For British welterweight Dan Hardy, charisma, sharp wordplay and an aggressive style makes him a hero to some fans and a villain to others. Hardy burst onto the UFC scene a little over two years back with a mohawk and a lights out left hand that immediately drew the attention of fans and UFC brass alike. While his opponents toppled inside of the cage they also found themselves taking shrapnel in the pre-fight build up as the brash Brit showed a propensity for verbal warfare. With each performance Hardy climbed up the ladder and after an exciting back and forth matchup with Marcus Davis and sound beatings of Rory Markham and Mike Swick, "The Outlaw" found himself poised to break the mold. Hardy earned the opportunity to be the first Englishman to fight for a UFC title and he rode a wave of momentum into his fight with welterweight king Georges St. Pierre at UFC 111.
After five rounds of being outworked and outgrappled by one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, Hardy came up short in his quest. The decision victory may have been lopsided in St. Pierre's favor but Hardy earned the respect of many as his guts and heart shone through during two deep submission attempts applied by St. Pierre. In the aftermath of the defeat Hardy looked to bounce back strong and when former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit called him out by name, Hardy immediately set out to inform "The Natural Born Killer" that he had made a tremendous mistake.
The weeks leading up to the fight saw Hardy trounce and batter Condit with insults and cleverly worded threats and when fight night rolled around at UFC 120, all out warfare was expected. In front of a capacity hometown crowd at London's O2 Arena, Hardy went after Condit with guns blazing as both men refused to give ground. Late in the first round Hardy and Condit once again looked to exchange punches but just as Hardy unleashed his powerful left hand, a split second earlier Condit had let his loose and the result ended up in a lighting quick knockout finish for Condit. Despite the disappointing loss in London, the fans in the O2 Arena poured their support onto their fighter and Hardy exited the octagon that night having lost his second big fight of the year.
Out of the spotlight for the moment there has been little news of Hardy in the MMA media since the fight at UFC 120. I decided to check in with "The Outlaw" not only see what is in store for him in 2011 but to also reflect on one of the toughest years of his career. In part one of a two part Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview Hardy talked about Condit, Michael Bisping and being the torch bearer for MMA in the U.K.
Dan Hardy may not grant many interviews but one way he stays active with his fan base is on his Twitter account. Following his tweets a fan could see that Hardy has been a man on the move since his fight with Carlos Condit at UFC 120 and I started the interview by asking him the latest news on "The Outlaw".
"I'm in California at the moment and I've been here since two weeks after my last fight," Hardy began. "I've basically gone back to the gym and training. I've been helping other fighters prepare for their upcoming fights. Right now we are getting Mac Danzig ready for his bout at UFC 124 against Joe Stevenson. I've done a bit of traveling where I went to Toronto to meet some fans but that is about it. To be honest I've been in the gym most days. I just resigned a four fight contract so now I'm waiting to see who I will face. It is looking like it will probably be in March."
Pictures and videos have surfaced in the MMA media showing Hardy with UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson. The pair recently spent a few days in Canada doing seminars and I asked Hardy if there was any truth to the rumor that he would be making a move to Las Vegas to train with Nelson fulltime.
"I've been traveling out to Vegas to train with Roy (Nelson) and he's been a huge support," Hardy answered. "His ground game is phenomenal. He's a very good coach and he does it simply for the love of teaching...which I really appreciate. It's something that I plan on doing and we're looking at getting out to Vegas at the beginning of next year. Right now I'm in California working on my jiu-jitsu with Eddie Bravo and another coach named Tommy Burns. I'm doing both gi and no-gi now just to keep it evolving, keep moving forward and to see if I can start choking people out."
In the lead up to his fight with Carlos Condit at UFC 120 Hardy launched a barrage of pre-fight trash talk in Condit's direction. Going into the bout Hardy made it clear that Condit had not made a proper decision by pursuing him but when Condit scored the powerful knockout victory, Hardy was not only left with the stinging pain of back to back losses but also the humility that comes with being defeated in that fashion.
"I don't think I gave him the respect that I should have," Hardy replied in regards to Condit. "I have no fear of the guy and no real respect for his power or his striking. I don't know...I just went in there with the wrong mindset. My game plan was working for me for the first minute or so then I caught him with a left hook that appeared to have hurt him so I just started chasing. I went after the left hook and I became too predictable and cocky and I got caught for it. It was a lesson a learned. In the GSP fight I felt that I had shown people that even if I do not have the skills to compete I definitely have the heart. I was still kind of riding the crest of that wave a little bit and it caught me by surprise."
Despite suffering a devastating knockout in front of a hometown crowd, the fans in attendance gave Hardy a huge ovation for his efforts. In the sport of mixed martial arts fans can at times be short with their adoration but in the aftermath of the loss Hardy knew that he had a tremendous network of support in the UFC fan base.
"It was amazing," Hardy stated. "One of the worst things I ever have to deal with is losing fights. To know that I have the kind of fan support in a situation where I did not have my best performance they still make themselves heard and let people know that they still supporting me is an amazing feeling. Them letting me know they still want to see me fight is encouraging and it keeps me working hard."
When Michael Bisping won the third season of "The Ultimate Fighter" he opened the doors for other talented British fighters to follow. Although Bisping received tremendous fan support following the reality show, over the course of the next few years the sentiment began to change throughout the MMA community. After a taxing season as coach on TUF Bisping entered into the traditional bout between the coaches where he would face former Pride champion Dan Henderson at UFC 100. In the second round of the fight Henderson caught Bisping with a punishing over hand right that knocked "The Count" out cold as the American fans cheered on. Shortly after Bisping toppled it appeared that the torch was placed in the tattooed hands of British slugger Dan Hardy. "The Outlaw" became the new focus when the organization promoted events in the U.K. and even Bisping himself took notice as he would toss a biting remark in Hardy's direction from time to time. Due to the complex nature of the situation Hardy addressed all matters individually and he began with Bisping.
"I've always looked up to Mike as the U.K. representative in the UFC. That to me is what his and always will be because he is the one that took the steps, invested the time and got the American audience interested in what was going on overseas," Hardy stated. "There were other guys that came before him such as Lee Murray and Ian Freeman but it was really Mike that established us in the sport in the UFC. I think he always will play that role, at least in my eyes and I'm not sure why it is that I have seemed to have been moved into his place. I don't know if people find me easier to understand or what it is? Maybe it's his accent...I don't know. To be honest I'm just having a good time and I think people realize that and see if for what it is. I'm just having a good time and enjoying myself."
Naturally since both fighters are at the forefront of the British movement in the UFC there will be constant comparison between one another whether it comes in their personalities or fighting skills. Where Bisping seems to draw disdain from the American fans, Hardy evokes a different energy. Granted it is no secret Hardy receives a good amount of negativity but he has become almost as well known for his sense of humor as he is for giving MMA fans exciting fights and highlight reel finishes.
"I think part of the problem is that a lot of people, particularly outside of the U.K., don't understand Mike's sense of humor," Hardy stated in regards to the major differences between himself and Michael Bisping. "Being brought up in the U.K. I can tell when he is joking and I think a lot of people assume he is being serious when he says some things. I don't say things that can be misconstrued and at the same time I think people can tell I'm just having a good time. I like dyeing my hair red, getting tattoos and I like making fun of people. I'm never doing anything intentionally to be malicious...I'm doing it to sell the fight, have a good time or to get inside of my opponent's head. I'm not being a dick to be a dick and I think people can see that a little easier than when Mike's doing it."
With the following in the U.K. growing and more talent entering the UFC ranks the organization will continue to hold events in England. Both Hardy and Bisping are proven draws and despite the fact that a weight class currently separates them, I asked Hardy if he could ever envision a main event matchup between himself and Michael Bisping.
"I would never say never," Hardy answered. "It would have to make sense at the time...either for career or for bank account. At the moment neither makes sense but I would never say never so yeah it's possible."
Stay tuned for part of my interview with Dan Hardy coming tomorrow on Bloody Elbow....