"Does Dan Hardy have a future in the UFC?"
The above question is perhaps the most difficult for many MMA fans to answer. As the number two most marketable British fighter under the UFC banner, the assumption would be that the UFC needs the Outlaw to help with the English expansion. However, the reality is that he is now 0-3 in his last three fights and could risk becoming a .500 fighter in the organization should he lose this weekend in his tilt with Chris Lytle. So the real question is how important to the UFC is Dan Hardy?
For Dan Hardy, his UFC career could have actually started a year before his eventual debut. As a finalist in the GCM welterweight tournament, he and Yoshiyuki Yoshida were competing for not just the tournament championship but also a UFC contract. Hardy was disqualified for a kick to the groin when Yoshida was unable to continue and his UFC career was delayed.
His UFC career to date has been underwhelming. Against lesser competition in the UK, Hardy looked to be a UFC ready fighter. The only tip off that he may not be the same type of competitor that Paul Daley and Michael Bisping are, was that he always failed against the quality fighters. Losses to David Barron, Forrest Petz, and Pat Healy should be reminders that the UFC will often ignore skill for marketability when signing a fighter.
His UFC career has been anything but a success and could have been over as quickly as it started. His first fight was against Akihiro Gono, one that ended in split decisions. Gono had rocked Hardy on numerous occasions and was on his way to a decision win. It was only an illegal knee to the head that caused Gono to have a point deducted that ultimately resulted in Hardy winning the decision. It is perhaps the UFC's recognition of Hardy's lack of elite level talent that he was given a follow up fight with Rory Markham. Hardy ended the fight in spectacular fashion, a knockout that revitalized his career.
Hardy's match with Marcus Davis was really what established his fan base in the United Kingdom. Calling Davis a "plastic paddy" and encouraging fans to photoshop Davis in homosexual acts catapulted Hardy. The pre-fight shenanigans helped take Davis off his game plan and lead to Hardy winning another split decision. It may have been due to the lack of depth at the top of the welterweight division after Georges St. Pierre had already defeated Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch, but Hardy's match with Mike Swick was a title eliminator. Swick's confidence was broken in the first round when he was rocked by a straight right by Hardy, and the British fighter cruised to a Unanimous decision victory.
For Hardy, he benefitted from the UFC's need for creating more marketable UK talent. For the greater part of the past four years, Zuffa's plans for international expansion were greatly dependent on running shows in the United Kingdom. Zuffa built a star in Michael Bisping and needed another to carry the generally weaker international cards. Unfortunately, the expansions has apparently ended with Zuffa only running one show outside of the Americas in 2011. This weekend Hardy's one time guaranteed role in the company could come to an end.
He's fighting Chris Lytle this weekend in what could be his last match in the UFC. If this is his last fight, has his UFC career been a disappointment? It really depends on what you expected from Dan Hardy. Even before being signed by Zuffa it was pretty clear he wasn't a UFC level fighter. The fact that he survived this long says more about his marketability than his overall skill level. As an interview and hype man, there are few better than Dan Hardy in the welterweight division. He's made a career out of being able to speak and capture fan attention. But when it comes to overall combative talent? Dan Hardy has no place in the future of the UFC. I hope that he can rebuild his career and record, I just don't see him being a viable welterweight in the future of the division.