"I was caught up in the lifestyle, or whatever that was, and not being a professional athlete," reflects Phil Baroni, now 36 years old. "In my free time, to say the least, I wasn't getting better at mixed martial arts. I was f---ing getting better at everything else, like gambling and smoking, and drinking. I was getting really good at drinking and gambling. Those are two things a professional athlete shouldn't be good at. I should've been recovering and training, getting my skills better. Instead I was getting better at being a degenerate."
"I underachieved... I didn't realize what I had in front of me. I was young and dumb. I took for granted a lot of my opportunities and my gifts. I really was a big letdown to the UFC, and to a lot of people who thought I was going to be something. I didn't live up to what I was advertised as. I f---ing blew it."
"My wife, she works in Las Vegas. Before he died, Smokin' Joe Frazier was in there. The guy was at the bar, he was by himself," Baroni recounts incredulously. "Smokin' Joe Frazier is by him-f---ing-self. That guy fought the Thrilla in Manila, and the whole world watched him. In his day he was an icon. And he's in the bar by himself.
"That's Joe Frazier. So where the f--- is Phil Baroni going to end up? What could happen to me? I've dedicated my life to this sport, but I'm forgotten."
And so Baroni has packed his bags, venturing out of the Nevada wastelands, back to San Jose to reunite at the American Kickboxing Association (AKA). There, studying the championship ways of Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold on a daily basis, Baroni has re-sculpted his life for one last run. Within those walls, at long last, he has become a professional athlete.
"I feel blessed by God right now," Baroni finishes with a smile. "My body is still good. I had my both my knees done, I had my shoulder done, my neck, everything. But I'm good now. For the first time, I'm really not in pain and I'm training ... I feel like I'm a freshman in college again."
"And I didn't accomplish the things a lot of guys still competing at my age have accomplished. The Rich Franklins, the Dan Hendersons; when they're done, they'll have their legacy. They'll have accomplished a lot, and they'll be able to fall back on their career within the sport to make money. What the f--- will I do? Move back to f---ing Massapequa, f---ing hang out at the barbershop and talk about the glory days when I fought in PRIDE?"
"I want a different ending to this f---ing story. I can be the first welterweight champion of One FC. I'm hoping winning that title really means something. That's why I'm really pulling for this organization, that's why I'm training hard. I'm putting all my eggs in this basket."