In welterweight action, British striker Dan Hardy (23-8-0-1) hopes to rebound from the first knockout loss of his career as he battles Anthony Johnson (8-3) on Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 24. Hardy was defeated by Carlos Condit in his last appearance at UFC 120 in October, losing a battle of simultaneous left hooks. Hardy narrowly missed his target, but Condit landed flush, knocking out Hardy cold at the 4:27 mark of the first round. He had previously challenged UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 11 in March of last year after defeating Mike Swick, Marcus Davis, Rory Markham, and Akihiro Gono in his first four appearances under the UFC banner.
Johnson was potentially in line for a shot at contention back in November of 2009 before falling at the hands of Josh Koscheck. Due to a knee injury and weight issues, Johnson hasn't seen the inside of the Octagon since that loss, making it almost a year-and-a-half since he's appeared in the cage. Ring rust has been a focal point of the fight due to the lengthy layoff, but Johnson has assured fans he'll be fine once the fight starts.
I'm not so sure I buy it. Ring rust has historically crushed me at the prediction table, and it's been sold as a non-issue by fighters for years. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn't stack up in favor of that hypothesis. For Johnson, the long layoff could cause another round of jitters or hesitance inside the cage on Saturday night.
The upside is that Johnson has significant advantages in this fight. He possesses the reach advantage and proven power to stop Hardy in his tracks. The more technical striker is Hardy however, lending some credence to the idea that Hardy can avoid Johnson's reach and get inside. It's a difficult proposition considering Johnson's three straight knockout wins prior to his loss to Koscheck.
But it isn't a convincing enough case in the face of such a long layoff for me to pick Johnson. I do, however, think Johnson is a strong bettor's pick due to the advantages he has over Hardy. Reach is tough to beat against strikers who know how to utilize it. Johnson has the know-how to keep opponents at bay, but Hardy is ballsy enough to throw caution into the wind to win a fight. Can he do that against Johnson? I don't know. He does, however, have the technical prowess to counter Johnson and come out victorious on Saturday night. I'll bank on Hardy putting away a fading Johnson in the second.