by Damon Martin
When American fans last set eyes on Phil Baroni in the UFC, it was watching the New York native control a fight for the better part of three rounds versus his less experienced opponent, Pete “Drago” Sell and then getting caught in an air tight guillotine choke and lose the fight. Baroni was at a crossroads because the UFC seemed pre-determined to dump him if he lost, and after the fight the inevitable happened and he was not asked back to fight in the octagon.

Many fans were shocked when the news was announced that Pride was looking to sign Baroni and everyone had an opinion as to why Phil Baroni shouldn’t have been given another shot. He just lost 4 fights in a row and his last win was in 2002 against Dave Menne. Baroni seemed destined for a smaller shows to regain some confidence and get some much needed wins, but when Pride came calling, the always brash Baroni took his shot.

In his first fight out, Baroni was matched up with always tough, Ikuhisa “The Punk” Minowa, and many thought that Baroni was set up to fail right from the start. Baroni’s strength has always been feverishly fast hands and a boxing style that few were able to match. His weakness, that has been shown on a few occasions, was being held down by wrestlers that were able to ground and pound Baroni for the better part of the fight. Minowa, who has dangerous submissions in his arsenal, seemed like a bad match-up for Baroni unless he was able to keep it standing on the feet.

Most of Minowa’s recent losses were to much larger opponents and finally getting a shot at another 185lb fighter seemed to be the confidence booster he needed. But despite early attempts to end the fight by Minowa, Baroni survived and was able to stomp out the victory and again make a name for himself in the world of MMA, only this time it was in Japan. Another vicious KO was added to Baroni’s resume and people again started to notice “The New York Badass”.

Now Baroni is set to fight another great ground fighter in top ranked Ryo Chonan at Pride Bushido. Chonan has made a name for himself lately walking through top fighters like Carlos Newton, “Elvis” Schembri and most notably his amazing submission victory over Anderson Silva, who is widely considered the top 185 lb fighter in the world.

Although, Baroni never really felt that he was down and out, many fans and critics wrote him off as an afterthought when he lost his last UFC fight to Sell. One big thing that gets overlooked when gazing at Phil Baroni’s record isn’t the fact that he’s lost 5 times, it’s noticing who those losses are to. The loss to Pete Sell is the only one on his record that really comes under question. He had two all out wars with another top middleweight contender in Team Quest member, Matt Lindland. The former Olympian was able to win both times by decision, but Baroni definitely held his own even in defeat.

The knock on Baroni really started after his first fight with Evan Tanner at UFC 45. Baroni bloodied Tanner early in the first but despite the barrage, Tanner withstood and took Baroni down and started to reign down elbows. Baroni was mounted but didn’t seem to give up and with the end of the round looming, it looked as if he would make it out, but referee Larry Landless saw something different and stopped the fight and declared Evan Tanner the winner. Baroni lashed out in anger over the controversial stoppage and took a swing at the referee, which was obviously a big no-no and he was promptly suspended.

In a rematch that was primed for fireworks, Baroni instead looked tired and slow and Tanner controlled the fight from start to finish leaving no doubt who won the second time around. After the fight with Pete Sell, Baroni had to know that if he was ever to make it back to the top of the MMA world, he had to retool his game and come back with the fire that took him to explosive wins over former champion, Dave Menne and his highlight reel knockout over Amar Suloev.

Now Baroni will make his second appearance in Pride, again with new coach and mentor Mark Coleman in his corner. Coleman could be the best example for Baroni to follow because he was in a very similar situation just years ago. After winning the UFC tournament and defeating former Superfight champion, Dan Severn, Mark “The Hammer” Coleman seemed unstoppable. It was Maurice Smith, the world champion kickboxer, that showed Coleman’s weakness when taking on a dangerous striker with solid takedown defense. Coleman seemed to get by on his brute strength and amazing wrestling skills, but after the Maurice Smith fight, he seemed to have a weakness exposed to the world. A brutal KO loss to Pete Williams and a decision loss to Pedro Rizzo and Coleman was let go by the UFC and he too was at a crossroads of where to go next.

Coleman went to Japan to fight in Pride, and despite a loss to Nobuhiko Takada in his first fight, Coleman went on to enter and win the first ever Pride Grand Prix tournament. Coleman was a champion again and seemed reborn under the Japanese spotlight. Baroni would be well served to follow in Coleman’s footsteps as he too could make a huge comeback if he is able to rack up several wins in Pride. The fact is that Baroni’s trash talk and attitude are a big part of what sells him as a fighter, but it also sets him up for a much bigger downfall when he loses.

If Baroni can defeat Chonan, will he officially be back and considered a top fighter again? Phil Baroni will always be an exciting fighter and when he shows up ready for war, he is also one of the most dangerous strikers in the 185lb division. With Pride apparently getting set for a 185lb tournament in the near future, Baroni may very well be set to follow the same path of his mentor, Mark Coleman. At only 28 years old, Baroni still has a long life left in MMA and the Pride ring may be the place where the “New York Badass” finally makes his mark.