After years of yelling, Phil Baroni even breathes loud.
So loud, in fact, a conference call with media this week in advance of Saturday's Strikeforce card in St. Louis, Mo., needed interrupting so a moderator could ask if someone on the line was standing in a wind tunnel.
"I'm sorry," Baroni chimed. "That's me. I got a little asthma and I'm breathing a little hard. It's been hard to get off the cigarettes for this fight."
As colorful as anyone who's made a habit of wearing sequined robes, Baroni can be many things to many people. To reporters, he's what's called a "good quote." Add a résume of entertaining wars and it's understandable that a fighter with 13 wins and 10 losses would manage to continually land high-profile bouts.
Sharing the stage last Tuesday with Jake Shields and Robbie Lawler, former EliteXC champions meeting at a catch-weight of 182 pounds in the Showtime-televised main event at the Scottrade Center, Baroni didn't need to jockey much for the affection of reporters. Lawler and Shields are both so taciturn the card could be dubbed "All Quiet on the Gateway to the West," and no one would argue otherwise.
"I don't try to get too involved in it," Lawler said of pre-fight media duties. "I definitely don't like it."
Shield's response, echoing Lawler's, was engulfed by Baroni on the verge of Category 3.
It shouldn't come as surprising that both halves of the least promotable main event in recent memory see eye to eye on one thing: winning. You'll find no disagreement from me. For as much fun it is to listen to Baroni verbally spar with Joe Riggs, his opponent Saturday, it's tough to know how seriously to take any of it. There's no such issue with Lawler-Shields. We know this based on their records and accomplishments. We know this because of what's at stake. Whether they choose to remind us on conference calls shouldn't make a difference.
But it does.
"Certain guys shoot to the top faster because they're good on the mic and all that," said Shields, the best welterweight outside the UFC and one of the most effective submission fighters in MMA. "So it's something I need to work on, but I think my name is getting a lot bigger and in the long run there are guys who aren't huge talkers that become the biggest stars. People learn to appreciate them. It just takes longer sometimes."
The pair thrive on basics.
Shields (22-4-1) is a ground specialist who wins with one of the sturdiest top games in MMA. Nick Thompson, one of the bigger fighters in the welterweight division and a solid grappler in his own right, once described Shields' mount as suffocating. Lawler (18-4) is even simpler to understand. Provide a target and the 27-year-old will hit it, hard. And if there's no target, he'll make one.
But sell a fight, or themselves? Neither has mastered -- or shown an interest in mastering -- that part of the job description.
Baroni, apparently, wasn't willing to wait any longer to help.
"Both guys," the 33-year-old native Long Islander prompted, "I'm giving lessons. I'll give you a good discount."
And then he did, on the spot and presumably free of charge.
"I think my fighting speaks for itself and that's kind of a loaded, stupid question to ask me. Nobody puts it all in the cage every time like I do, and that's why I'm a popular fighter. That's why I get paid. If you're a fight fan, you're a Phil Baroni fan. Bottom line. You want to see action fights. You want to see blood and guts. You want to see Phil Baroni every time. So, I don't understand the question. Maybe you don't like the way I talk."
Not true, I told him. What's not to like?
In an oxygen-stealing rant, Baroni sold himself, pushed his fight with Riggs, called a reporter (me) stupid, and acted as a nice balance to the basic stuff coming from Lawler and Shields.
"I feel like I should be on a box of Wheaties and do a Gatorade commercial," Baroni bellowed.
If they awarded such honors for trash talking, maybe. The way things really work though, Lawler or Shields have a better shot.