And then last week, the news broke that Phil Baroni had tested positive for steroids – two different types no less, as if to make sure that he would be caught.
This came in a long string of fighters being caught recently, most of them coming on the losing end of their fights (with the notable exception of Nick Diaz choking out Gomi while on pot,) some of them involving fighters of higher profile than Baroni. And yet, this one felt strangely upsetting.
Baroni and Shamrock both have abrasive personalities, and trash-talked profusely before the fight – The confrontation had so much build up I expected to be disappointed, and yet, both fighters really made it a fight, in spite of early injuries. Baroni really won me over that night; he showed lots of heart, got choked out without tapping; most importantly, he gave respect to his victorious opponent, and lost with class, a word not too often associated with Baroni.
And then came the steroid issue. Why, oh why? The cheating was pretty idiotic (how can you not realize you are going to be tested if you fight on a main event in California?), but, more than anything, I found the whole story just saddening. Baroni seems to have had issues with self-esteem, but by now, he should have understood that people like him for what he is: a fighter with a big mouth, generous to the fans, who always makes it a fight. Becoming the champ would not make a big difference; after all, fighters likes Couture or Sakuraba prove that one can be immensely popular with a very imperfect record. On the other hand, posting an apology for coming short in the fight, but not a word about the juicing up, is just disrespectful. I still wish Baroni – as well as Shamrock – a prompt recovery, but, more importantly, I wish this helps him get some needed maturity.