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The man to beat: Phil Baroni looking to finish 2012 strong with New Year's Eve win over Hayato Sakurai

Healthy and in shape, Phil Baroni looks to continue his upswing into 2013 with a win over Hayato Sakurai at the GLORY 4 / DREAM 18 New Year's Eve card in Japan on New Year's Eve weekend. "The New York Badass" has been doing mixed martial arts (MMA) "for a long fucking time" and looks to continue on that path for as long possible. Check out our exclusive interview with Baroni below.

Photo of Phil Baroni courtesy of ONE FC

The 2012 fight season didn't start well for Phil Baroni.

Under pressure from a reality television show, he accepted a fight for which he knew he wouldn't be fit, suffering defeat at the hands of Chris Holland. That loss would cost him a ONE FC grudge match with Roger Huerta and was his second successive defeat after dropping a unanimous decision to Yoshiyuki Yoshida in Singapore.

Indeed, things were not looking too good for the "New York Badass," but in his 12-year profesional mixed martial arts (MMA) career Baroni has been here before. In 2005 he was cut from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) after four straight losses, but bounced back to win his next three, defeating Minowaman and Ryo Chonan in the process.

Then in 2008 he found himself riding a three-fight losing streak, but yet again, he turned things around, winning his next three and working his way back into UFC contention in the process. In 2012 Baroni pulled off the same trick again when he rolled back the years to demolish Rodrigo Ribeiro in just 60 seconds in front of 16,500 Filipino fans at ONE FC: 'Pride of a Nation."

Baroni has been around for so long that you cannot really describe a win at this stage of proceedings as career defining, not when it has the victories over Dave Menne, Minowaman, Chonan and Kondo with which to contend. Regardless, beating Ribeiro was a watershed moment in which he rolled back the years to showcase the sort of explosiveness and aggression for which he has long been renowned.

The next assignment for Baroni comes at the GLORY 4 / DREAM 18 New Year's Eve card in Japan, when he will be going up against another veteran in the shape of Hayato Sakurai. GLORY recently signed up to the ONE FC Network and Bibiano Fernandes and Shinya Aoki have both been booked to appear the same night.

Baroni recently caught up with to reflect back on what has been a tumultuous 2012 and talk about his fight on Dec. 31, 2012. Check out what he had to say below:

Hayato Sakurai has been around for a while, just like yourself, how do you feel about finally getting to fight him?

Finally? Haha ... I never thought I would fight him. I've always liked the guy, the way he fights, his style. Funny thing is I used to always run into him in Hawaii. Always at the Royal Hawaiian Breakfast Buffet in the pink hotel on Waikiki. After our Bushido fight we would both be there for hours, I don't know who gained more weight faster! We would bump into each other on line and say 'hello' or be at the lobby bar and tip our beers toward one another. I like him. I respect him as a fighter and it's a good fight.

After losing back to back fights how much of a relief was it to beat Rodrigo Ribeiro last time out?

Big fucking relief, but it wasn't the fact I beat Ribero and it wasn't the fact i got a W ... it's how I looked winning the fight. I was fast. I looked really fast. if your reading this and you doubt me check the fight out on youtube (click here). If I was 22 and that was my first big fight I'd be the man. You'd call me 'The next best eva' ha! I was fit and I used all my skills. Standing and on the ground.

I really feel that healthy and with the rules in ONE FC I'm the man to beat. I got my wrestling back, I've been working on it a lot. I been doing this shit a long fucking time, my mind's right I have no distractions. I'm healthy and in shape. If you're 170 lbs I'm a big fucking problem to be locked inside a cage with. I'm really confident with the rule set that if given the opportunity I'll be the ONE FC Champion. Sakurai is lucky the rules aren't ONE FC rules for this fight!

You hung around in the Philippines for a while afterward, did you have a good time?

Haha, yeah, I had a great time, and we will just leave it at that. I do recommend it to anyone who visits South East Asia, I had a great trip. What I can say is everyone speaks English and is very friendly, the girls are pretty and I can't wait to fight in Manila again.

I'd like to thank Erwin Tagle of Submission Sports Philippines, who hooked me up with training. Those guys took care of me while I was in Manila. Submission Sports Philippines is a great gym, the team is real cool. If you're in Manila you got to check it out.

I also went to Boracay on what you would call a training vacation. I trained with Ole Laursen for about two weeks at his Legacy Gym on Boracay after my fight. He has a great unique gym there in the middle of paradise, it's really beautiful there and the beaches some of the nicest I've ever visited. Then on top of a mountain -- or lets say a big hill -- is Legacy Gym, Ole Laursen's gym. The place is pretty awesome. The gym is really nice with a cage and rings out side kinda set up like a Thailand gym.

I went to help Ole train because he helped corner me and I wanted to return the favor. Fucking guy is like Peter Pan, lives in a tree house with his team above the ring. Snorkles and trains all day. Guy's living the dream. You got to go check out Legacy Gym on Boracay. You can get some great training on and island oasis. There is no place like like it. It has got to be the most beautiful place in the world to train like a fucking animal if you want.

Where are you going to train for your NYE fight?

After I got back from Manila I moved to San Jose and I train full time at AKA. Fuck Las Vegas! Place fucked me up for too long. I'm glad to be out of there. Right now at AKA Cain, DC, Mike Kyle, Jon Fitch, Todd Duffee and me all have big fights coming up so the training is really intense. There's tons of talent in the room and I'm getting better everyday. It's bullshit that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I pick something new up almost everyday.

It's been a while since you last fought in Japan are you looking forward to going back there again?

Yeah man, I have some of my best memories fighting in Japan. I can't wait to go back. I hope the fans will still remember me. I'll get to visit Enson Inoue, it will be like old times. I'm really excited. Back in the day fighting in Japan on New Year's was the biggest card there was and I'll finally be able to experience it, I just gotta win.

Did you have any second thoughts about accepting a fight on NYE knowing you were going to be dieting at Christmas, etc.?

Na, fuck it. I'll celebrate New Year's in Japan after I win. What could be better than that? Plus I'll have some money to blow having just fought and when I've spent about half I'll head to Manila and/or Thailand to get the most bang for the rest of my buck haha!

You any idea what time your fight with Sakurai will be and are you hoping to get it out the way early so you can celebrate NYE after?

I'm thinking my fight will be an earlier fight on the card, in between the first or second round of kickboxing and fuck yeah I'm gonna party like it's 1999!

Are you hoping to get a chance to fight for the ONE FC 170 lbs belt in 2013?

Yeah that's my ultimate goal in fighting right now, to win the ONE FC Welterweight Championship. That's what I have my sights set on, that's what I want to accomplish and that starts by beating Sakurai in 2012.

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