Phil Baroni | James Meinhardt/Sherdog.com
Sometimes an injury can be the best thing to happen to a fighter.
UFC middleweight Phil Baroni was scheduled to take on John Salter at UFC 118 in August, but he was forced off the show when he injured his collarbone in the lead-up to the bout. Now, as he prepares to take on Brad Tavares at UFC 125 on Jan. 1 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Baroni says it was best for him not to have fought Salter.
“I look back at the fighter that I was, and getting injured was a blessing in disguise,” said Baroni. “Getting hurt has allowed me to have a long camp, and I needed it because I was rusty and not in the best shape. I’ve been training at [the American Kickboxing Academy], and by the time the fight gets here, I’ll have been at AKA for three months.
“I’ve been training with a lot of guys who have been getting ready for their own big fights,” he added. “It’s been a great atmosphere to be in, and [AKA head trainer] Javier Mendez has stepped in and been helping me. That makes me feel good because you know he only helps the top guys.”
Baroni, who fought under the Hammer House banner for much of his career, believes the decision to make the move to AKA has been beneficial for him.
“My training camp has been going great,” said the 34-year old Baroni, who has lost two straight fights and owns a 3-5 mark in his last eight appearances dating back to June 2007. “I’ve surprised myself with my conditioning getting ready for this fight, so I’m definitely going to be ready.”
Baroni, who has not fought since a unanimous decision defeat at the hands of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 winner Amir Sadollah at UFC 106 in November 2009, has a lot of respect for Tavares, a semi-finalist on Season 11 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“He is the toughest guy I’ve fought since I was in Pride,” said Baroni, who has notable wins over Yosuke Nishijima, Yuki Kondo, Ryo Chonan, Dave Menne and Ikuhisa Minowa on his resume. “If I can beat this guy, I feel like I can still be competitive at the UFC level. If I get a win here, I think it will show the UFC brass I can be a contender at 185.”
Fighting since 2000, Baroni has tested his skills against Joe Riggs, Joey Villasenor, Frank Shamrock, Kazuo Misaki, the late Evan Tanner and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland during his career. He knows he is being viewed as a stepping stone for the unbeaten Tavares, a veteran of the X-1 promotion in Hawaii who has finished five of his six opponents, four of them inside the first round.
“I’ve watched a lot of tape of [Tavares],” Baroni said. “He comes to fight, and our fight definitely needs to be [on a Spike TV prelims special prior to the pay-per-view]. He’s a good fighter and will be a good challenge for me.”
Baroni knows a second straight setback in the Octagon -- and a third loss in a row overall -- would probably lead to his being released by the UFC. Fans, he said, can expect to see a fired-up “New York Bad Ass” come fight time.
“Without a doubt, my job is on the line with this fight,” said Baroni, “but it’s been on the line since I was first in the UFC back in 2003-2004, and I’m still here. I’m at my best when the pressure’s on. If there’s no pressure, then there’s no diamonds. I like having that pressure on me, and I’m happy to fight a guy like [Tavares]. That way, if I win, I’ll be making a statement.”
If Baroni gets past Tavares, he hopes for a quick turnaround and a fight closer to his Long Island, N.Y., roots.
“I have to get through [Tavares], and he’s a tough opponent,” Baroni said, “but if I win and come out of it without any injuries, I want to fight [at UFC 128 in Newark, N.J., in March].”