Phil Baroni is at a crossroads in his career.
At 13-13, Baroni was cut from the UFC after his first-round TKO loss to Brad Tavares at UFC 125 in January. Now, the 34-year old "New York Bad Ass" is facing possibly the biggest fight of his career when he faces Nick Nolte tonight at Titan Fighting Championship 17 in Kansas City, Kan.
"Time is of the essence. It's now or never," Baroni said Thursday on Bloody Elbow Radio. "I have to stay in shape, be ready and fight as often as possible. I love doing this and there's nothing I'd rather be doing. I see the writing on the wall. It's really now or never. I want to keep doing this and I want to be successful at it. I always said it's better to burn out than fade away, so I don't want to just fade away. I want to burn out, I want to get another run with a bunch of fights and be a contender again."
By seeing the writing on the wall, Baroni has kept himself in check, no longer making many of the mistakes he made in the past. He said when he was younger, he used to balloon up to 230-240 pounds between fights and was making the most of Las Vegas living. Now, training at American Kickboxing Academy, Baroni is dedicating himself to staying in shape and fighting regularly because that's when he feels he's at his best.
Even after his loss to Tavares and subsequent release from the UFC in January, Baroni kept his composure.
"I pretty much knew it was going to happen," Baroni said of being cut. "I had to get back on the horse, heal up, fix my boo-boos and get a fight as soon as possible. And not get out of shape. Not go on a bender and blow up in weight. Just stay on it and keep going. I was doing well in camp … and it was real important for me not to lose all the hard work I put in. I put in three hard months in there and if I blew off that work, it would've been a real waste, so I stayed in shape, kept my weight down and kept training."
New agent Monte Cox landed Baroni this spot with Titan and Baroni is excited for the opportunity afforded him, especially with his fight being televised.
"It's big being on TV," Baroni said. "I'd rather be on pay-per-view right now but TV is TV and as long as the fight is being seen by eyes and especially with how I'm going to win this one, it's going to be a good one, it'll end up on YouTube. Being on HDNet is big for me right now. That's part of the reason I picked Titan, too. Winning a bunch of fights in an organization nobody sees isn't nearly as good. You need eyes. You need to impress people."
Impressing is one thing, but as Baroni said, "winning takes care of everything." But he said it himself. He sees the writing on the wall. Still, that doesn't mean he can't make the most of what time he has left.
That wasn't always the case, though. At one point in his fight with Amir Sadollah, Baroni said "I really thought I wasn't gonna make it very far," and "I thought the time was near." He said a trip to Thailand rejuvenated him and now he looks to another member of the old guard as inspiration for his potential career revival.
"I feel the best I've felt in five, six years right now," he said. "I feel great right now. I see Dan Henderson looking the best he's ever looked at 40 and it inspires me. I want to keep going. There's nothing I'd rather do. I love to train and I love to fight. I love to perform and I love everything that goes along with the sport. I want to do it as long as I can. I'm hoping I can do it as long as Dan Henderson and that's six years from now and that's a long time."
This fight with Nolte is going say a lot about where Baroni stands in the world of mixed martial arts. A win sets him up to potentially make a run at returning to the UFC. A loss to the 3-2 Nolte, though, will be devastating for Baroni's comeback bid.
"At this time in my career, I want to cash in," Baroni said. "I want to get something out of it. I've dedicated my life to the sport, I've taken some beatings in there and sacrificed my body and I just want something out of it. I don't mean money or that, and it's ... just respect. I want to prove I'm still a good fighter and I'm not like an older generation fighter, that I can mix it up with the best guys in the world, I can still compete. I just want to prove to myself, too."
You can listen to the entire interview with Baroni along with interviews with M-1 Global's Evgeni Kogan and the UFC's Amir Sadollah, on Thursday's edition of Bloody Elbow Radio. The show returns immediately following UFC Fight Night 24 to review the event.