by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Pride Bushido 10 Preview: Yuki Kondo vs. Phil Baroni

By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly

Now that Pride has officially crowned Dan Henderson as the 185lb champion, the contenders will start to line up in hopes of getting a crack at the title. Two of those contenders will square off at Bushido when the always tough and game tested Yuki Kondo takes on the brash “New York Badass” Phil Baroni.

Coming into this fight, Yuki Kondo is starting to reach a critical point in his career. Spending much of his time fighting much larger opponents, Kondo is now focusing on facing fighters his own size but has his time already passed? One thing that Kondo has in his favor is that only a few fights ago he took the now champion Dan Henderson to a very close and controversial decision that went the American’s way, but many thought the win should have gone to Kondo.

After his fight with Henderson, Kondo took one more shot at the heavier weight class when he entered the Pride middleweight tournament and lost to Igor Vovchanchyn, but despite the weight advantage to the Russian, Kondo held his own and again proved he can stand in the ring with anyone.

Unfortunately for all the skills that Kondo possesses, he has still had a rough time pulling out wins when it could really boost him into title contention but a win over Phil Baroni could put him right back in line for a rematch with Henderson and a possible title shot.

After his exit from the UFC, Phil Baroni has been on a mission to prove that he belongs among the elite in the 185lb weight class. When Pride first signed the outspoken superstar, many fans and critics questioned the decision seeing as Baroni had just lost 4 fights in a row, the last of which was to a fairly unknown fighter at the time in Pete Sell.

In his first fight in Pride, Baroni showed an intensity fans hadn’t seen since his destruction of Dave Menne at UFC 39 in 2002. He knocked out Ikuhisa Minowa in the 2nd round with some vicious stomps on the ground, all the while with a severely injured ankle. In his second fight with Pride he took on Ryo Chonan, who at the time was quickly rising up the contender’s ranks, and again Baroni was very underestimated. At only 1:40 of the 1st round, Baroni landed some very heavy shots that floored Chonan and got the “New York Badass” yet another win.

As the 185lb tournament approached, Baroni was matched up again with Minowa whom he had defeated only 4 months earlier but this time around he wasn’t able to get the win. While Baroni was never in any serious trouble, Minowa controlled the pace of the fight, pulling out a decision. Many thought that the fight should have been stood up on multiple occasions when it seemed Minowa was content just holding Baroni down and not going for any serious offense, but in the end he still walked out victorious and put Baroni out of the tournament.

Now Baroni will take another shot at redemption when he faces Kondo in a very important fight for both men. The winner could be on the fast track to a title shot, while the loser may be rebuilding their championship dreams for quite some time.

The key to this fight for Baroni, as always, is to keep the fight standing and look for the knockout. He has never faired well at stopping takedowns, mostly because when he punches, he swings for the fences on every shot and doesn’t give himself much room to sprawl or get his legs out of the way of his opponent shooting in on him. To his credit, Baroni has withstood multiple rounds with Olympic level wrestlers like Matt Lindland, and has fought almost nothing but top level competition throughout his career.

Yuki Kondo has fought so many top level fighters in his career but has come up short in winning may of those wars. He dropped Tito Ortiz in their fight but eventually lost by submission. He was holding his own against Wanderlei Silva, but ended up on the short end of the Brazilian’s foot stomps in a devastating knockout. Long story short is that Yuki Kondo has the skills to hang with any fighter but he just has a hard time pulling out the victory.

In this fight, Kondo has to know that Baroni will be gunning for the KO and also has a very good chin to withstand a lot of punishment. Kondo’s gameplan will more than likely involve a ground fight where he will look for a submission, which is very capable of, but just like many of his fights, Kondo may let pride get the best of him and he’ll stand and trade with the ever dangerous Baroni.

Phil Baroni was so utterly frustrated after his last fight with Minowa, that he has to really want to get back on the winning track. Another incentive for Baroni is that after the altercation at Pride 31 in which his teammate Mark Coleman was involved in a scuffle with the Chute Boxe team, he may be in line to fight someone like Wanderlei Silva in the upcoming open weight Grand Prix.

Yuki Kondo is a tough opponent for anyone he faces and Phil Baroni can’t make the mistake of underestimating him or possibly looking past this fight for a showdown with someone from Chute Boxe. But the greatest factor going into this fight is that Kondo likes to play his opponent’s game and never really tries to expose any great weaknesses they may have (at least in his very important fights), and that bodes very well for Baroni.

Prediction: Phil Baroni by KO round 2.