Like many other fighters in a similar position, Baroni clearly recognizes that he is at a crossroads in his career. But his brutal honesty concerning his current status in the sport and what he needs to survive in the UFC is something you don't often hear from professional fighters.
The 13-12 veteran has experienced his fair share of highs and lows, and it seemed he viewed this August fight as the beginning of his final run in the UFC. Unfortunately, a freak injury got in the way, and as he explains in the interview below, the 33-year-old has been forced to take a deep look within himself to see if he still has what it takes to hang with the best middleweights in the world.
Check out the interview below.
Ariel Helwani : What exactly happened?
Phil Baroni: I felt my ground game was not as sharp as it needed to be and I was behind in my prep. So I went to [Robert] Drysdale's to get some extra ground and train pure jits. I wanted to see if I could pull off some of the new sh** I had been training. On my fourth round, I was tired and let a guy lock up an anaconda choke. When I tried to power out of it, I felt a bad pain in my collarbone joint in the front of my chest. I tried to keep rolling another round, but I felt my chest and felt it poking out. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, and saw I had a major problem. I was really pissed and just went home.
Did you try to fight through the pain so you wouldn't have to pull out of the fight?
Yeah. I think I hurt it on Wednesday morning, so I took the rest of the week off and got it shot with cortisone. I ran over the weekend and started regular training on Monday. It was grinding and hurting when I wrestled and I was very uncomfortable training. I felt I had to protect it. I needed to push hard that last month. I couldn't have an another injury holding me back. I've been pretty banged up last few years. My left shoulder is dead. [It's] been dead since before [Frank] Shamrock fight. I can't jab fast or hard with it, and it's killing my stand up. It's really slow too. Fast hands have always been an advantage for me, and I have not had fast hands since.
Now with collarbone joint half dislocated, I can't punch at all with my left arm. It sucks and it's is very frustrating. But I need to win this next fight. I mean, really, it's no secret the position I'm in. It sucks and it's scary. I don't like it. I hate it. It's hard to deal with. It's always on the back of your mind. I need this. My family needs this. I want to be at my best; give it my all and be 100 percent, and if it doesn't work, at least I can say, 'F**k, I lost,' but not, 'I should have, could have or would have.' And if I lost and got cut, I would still be fighting, trying to earn my way back into a big show.
Considering how important this fight was, how difficult was it for you to pull out of it?
Very difficult. First off, I really want to fight. It's a big show -- first one in Boston. It would have been great. The card is huge, and maybe I could have a good fight and get on TV. Get some exposure. I need it now badly. I'm left out of a lot of sh** nowadays. I'm forgotten at the expos and appearances. Just everything with the UFC. I wanted to win a big fight, look impressive and get considered again. I wanted to say, 'Hey Dana, I'm still f**king here. I still can fight.' I wanted to say it to everyone: the fans, the media. I'm still Phil f**king Baroni. That used to mean something. I want it to mean something again. I want to say, 'Hey Strikeforce, you made a big mistake letting me go. You f**ked up. You blew it. I'm still somebody, and I still bring things to the table that not many fighters do.'
I just want to be a contender. I want respect from my peers, the fans, media and the promotions. I wanted to say, 'I'm still here, don't f**king forget about me. I'm not dead yet. I want to be a contender -- I want to matter again. I want to be the biggest comeback story ever -- a Cinderella Man. It's not depression, but I'm going through my share of problems like a lot of people in Vegas and across the country with foreclosure, money ... everything. I'm almost in the same position I was 10 years ago, but now the window of opportunity is closing. I don't want to be here when it shuts with none of my goals accomplished and all my dreams dead. I still have a little time, and I want to shove them all through the window with me. It's a million-to-one shot, but, hey, Rocky did it.
How did the UFC respond when you officially pulled out of the fight?
I called Joe Silva, and asked him to push my fight back to another card. He said he couldn't. I said give me a few days to see if I can get through it. He said I'm pulling you out. I need this fight and can't afford to fight hurt. So he gave me time to get healthy and have a good preparation.
When do you think you will be able to return to action?
Man, I'm already doing rehab on my shoulder, hip and back. The collarbone needs time heal -- maybe a month. I'm running and keeping my weight around 200. I'm going to lift and just do everything I can to stay in shape, get stronger and heal up. It's going to be difficult, but I got to do it. I'm working again, so I can afford to get healthy. My wife works a lot and hard also. She always does, but she really stepped up and got a second job. It sucks, man. I feel bad, but I'm lucky, and when I win my next fight, she won't have to work so hard. I'll be able to stay afloat and get healed and be ready in, I hope, a month. Then, I'll probably need at least to be peaked for my fight. It's hard. I want to back in there, but I'm not going to rush. I have a lot riding on this fight. I really want to look good and win.
Where are you working?
I would rather keep that private.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure. I think about a tune-up [fight], but there are no safe tune-ups. I got to just train and spar hard. It's too risky to fight outside the UFC. I need to train, fight, win, and fight often. Get my rhythm going; make noise. I'm still here; I'm still tough; I'm still relevant. Look, it's Phil f**king Baroni, 'The New York Bad Ass' is the real deal. I'm back, and in the immortal words of my boy Kevin Randleman, 'Lets trade b***h!'
What did you mean when you tweeted: "I cant take it anymore. Im freaking out. anxiety im shot. beaten. [sic]"
Are you going to travel elsewhere to prepare for this fight now that you have more time?
I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I just don't know. I don't have a winning formula, which is my biggest problem and concern. It sucks, it's frustrating, it's hard to deal with. I don't know exactly what to do. What's best, how or where. It's nuts, I've been at this so long and don't have at least that. Nowhere to turn or go back to. It's hard, but it's my problem that I have to deal with -- my issue.
Most important to me is finding someone to believe in me; someone who thinks I can still do this and that I'm worth training; someone who cares and can put time in. I need someone to believe in me even when I don't and push me and help me; someone who can get me to the fight with a healthy mind. That's most important. I need that. Once I'm in the ring, everyone knows this, and I've shown it time and time again: I will not quit. I will fight to the very end. But finding that somebody is the challenge. Mark Coleman has always been there for me, and helped me, but he is in Ohio now raising his daughters. Maybe it's time to find it in myself?
Is there anything else you want to say to those who have supported you through this time?
I need some big middleweight fights, ones I know I can win and show my best: Bisping, Akiyama, Wanderlei Silva, Leben, Gerald Harris. Those are the good guys; guys I like and respect a lot. But they are also guys who are in my spot that have passed me by. It's time to put it into overdrive and beat the best. I just need to win and put myself in position to get the big fights again ... and win them this time. Win those fights, beat that caliber opponent, or die trying.