonderful bloody memory, the legitimate sport had evolved and attracted legitimate athletes to its banner in droves.  Elite wrestlers in particular could now use their skills for something that actually paid money, and didn’t involve touring the Midwest 350 days a year being suplexed by evil clowns, or managed by guys carrying tennis rackets or bullhorns.

The gentleman that came out for one of the first bouts at UFC 37 had a pro-wrestler’s ego and lack of shame for sure, strutting around in a glittery bathrobe with sunglasses on, but boasted legitimate wrestling credentials that would help him back up his swagger.  His opponent was a hot ticket out of Russia by the name of Amar Suloev, who was as close to a world-class submission fighter that could be found outside of Brazil around this time, and who was called back into the UFC after going the distance with Chuck Liddell.  Coming down to a more natural weight of 185lbs, Suloev seemed to be a shoe-in for big things in the UFC and was doing well for himself in the fight.  Then he fouled his opponent with an illegal knee to the head.  His foe wasn’t hurt, but he sure wasn’t happy.  When the ref asked “Do you need a minute before you can continue?”, his reply was a simple “No, I’m good”.

UFC 37 Phil Baroni

UFC 37

Thirty seconds later, Suloev has been violently dispatched with a series of piston-like punches on the mat, and this man is holding an American flag while pointing and laughing at the very unconscious Suloev.  “What an asshole!” I exclaimed.  Four months later, the fighter dispatched former Middleweight Dave Menne in eighteen seconds, straddled the cage and screamed “I’m the best eva!” Was he an asshole, or the best eva? Read on to find out.

MMA Campfire Tales Celebrates: “The New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni

I’m not going to waste my time with research here, so I’ll just make up a statistic and say that 87% of MMA fans are straight males. The thing is the mannerisms of Baroni and ring entrance would make you think the audience was 100% love-starved cougars looking to slam dollar bills in his (New York Bad) ass crack.  Needless to say, I was confused by the angle and wasn’t a fan of this ridiculous individual, no matter how talented he was.  Make no mistake about it either, the dude was a killer.

Baroni fought like a white Kevin Randleman, in that he was a wrestler first, but would occasionally surprise folks with a near inhuman burst of speed.  Dave Menne was surprised indeed when Baroni hit him so fast and so rapidly against the fence that he didn’t even have time to fall down.  Menne’s only response to fourteen punches delivered in three seconds was to clinch the cage with his right hand in a death grip.  Perhaps he thought the ref would stop the punishment to give him a point deduction, or perhaps he thought he was stuck in a hurricane and felt it wise to grab hold of the nearest solid object that wasn’t Phil Baroni.  I’d like to imagine he was so unconscious that he was dreaming of squeezing a stripper’s titty.  The point is, Baroni was god damn fast.

Baroni Faces Lindland, and This Time, its Personal:

He wasn’t undefeated though, and made it clear he wanted a rematch with the first man to blemish his record on a UFC undercard, that man being Matt “The Law” Lindland.  The Law is a hilarious nickname for someone known as the dirtiest fighter in combat sports, but Lindland was certainly damn good at wrestling, even if he wasn’t so good at not being a fucking dirtbag.  Having put together two wins following the loss to Lindland, and considering the Middleweight division had six guys in it at the time; we were set for a rematch of the ages.

Lindland wasn’t a complete fighter by any stretch, but his wrestling prowess was so advanced compared to nearly everyone in the sport, he could apply constant pressure to his opponents and cruise to a win.  Cruising to a win with wrestling against Baroni is sort of like wrestling a house cat though.  Sure, you can hold down a house cat if you have to, but the amount of trauma the little bastard can inflict on you in the mean time generally isn’t worth the trouble.  So it went, as Lindland closed distance on Baroni, ducked under his punches and pinned him to the cage.  Sometimes when he was feeling froggy, he’d take him down and pin him to the mat too.  Baroni couldn’t do anything about it other than swing for the fences every time he had an inch of space and the grinding pace of the fight was taking a toll on the NYBA, but then he saw his opportunity.

Looking to close out an easy decision win with a bang, Lindland ducked in for a double leg in the last-minute of the fight, but stalled out on the level change and ended up with his head stuck between Baroni’s legs.  You could see Baroni’s face light up at that moment, as he realized that he had two free hands and Lindland had two unprotected kidneys sitting right in front of him.  I can’t even imagine how Lindland felt over the next fifteen seconds as he went from calmly displaying his Olympic-caliber wrestling to having his organs tenderized like a cheap steak.  Ever so slowly, Lindland sank to the canvas as his body screamed at him to move but he wasn’t able, but there simply wasn’t enough time for Baroni to capitalize on the moment any further.  Lindland won the decision in the cage, but Baroni won in the bathroom; Lindland screaming while taking a bloody piss for the next few days.

Baroni’s UFC career would take a nose dive at this point, although not without a few memorable moments.  When Evan Tanner was working a ground and pound game on Baroni and referee Larry Landless stepped in to stop the fight, Baroni showed his disagreement with the stoppage by punching the ref while still on his back.  We also got to hear Baroni gurgle loudly for several minutes in Pete Sell’s guillotine choke before tapping for the first and only time in his career.  With that final loss, Baroni was tossed out the door, but still landed on his feet in the most accepting MMA market on Earth: Japan.

NYBA storms the Orient

Baroni’s “gimmick” never really flew in the US, but damn did it fly in Japan.  Shades indoors? Cool!  Glittery robe? Cool!  Non-stop swagger? Cool!  Baroni was a hit right away.  For point of reference, transgendered cartoon characters, grown men wearing tiger masks, and anyone with a dance routine are cool too, but that doesn’t take away from what Baroni brought to the table.

While the NYBA’s record wasn’t so hot stateside, he had no problem imploding some heads in Japan.  The lack of rules seemed to resonate disturbingly well with Baroni, who fell in love with head stomps like a Japanese teenage boy and his video game girlfriend. JMMA legend Minowaman was stomped to pieces in a hurry, and Ryo Chonan was knocked flat-out only a few months later.  Sure, he didn’t win them all, but Baroni was loving the Asian MMA market, taking only a brief break from the scene to armbar a Japanese boxer in Vegas, get choked out by Frank Shamrock, and show Bill Goldberg his dick.

I’ll be honest and say that at this point in his career, I still hated him.  He was angry and flamboyant in a way I didn’t care for, but I did appreciate his willingness to fight anyone.  His next fight would change my perception of the man forever though, as he headed to Hawaii for a shot at the ICON title.

His opponent was Kala Hose, whom I’m assuming was either a vengeful Hawaiian war-god, or maybe a volcano with arms and legs.  Having debuted against top-level wrestler Reese Andy as a heavyweight, Hose lost via decision, so he then decided to lose 70lbs in three months and return as a Middleweight.  This proved a wise career choice, as the same arm strength that had previously hoisted his fat ass out of bed every morning could now fully be brought to bear on his opponents.  After a series of near criminal beatings dished out under the ICON banner, Hose was set to face Baroni for the vacant Middleweight title.

ICON had the most lax set of rules since early UFC, allowing everything except groin strikes and headbutts, giving this fight an intensity you can’t get in today’s MMA.  Yes, there’s an element of danger to the modern, heavily regulated version, but there’s also a sense of safety.  Rarely have I felt a fighter was going to be maimed or killed under US rules, and while I’m happy fighters can operate in this safety net, no rules fights get the blood pumping like nothing else.  Baroni and Hose are both intense individuals themselves and knowing there would be elbows, knees and soccer kicks flying at will made this an edge of your seat affair.  I’m somewhat surprised ICON didn’t force them to wear hollowed-out coconuts for gloves actually.

The stare down was insanity as the two men received their woefully short instructions at the center of the cage, and when that bell rang they came at each other like they’d both been fired from a sling shot.  Baroni hit takedowns and alternated between dropping elbows onto Hose or standing up and stomping on his head, while Hose made the most of his time on the feet to rip constant punches into Baroni.  The fight miraculously made it into the second round despite both fighters’ best efforts to put the other into an assisted living home, though Baroni looked like his endurance wasn’t going to hold out much longer.

Round after round, Hose began to take over the fight, avoiding takedowns more frequently and working from the clinch to further fatigue Baroni, all while landing crippling punches and knees.  Baroni had his moments when he could land his own punches or trip Hose to the mat and start kicking him, but there was no question whatsoever concerning who was winning this fight as it went into championship rounds.

As Baroni sat in his corner to come out for the 5th round, he looked dead.  Any athletic commission on Earth would have stopped this fight, but then again, most athletic commissions wouldn’t have allowed it to happen in the first place.  In a place as hard as Hawaii, you’re not going to get much sympathy, yet the crowd was even somewhat subdued at this point as Baroni appeared to be a couple stomps away from death’s door.  He was white as a sheet, which is uncharacteristic of someone whose been engaging in frantic exercise for twenty minutes and could have sweat through a tarp as sheets of fluid rolled off of his body.  Baroni was physically shutting down, to the point where his legs were spasming on the stool.

The unforgiving bell tolled and there was a short pause as everyone wondered if Baroni was coming out for the last round, or if he’d quit on the stool.

Paul Bunyon wouldn’t have gotten up.

If Charles Bronson was in Baroni’s corner, he’d have thrown the towel in.

Sakuraba probably would have tapped out and went back to the dressing room.

Baroni stood up on legs that could barely hold him and walked to center ring.

The fight was over shortly thereafter as Hose relentlessly attacked and forced even someone as heartless as a no-rules MMA referee to stop the match.  Hose had won the fight and the title, but Baroni had won the respect of every MMA fan on Earth with his fortitude.

This was hardly the end of Baroni’s MMA career, as he’s still facing all comers in the sport, even fighting in other leagues under these same unforgiving rules as ICON.  He’s still hitting power doubles, still knocking people out, still taking his share of ass kickings and never making excuses.

He’s still the best eva.

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Category: Featured, MMA, UFC

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