September 22, 2005

by Damon Martin
Rematches always pose an interesting prospect, and Phil Baroni is no stranger to taking a second shot at redemption, but this time he’s the returning victor taking on the underdog, Ikuhisa “The Punk” Minowa. Despite his record, Minowa is a very accomplished fighter who has gone the distance with some excellent fighters, and was fairing very well in his first fight with Baroni, but when dealing with a striker the likes of the “New York Badass” one mistake is all it takes for a fight to end…and end it quickly.

Pride’s 183lb division is still building up a solid stable of fighters and Minowa may be considered the one fighter that doesn’t belong in this tournament, but the truth is that Minowa has fought out of his weight class so many times that his record is lopsided with losses to much bigger fighters, especially in the last two years. His most recent loss was to the afore mentioned Phil Baroni back in May.

Pride’s decision to put these two back together in a rematch so soon is somewhat baffling, but they’ve shown this kind of tendency before (see Wanderlei Silva and Sakuraba) and Minowa is a very popular fighter in Japan while Baroni has to be perceived as a very outspoken American, and that just makes for a great fight no matter what.

One of Minowa’s biggest weaknesses in a great many of his losses has been playing into his opponents game and when playing a game of “stand and bang” with Phil Baroni, it may be a short outing. Baroni probably has the best hands of any fighter in this tournament and possesses very fierce one punch knockout power.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is Minowa’s ability to get to the ground and submit just about anyone he faces. He went toe to toe with Ryan Gracie, losing a close split decision just over a year ago, and had Baroni in a tough position in their first fight. The key is whether or not he can get Baroni to the ground and that’s not an easy test as Phil has been in fights with Matt Lindland and Evan Tanner, both of whom are extremely good with takedowns, and although both got Baroni down, they definitely had to work for it each time.

Phil Baroni doesn’t keep his strategy for any fight a secret and it’s obvious that he’ll be looking for that homerun punch that sends Minowa’s jaw into the second row. Phil definitely looked like he improved his conditioning when they fought the first time, and a very focused Phil Baroni could honestly beat any fighter in the world.

Minowa is a very smart fighter, but even smart fighters make mistakes and trying to prove that his first loss to Baroni was a fluke, I think he’s going to try to stand with Phil and this may be a quick fight. Baroni looks so ready to fight and his career has been jump started since going to Pride, that he could be the favorite to walk out the tournament champion. Phil has mentioned in a couple of interviews that he is really hoping for a second round match-up with Murilo Bustamante, so overlooking Minowa could cost him severely, but I still think Phil walks out the winner in this fight.

Prediction: Phil Baroni by KO, Late in Round 1.