-Kenny Rice

If you have the opportunity to spend some time away from the ring with Phil Baroni… don’t. It might spoil your image of the self-proclaimed “New York Bad Ass.”

The guy who kisses his bulging biceps, whose cocky demeanor made him a love- to -hate or hate -not- to- love fighter now in his second MMA decade, is much deeper than the perpetually tanned, flexing image.

Baroni still flexes and hasn’t seen a tanning bed he doesn’t like, but the Long Island native is far away in Northern California training for his debut in Titan Fighting Championships  (March 25 live on HDNet). It isn’t the coast to coast distance, it is an attitude adjustment from traveling even farther that makes him a different man today. He hopes to revitalize a career that has spanned from PRIDE to the UFC and several points in and around.

If it is successful, the transformation of Baroni can be traced to a unanimous decision loss to Amir Sadollah in UFC 106, his return fight to the sport’s premiere organization.

“It’s about focus. I haven’t always had that. But after the Amir  fight, I knew in camp going in I could win or get killed. So I took off and went to Thailand and found my true love for the sport again.” Baroni calmly reflected.

“I met guys there who had saved up for years to come there and train, just to be in that place. Other fighters had taken their vacation time to come a see what it was all about. That dedication in other people I saw, it made an impact.Not everyone there was going to be a pro fighter or wanted to be one, they just wanted to experience and train and learn. I remembered why I like doing this.”

He came back to the States, missed a fight with an injury and then had a tough loss, one the got him cut once again from the UFC.

But rather than dwell on that, Baroni became even more self aware. After all he might be the best 13-13 fighter in MMA, instead of thinking about the could’ve and should’ve been moments, his thought is on what’s ahead.

He’ll turn 35 next month and has found finally, perhaps surprisingly a role model, in  40-year-old  Dan Henderson. Hendo’s rejuvenation culminated in beating Rafael “Feijao” Calvalcante recently to take the Strikeforce Light Heavy Weight Championship.

“I see Dan and he inspires me. To look that good, fight that good, to be better as he’s gotten older. We go back to the PRIDE days. He’s always been a great fighter and he’s never stopped working, even through down times. He’s a champ again. As you get older, you think about how the body is going to react, what you can do to get a few more good wins, maybe a title shot somewhere.”

The former amateur bodybuilder, undefeated amateur kick boxer and boxer, has been both blessed and cursed with a physique that responded immediately to the strain of weight lifting. He worked hard but the results seemed effortless. And Baroni leaned on his understanding of this, often too much.

“I stay in shape now. I used to get off track, come off a fight and go to Vegas and have fun for a week. I’d come back to camp and lose 25 pounds in six weeks. I was spending my time getting back in shape instead of training just for the fight. It’s hard, was getting harder.”

Dont miss Phil Baroni on an Internet Exclusive episode of Inside MMA debuting this Friday night right after the UFC-Strikeforce buyout of Inside MMA on HDNet.  Watch the internet exclusive episode here

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