Phil Baroni: “I’m Not Dancing Anymore”

The fun and games are over for Phil Baroni.

Baroni made a name for himself with his flashy, entertaining ring entrances. But his recent performances in the cage haven’t lived up to the glamour of his antics outside the cage, and Baroni now finds himself at a crossroads in his career as he makes his return to the UFC on Saturday night against Amir Sadollah.

“Nobody wants to see a fighter with a flashy entrance who goes in the cage and gets his ass kicked,” said Baroni. “I’m not dancing anymore. All of that stuff is behind me now. I just gotta win a fight, and then win another fight. That’s the only thing I care about.”

For Baroni, his return to the UFC is a chance to climb back on the biggest stage in mixed martial arts. He last appeared in the company at UFC 51 back in 2005. After submitting to Pete Sell’s guillotine choke, UFC president Dana White told him it was time to hang up his gloves. Baroni felt he could still compete at a high level and signed with PRIDE, where he became a cult superstar to the Japanese fans who loved his dance-filled entrances.

In the cage, however, Baroni still couldn’t seem to cut it. He bounced from promotion to promotion and suffered a loss to Joe Riggs in his last bout for Strikeforce. After the fight, Scott Coker released Baroni from his contract, and he signed with the UFC.

“When the Yankees call and ask you to play center field, you don’t say no,” said Baroni. “You don’t turn that down. I’ve been in the minor leagues for the past seven years, and this is my chance to prove I can play in the big leagues.”

Baroni’s expression betrays the knowledge that he probably only has one chance to prove he can compete in the UFC. The Sadollah fight is the most important bout of his entire career. A loss on Saturday night doesn’t guarantee his exit from the company, but he understands how the game is played. He’s focused exclusively on Amir Sadollah and refuses to look past the former Ultimate Fighter winner.

“It would be stupid for me to call out Georges St. Pierre or anybody else in the division,” said Baroni. “All I can think about right now is Amir Sadollah. I have to beat Amir Sadollah to show that I can do this. Nothing else matters right now.”

Should he beat Sadollah on Saturday night, would Baroni be open to a matchup with fellow New Yorker Matt Serra? “I like Matt Serra. He’s another good Italian New Yorker,” says Baroni with a laugh. “My mom works at Starbucks and Matt buys his coffee from her. He always tips her well, and she says he always smiles at her. I can’t say anything bad about Matt Serra, but if that’s a fight that the UFC wants, I’ll do it. Whatever the UFC wants, I’ll do it.”

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