The heart of a fighter is something that varies in great degree, depending on the actual man.

Some act like they are the baddest dudes on the planet, and then cry about accidental groin shots or shots just behind the ear, simply because their pride can’t handle defeat. On the opposite end, you have guys that will get choked unconscious, faces crushed or arms broken before they even think about tapping out. A real fighter has an indomitable spirit and, wins and losses aside, will not quit.

The “New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni is a longtime veteran of the cage. Fighting is his life, fighting is what he bleeds, and fighting is his spirit.

Baroni’s storied career goes all the way back to the turn of the century. In August 2000, he made his pro debut with a 35-second TKO of John Hayes in Plainview, N.Y., only eight miles from his hometown of Massapequa Park. In the last 14 years, Baroni has fought in the UFC 10 times, Pride six times and a handful of times in Strikeforce, EliteXC, Titan, Dream and, most recently, ONE FC. The NYBA has fought in almost every major circuit in pro MMA in the 21st century.

The 38-year-old Baroni is currently under contract with ONE FC, but in March, it was revealed that he was brought onto the Bellator roster. Shortly after his debut was announced for Bellator 118, he suffered an injury and was unable to prepare for his May 2 fight. To make matters worse, between the doctors and his coaches at American Kickboxing Academy, many around him started telling him it was time to hang it up. Anybody who knows Baroni should know this is not how the NYBA rolls. This was unacceptable, and he did what he needed to do to right the ship.

“I left AKA,” Baroni told The MMA Corner. “I moved back to Vegas. They said my career was over. I was told by a doctor that, at this age, I’d be lucky to ever walk again without a limp. They told me I was 37 years old, and they asked me how much longer I want to do this shit. I told that doc that he doesn’t know what kind of man I am, and I’m not going out like this.

“They didn’t want me back, so I moved back to Las Vegas, and I’m back with One Kick’s Gym. I fuckin’ got back to work. After three months in a cast and on crutches, I got back to One Kick’s Gym and we got back to work. That’s where I’ve been training. I’m fucking building my body back and getting in tip-top shape.”

One Kick’s Gym is a well-rounded MMA gym located in the heart of Las Vegas, about four miles off The Strip. Heading up the gym are a couple Muay Thai masters, an All-American wrestling standout and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo black belt from Brazil. Baroni trained at One Kick’s in the past, so he knew the right thing to do was to return, and he’s been back for about 12 weeks.

“I’m staying at One Kick’s, man,” Baroni elaborated. “I jumped right back in where I left off, and one of my biggest mistakes was ever leaving. I jumped back in where I left off, and I’ve been kicking myself in the ass, thinking, ‘Why in the fuck did I ever move to AKA?’

“I’ve got ‘One Kick’ Nick [Blomgren], he’s my stand-up guy. I’ve got Sydney Silva for jiu-jitsu. And, they have a bunch of super-tough, young, hungry fuckin’ guys who are super-good workout partners you’ll be seeing fighting for RFA titles, a couple guys you’ll be seeing in the UFC. We’ve recruited a couple Russians and Dagestanis. We’ve got a bunch of young, hungry guys, and that’s what I need—a bunch of guys trying to prove themselves—and I really got to bust my ass and work real hard to keep up with these kids.”

It’s no question AKA is one of the top gyms in the country, housing current and former champions like Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier and Josh Thomson. However, with the sheer volume of fighters currently in that camp, it was easy for Baroni to get lost in the mix. One Kick’s is giving him an overall better environment, and he knows that’s where he wants to be for his Bellator debut.

On June 17, it was announced that Baroni will be making his long-awaited debut at Bellator 122, taking place Friday night, live from Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif. Standing across the cage will be another longtime veteran and former UFC mainstay, Karo Parisyan.

Parisyan holds black belts in judo and BJJ. He holds the majority of his wins by submission, and is coming off a knockout of Ron Keslar in his second Bellator fight, which took place in April. Baroni is primarily a striker, earning 10 knockouts in 15 victories, and he’s chomping at the bit to get his hands on Parisyan.

“I want to get this done, man,” said the NYBA. “I want to fuckin’ fight. It’s been a year since I got in the fuckin’ cage, and I want to fuckin’ fight.

“I know I’m going to knock his ass out. I’m not too worried about the fight, man. I’ve been in there with the best in the world for my entire career. So, what’s the biggest challenge? When I punch him on the chin, he’s going to bed and I might have to catch his ass.”

For this battle, Baroni is fighting in the Bellator welterweight division at 170 pounds, which is the lower of the two weight classes he’s been in. After some time on the bench, this can be a concern for some fighters, but for a pro like Baroni, it’s not an issue at all.

“I could make 155 [pounds] no problem,” stated Baroni. “I’m in tip-top shape, and I’m under weight right now.”

Back in the saddle and ready to go, Baroni is going to have a lot of pent-up aggression after the longest layoff since his last injury back in 2010. And, with three fights left in ONE FC and three on his Bellator contract, he’s looking to make some big strides in the next 12 months.

“I’m going to fight six times in the next year,” said the Long Island native. “I’m training every day, and I want to be busy.”

Thirty-eight years old, 32 fights, 14 years and 12 stoppage wins. Was it really the best idea for any doctors or coaches to tell Baroni that he was done? Probably not. While some guys flop around on the ground after one shot to the face, and some quit after one loss because their pride can’t handle it, the New York Bad Ass is a real fighter at heart, and nobody is going to tell him when it’s time to quit. That’s a decision he will make for himself, but, for now, he’s got six fights ahead of him and he plans to go all in tomorrow night against another MMA veteran. Baroni knows exactly what the fans can expect to see.

“Phil fuckin’ Baroni. People know how I fight, and I’m going to fuckin’ bring it, man. I’m going to throw bombs at this guy, and, if one of them fuckin’ lands, I’m going to knock him out.”

Baroni would like to thank all of his coaches and training partners at One Kick’s Gym, as well as all of his friends, family and fans who have supported him throughout the years. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Bitcoin Brands, Lana’s Egg Whites, One Step Closer, GFY Gear, Havoc, Garden of Life, Future Legend, Sucker Punch Entertainment and Fokai in Guam. Follow Phil on Twitter: @PhilBaroni