UFC legend Josh Barnett has revealed that he was forced to stop booking Phil Baroni as part of his Bloodsport pro wrestling series, as a result of “erratic” behavior that became too much to handle.
Barnett’s insights come in the wake of disturbing reports from Mexico, where Baroni was recently arrested for the alleged murder of his girlfriend.
“The New York Badass” appeared at Barnett’s inaugural Bloodsport event in 2019, alongside the likes of Davey Boy Smith Jr., Dan Severn, and Minoru Suzuki. The Game Changer Wrestling-backed shows combine MMA and pro wrestling in a sort of “worked shoot” angle; Baroni lost his lone appearance against Dominic Garrini by DQ.
According to Barnett, Baroni was game for more, but his behavior became a concern.
“The news about Phil Baroni is terrible and incredibly tragic as well,” Barnett wrote on social media on Wednesday. “I’ve known Phil for 2 decades + and at the 1st JB Bloodsport show could see that his personality and behavior was erratic, displaced, and emotionally he was all over the place and it was obvious why: CTE.”
The news about Phil Baroni is terrible and incredibly tragic as well.
I've known Phil for 2 decades + and at the 1st JB Bloodsport show could see that his personality and behavior was erratic, displaced, and emotionally he was all over the place and it was obvious why: CTE
— 𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝖂𝖆𝖗𝖒𝖆𝖘𝖙𝖊𝖗 (@JoshLBarnett) January 4, 2023
“It was so tough dealing with him at the show that I couldn’t keep booking him even though I wanted to,” Barnett continued in a multi-part thread on the subject. “He was too much to handle and so scattered. He blew up at me because I hadn’t used him again and I blocked him on social media but there wasn’t much I could do.”
“Fighters need to take of themselves and those around them need to be vigilant and watchful as well. I’ve seen the decline from the man I have been friends with for so long to where he was last I saw him and it’s heartbreaking. Now with what has happened in [Mexico] it’s just so awful.”
Barnett went on to state that he was not in any way excusing Baroni’s actions. “No, this is not excusing nor defending. I have not and am not making those points. It is simply some personal opinion and context.”
One of the longest-tenured heavyweights in the sport, Barnett’s recollection of an erratic, emotionally unbalanced Baroni certainly does give some context to the tragedy south of the border. As far as the suggestion that CTE could play a factor, it’s definitely possible — though at present, the disease can only be properly diagnosed post-mortem.
A recent study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found 41% of combat sports athletes tested positive for signs to CTE, in a group composed of active and retired fighters from both boxing and MMA. Totaling just 176 fighters in total, only 66 hailed from MMA. Of fighters flagged as positive for Traumatic Encephalopathy Syndrome (TES — the criteria for which are designed to represent clinical CTE), only 17% were among the MMA group, with the other 83% comprised of boxers, despite mixed martial artists making up 37.5% of the study. That would seem to suggest that the risk of developing CTE may be less for MMA fighters, though certainly not negligible.
Baroni’s last recorded combat sports endeavor was a boxing match in Mexico in December of 2021, which he won. In MMA, the UFC, PRIDE, Strikeforce, ONE Championship, and Bellator MMA veteran sports a 16-19 record. Baroni also competed in bare-knuckle boxing, and appeared in just under 40 recorded professional bouts in his 20+ year career.