Minowa's career outside the safe confines of Pancrase started the same way most Japanese stars began their careers in big league MMA-by being consistently drubbed by foreign stars in Pride.
Minowa was beaten into an unrecognizable pulp by both Rampage Jackson and Wanderlei Silva before Pride decided to ease off the accelerator. Instead of the sport's top stars, Minowa was given winnable fights. He continued to face much larger foes, again two top kickboxers (Gilbert Yvel and Stefan Leko) before finally getting a chance at an opponent that would define his career as a serious fighter.
People have said a lot of things about Phil Baroni. Yes, he blows up faster than a sex doll at a bachelor party. No, his style hasn't evolved much since his UFC debut in 2001. But the man can wear a pair of sunglasses. And, by the way, hits like a Mack Truck.
None of that phased Minowa, who went right when everyone thought he would go left. The consensus at the time was that Minowa would eventually get Baroni to the mat and make him scream uncle. Instead, the Japanese star decided to prove a point.
"People know I have a ground game," Minowa said. "So I wanted to show my stand up fighting style."
It was, perhaps, a mistake. The first fight between the two men ended with Baroni stomping on Minowa's head. That's usually a sign that things have gone horribly wrong. It was a tremendous fight, and in Japan, losing with honor in an exciting bout can go a long way towards making an ordinary fighter a legend.
Baroni believes it is a fight that would have been a star maker here too, if only it had happened in the UFC octagon.
"I think if people had seen me, seen fights like the one with Minowa, I would be a really popular and big name fighter," Baroni told me last year. "But unfortunately I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When PRIDE was at its best, I was in the UFC. When the UFC blew up and PRIDE was crumbling, guess where I was? I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The second time out, Minowa was all business. Baroni was upset about the rematch and didn't try to hide it. In a prefight interview he called Minowa a "chump" and told him "don't forget your shine box." I'm not sure what that means in the context of MMA, or how easily it translated into Japanese. But it was provocative if nothing else. Got the people going.
Minowa didn't need any extra motivation. He had the legendary fight the first time out. This time he wanted the win. His strategy was simple - grapple, grapple, grapple.
"Try not to play his game as much as possible," Minowa said of his gameplan. "But when I did get hit I just sucked it up and continued fighting."
Baroni showed a new side to his fight game, ably defending submissions. He ended both round in the top position, raining blows. But it wasn't enough. Minowa fought a strategic and brilliant bout, walking away with the biggest win of his career.