It says a lot about the fight business when none of the emotions I felt writing this headline were shock or surprise. It’s a gruesome industry, built on blood and head trauma, chewing up its athletes and spitting out husks with broken minds to match their ravaged bodies. The end result typically involves a descent into impulsive, self-destructive and abusive behaviour.
It is somewhat eerie that, as I contemplated the death of Stephan Bonnar on December 24th, which included a reference to Phil Baroni, I wondered to myself what he was doing these days — he hadn’t fought since 2019. Not a week later, on January 1st, Baroni called police after finding his girlfriend unresponsive.
The story began circulating on Twitter very quickly, but it took several days for confirmation that it was indeed ex-UFC fighter Phil Baroni. Initial details indicated that his story was that he and his girlfriend, had an argument when she revealed she had cheated on him, and a physical altercation lead to her being thrown into a shower where she sustained a head injury which killed her later in the night. (Baroni claims to have gone out to buy cigarettes and returned to find her unconscious.)
Following an investigation by ESPN, it was revealed in a general release from the state prosecutor in Mexico that Baroni had verbally and then physically assaulted the woman, causing “at least 37 injuries which ultimately resulted in her death.” That’s the clinical way of saying that she was beaten to death…
Baroni’s temper and penchant for violence are legendary, and they have not been dulled by time. In fact, based on accounts from his friends and past acquaintances, they paint a picture of a man showing the signs of years of head trauma and becoming even less capable of controlling his violent impulses.
Former roommate / friend — and fellow fighter — Josh Thomson stated, on his own podcast, that Baroni was wanted for stalking and domestic violence charges in New York. There are also rumours of several other ex-girlfriends having been abused to the point of requiring reconstructive surgery.
Currently, he is being held in Mexico, and has been moved to one of their most notorious state prisons, CERESO. By all accounts, it is a miserable place, and one where a former UFC fighter is going to have a target on their back — prisoners love purported tough guys. While Baroni has the right to request extradition to the US, he is charged with femicide which carries a 30-50 year sentence and Mexico is unlikely to surrender him given the gravity of the crime.
Blaming head trauma exclusively for Baroni’s predicament is myopic and incorrect. A cursory look into the history of the “New York Badass” paints a vivid picture of a crass, confrontational, and violent individual. Mixing that type of personality with over 20 years of fighting and brutal training — Baroni was notorious for hard spars, living in the gym, and relying on his chin to carry him through fights — is sure to lead to a poor outcome. I don’t think you can blame Baroni’s actions solely on head trauma, or CTE, but it seems entirely plausible that they exacerbated a lot of pre-existing problems.