By FIGHT! contributor Matt Burosh
Every pre-fight back-and-forth has a theme and Riggs’ youth is the focus leading up to this bout. Baroni, 33, is set to face Riggs, 25, on June 6 at Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Riggs in St. Louiss, Mo. The elder Baroni feels that his wealth of experience more than makes up for Riggs youthful vigor but the reality is that the younger fighter is not only more experienced than Baroni but Riggs’ experience and the injuries he has accumulated have artificially aged him.
Baroni proclaimed that it’s his time but Riggs exuded quiet confidence earned through experience. “I was bred for this,” he said, “My Dad grew me to be [a fighter] since I was a kid.”
Joe “Diesel” Riggs began competing professionally at 17 as a heavyweight and boasts a record of 29-10, including, interestingly enough, a win over high-profile MMA referee Herb Dean. In fact, Riggs has 16 more pro fights under his belt than Baroni, whose record is just 13-10. Unlike Baroni, Riggs has stayed active throughout his career, fighting as often as nine times in a single year. But injuries, possibly exacerbated by his frenetic pace, slowed Riggs down in recent years.
Besides the typical fighter’s litany of lacerations, bumps, bruises and the occasional broken hands, Riggs also persevered through a back injury severe enough to require surgery and kicked an addiction to painkillers. Younger than Baroni by a full seven years, Riggs looks older, the toll of a fighter’s life carved permanently into his features.
But Riggs credits modern medicine and his wife’s support for helping him get into peak form leading up to June 6. “I’ve been training for the past three months and I’m in the absolute best shape of my life,” said Riggs, “I’ve never been in better shape.”
If that’s true, then Baroni’s supposed advantages are moot and come June 6, “Diesel” could make his older opponent simply look old.
Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields will be televised live on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).