Photo by Joshua Hedges via UFC.com
Before reality television catapulted the sport of mixed martial arts into the public consciousness, anything that happened in the famed UFC Octagon might as well have occurred in a vacuum. The few hardcore fans and reporters with long memories may recall these glory days, but to many of new fans if it didn't happen on SPIKE it might as well have never happened at all. Some of these great memories are rekindled on the excellent UFC Unleashed programming. Others are white washed from history.
So it goes for former UFC stars Matt Lindland and Phil Baroni, men who battled for 30 minutes during the course of two action packed UFC fights (at UFC 34 and UFC 41), going back and forth for six tough and grueling rounds. Lindland versus Baroni is one of the sport's great hidden rivalries. Since both have been absent from the UFC since the sport assumed its rightful place on national television, many modern fans have never seen these two amazing contests. And that's truly a shame.
The two were like oil and water, the classic battle of red and blue states, the loud mouthed New Yorker versus the mild mannered man from Oregon, the striker versus the wrestler. It was a feud ahead of its time, a ground breaking battle of trash talk and internet hype that the UFC has since turned into an art form. I talked to both fighters and will let them tell their own story, a story of pride, pain, and incredible perseverance. It all started with a little trash talk.
Phil Baroni: The first time I was having fun with it. I always watched pro wrestling growing up and that's what the guys did. I was a fan of mixed martial arts and boxing too and I always wanted to see the fights with the guy that talked sh*t. I always wanted to see that guy fight. When I had the chance to become a professional athlete, I wanted to be that guy. The guy that people wanted to come see fight.
Matt Lindland: UFC wasn't highlighting the athletes like they are now. They didn't do the pre-fight build up. That stuff wasn't going on so we had to create that hype ourselves. I think we made it a lot of fun. And those fights, they were great fights.
Phil Baroni: It was my second UFC fight, my big opportunity to talk sh*t. I did my first fight too, but not many people were listening.
Matt Lindland: Phil was a great athlete. He was a great fighter. As far as getting in there and competing against him, I was really new to the sport. I remember eating a lot of straight right hands trying to walk in and clinch him. Anytime I tried to do anything, he would throw a straight right. He connected with a lot of punches.
Phil Baroni: The judging sucks now, but it was so bad back then and they counted a takedown more than anything. I scored knockdowns and both times finished the fights with him just hanging on. I think they were 10-8 rounds, the last two rounds of both fights. At worst the fights should have been a draw, but I think I definitely won those fights.I really think I got screwed. People talk about the judges now, but it's night and day.
Matt Lindland: He really doesn't think that. But it sounds good. I spent more time riding Phil and pounding him than any other position. I was in controlling positions and there was a lot of damage being done. He's certainly a tough guy and was able to endure a lot of damage. There is no way you could make an argument for him winning either of those bouts.
After Lindland's majority decision win at UFC 34, Baroni seethed. He thought he was the best fighter in the world and had been sidetracked by a bad decision in a fight he actually won. He took it out on Dave Menne with a vicious knockout at UFC 39. Lindland got a shot at middleweight gold, falling short against the great Murilo Bustamante. When they met again at UFC 41, both had something to prove. And this time Lindland was going to go just as hard in the prefight trash talk as he would in the cage.
More in the full entry.
Between the two fights, to the surprise of many, Baroni showed up essentially unannounced in Oregon and the two trained together at Team Quest, at the time home of many of the best middle and light heavyweight fighters in the world.
Matt Lindland: He actually came out and trained with us. We're welcoming. It's always good to have great sparring partners. He was a pretty gracious guest except that him and Evan (Tanner) got into it a little bit in the sparring sessions. Before they fought. He can be a little bit of a hothead. Not all that stuff you see from Phil is for show. But I think the guy genuinely has a good heart and is a good guy. I'm grateful for everything he did.
At the time, Lindland said Baroni wasn't sharp enough to absorb lessons from the wrestling greats. The normally mild mannered Lindland went all out:
"I took him out to my farm, showed him a pig and told him it was a short fat horse. He spent the rest of the day trying to get the thing to do cardio. He was pumping TrimSpa pills down its throat. Actually, I think he accidentally dropped some of his special vitamins down its throat because the next morning the thing woke up with a 20-inch bicep. It was rolling around in its own crap, yelling, 'I'm the Oregon Fat Ass! I'm the best eva!'"
Phil Baroni: The second one, he started it with that stupid video. I just rolled with it. It was back and forth in the second one.
Matt Lindland: I really enjoyed it all. I think Phil was able to bring out the best in me as far as trying to verbally spar with him leading up into the fight. He did an incredible job of bringing out my best. I appreciate him for that. It really did help build up the hype for those fights.
During the prefight weigh ins, Lindland got the last word. Baroni had called him a hillbilly in a series of brutal interviews mocking his looks so Lindland had shirt screen printed to give to Baroni to wear after the bout. Baroni spit on the shirt and tossed it back at Lindland before UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta showed the world what it said.
Photo by Loretta Hunt for Full Contact Fighter
Matt Lindland: He called me a hillbilly so I gave him a shirt he could wear post fight. It said 'I Just Got Beat Down By A Hillbilly. Again.'
Phil Baroni: There was some animosity for the second fight, but even though it was a rivalry, I think we had mutual respect. I respected him as a wrestler. He had done stuff in wrestling I had never done. Taking a silver medal in the Worlds, taking a silver medal in the Olympics. He's a great wrestler. I knew of him before I ever fought him and I respect that. Wrestling made me what I am today so I respect guys that have accomplished what he has in wrestling.
Matt Lindland: He's a dangerous fighter. If he connects clean he knocks guys out. There's always a danger element with Phil. But I never thought I was in jeopardy of losing. If you look at that second fight, that fight stole the entire show. The rest of the card was pretty lackluster.
Phil Baroni: He was just trying to survive, get on top and wrestle me, trying not to get knocked out. I always felt he spent the whole fight in survival mode. And I was fighting for the finish.
The fight ended with Lindland shooting for a takedown and Baroni landing punch after punch to his body. It was a brutal end to a brutal pair of fights. Baroni had impressed with his power and resilience, Lindland with his wrestling and toughness.
Phil Baroni: I'm not sure he took the beating. It's not like he had a choice. I think he just crumbled and they should have maybe stopped the fight.
Matt Lindland: It was the end of the fight and he had no power. If those were damaging or doing anything to me, I would have moved from that position. I shot in on a single leg and if you watch it, it actually went longer than it was supposed to. The clock ran out and they let it go eight or ten seconds longer. The guy has incredible strength and power but when he gets exhausted, that kind of fades.
Phil Baroni: He wasn't going to quit though. After all that trash talk back and forth neither one of us was going to tap or give up. He's not a quitter and neither am I.
Matt Lindland: You put yourself in that position. You've got to go out there and put on a good performance. There's no way you can quit. I believe Phil felt that way. For sure. Because I never felt him quit in either one of those bouts.
In the end, the two men were left with a grudging, but mutual respect. The two will walk into the history books together, and they know it. It was a battle for the ages, one neither man will ever forget.
Phil Baroni: There are millions of new fans right now and they don't know what a good fighter and what a good competitor he was. I feel bad for that, because he's had a lot better career than what people have seen the last couple of years.
Matt Lindland: I'm just really grateful for the opportunities to fight Phil. Grateful that he was such a great opponent. He was great at building up those fights and he was incredible in the cage. I think he's still a good entertainer. I always cheer for Phil and want to see him do well.