The last time we saw Phil Baroni in action it was against Nobutatsu Suzuki back in May. The lasting image from that One FC card was of Baroni, after eating a pile of punches on the fence, writhing in excruciating pain with his right ankle distorted to an unnatural angle. The injury was so gruesome that it felt like a near certainty that we’d seen the last of the 37-year old "New York Bad Ass."
Half a year later, Baroni, now living in Las Vegas, has healed enough to begin training again. And that’s exactly what he plans to do. Baroni appeared on this past Monday’s edition of the MMA Hour and updated his status, and he left one thing certain: He isn’t done yet.
"I’m good, man, I’m ready to train," he told host Ariel Helwani. "My foot fell off, so I got it sewed back on and I’m ready to go. Everybody wrote me off. Even the therapist and the surgeon told me, you know son, at your age there’s no coming back. I guess they didn’t know what kind of man I am, and I’m back."
The actual injury that Baroni suffered in the Philippines that night in May was a dislocated ankle. But when he fell from the fence, he broke his leg, and that only fueled his medical staff's pessimism on his ever fighting again. But, in typical stubborn Baroni fashion, he isn’t done. Not yet, anyway. He said he was "camp away from being in fight shape," which, if his calculations are correct, would mean that it's possibly he could return to the ONE FC cage as soon as March or April.
Coincidentally, that’s precisely when ONE FC’s big-splash free agent signee, Ben Askren, is expected to debut. Askren and Baroni have been exchanging barbs on Twitter, which has led many to believe that they will end up meeting in the cage. Last week, when Askren himself appeared on the MMA Hour himself to announce he’d signed with ONE FC, he didn’t hold back any punches on Baroni.
"Oh man, he’s an idiot, you know, he’s bad at MMA, I know none of those [ONE FC] guys are ranked in the top 10 or 20, but still, he can’t even be in the top 200, can he?" Askren said. "He’s just trying to pick a fight against a winner and I’m trying to ignore him because he’s irrelevant."
Askren went on to say other things about Baroni, particularly about an episode of him crying to his girlfriend on a television show after a loss. "It was embarrassing for me to watch, as a man it was embarrassing," Askren said.
Baroni listened to the segment on the show and returned fire.
"He’s a pretty good talker, but those are fighting words," Baroni said. "You want to fight let’s fight. It might be eight or ten weeks, but let’s do it."
Baroni, who is just 15-17 in a career that has spanned a decade going back to the UFC and Pride, criticized Askren for being "only a wrestler," and referred to his own battle with Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland -- "who is twice the fighter Askren is," he said -- from UFC 41 as proof of the wrestling antidote he possesses.
In the one fight Baroni said he watched Askren compete in, against Jay Hieron, he said he thought one-time Mizzou wrestler lost. When asked if he thought Askren is cocky -- or if he’d even earned the right to be cocky -- Baroni questioned Askren’s credentials.
"He’s a great wrestler, but I’m not too sure what the Bellator welterweight championship means. I’m just not sure," he said. "I don’t think he had the right to disrespect me the way he did. You don’t bring up people’s families. You don’t bring up somebody’s wife and call them your girlfriend."
Baroni said that ONE FC took care of all his medical expenses after the Suzuki loss, and even flew him back first class so that he’d be as comfortable as possible on his return to the States from the Philippines. As such, he said he wanted to pay back the organization with a big fight.
"I don’t think there’d be a bigger fight in ONE FC than me against Askren. No disrespect, but who’d he going to fight otherwise? I’m the biggest name over there," he said. "I just think he’s a good talker. I think we could promote the fight. And I think I’m going to beat him. I wouldn’t take the fight if I didn’t I could beat him."
Even if the fight seems destined to happen at some point, the question as to how long Baroni wanted to continue fighting in general was brought up. Baroni, who described himself as a "big underachiever" who didn’t accomplish any of his goals in MMA, said he didn’t know. He referred to the resurrection that Mark Hunt has enjoyed in the UFC as a catalyst for trying a while longer. He also said that whatever damage he has done to himself -- through a career of fighting that spans more than half his lifetime -- is already done.
In other words, Baroni says he has plenty of fight left in him.
"I don’t want to get beat up anymore in public, you know? It’s not fun," he said. "I want to come back from this injury and bust my ass and make all the sacrifice I have to make to go in there and compete with Ben Askren."