UFC® Live Hardy vs Lytle at Bradley Center on Sunday, August 14, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) via UFC.com
Last week, in the lead-up to UFC on Versus 5, I asked if Dan Hardy was fighting for his job when he faced Chris Lytle. The overwhelming response was that yes, he was, as a fourth straight loss would surely mean his release from the UFC. Right?
"Will not cut @danhardymma I like guys that WAR!!!"
That's Lorenzo Fertitta, stating on twitter just minutes after the fight ended, that despite the loss, Hardy would be sticking around.
So if Hardy is going to remain a part of the UFC Welterweight division, how exactly does he fit in? Previously, his role has been largely defined by two things: 1) He's a valuable commodity for the UK market, and 2) He's an entertaining knockout specialist. The problem is, these two points are either not true, or don't really matter.
As we covered last week, the UFC is currently having some difficulties with ESPN UK. As a result, last night's show was not broadcast in the UK, and fans were instead only able to watch online. We've also seen the number, and caliber, of UK shows drop over the years. The UFC started running the UK again in 2007 and pushed the market heavily at first, but in the past two years have dropped down to just one, often lackluster, UK show per year. So does Hardy have a value for this market if the market is shrinking?
As for the entertainment side, Hardy has now had 8 fights in the UFC. Only one has earned him a bonus, and that was last night's fight. But that was against Chris Lytle - the best bonus performing fighter in UFC history. But he's a thrilling knockout fighter, right UFC? Maybe on the smaller UK circuit, but in the UFC only one of his eight fights has seen a Hardy KO. And so again, is this a real value?
Without the UK market, and without a big highlight reel, Hardy's value seems limited. It's clear that he needs to do some work to reinvent himself. Luckily for Hardy, the blueprint for that reinvention is right in front of him.
Five years ago, Chris Lytle lost a close decision to Matt Serra. As the oft-repeated story goes, Lytle decided from that point forward to change his style. No longer would he be trying to carefully craft out a win. Now, his goal was to entertain and put his all into every fight. The results were, in their own way, phenomenal. Between that fight and last night's retirement, Lytle had 13 UFC fights. Of those 13, only four did not earn him a bonus. That is an incredible statistic. No, he never got as close to a title shot as he was against Serra, but did it matter? Lytle was fighting, winning fans, and collecting bonus after bonus. With his retirement, there's an opening for this kind of fighter, and Dan Hardy can fill that void. To do so, he needs to do a few things:
- Work takedown defense and scrambling back to his feet. He's never going to be a ground expert, so focus on keeping the fight standing.
- Start throwing. Against Lytle, one of Hardy's mistakes was that he was too cautious and calculating, undoubtedly because he feared losing. But he learned a valuable lesson from Lorenzo - losing is not the end all be all. If you can lose and entertain, you can stay. For Hardy, the best way to entertain is to let those hands and feet go and throw down.
With an entertaining, action-packed fight, Dan Hardy earned a pass last night. For his future in the UFC, he needs to make the most of that pass. And to do that, he needs to follow the path laid before him by the man who dragged Hardy to his best UFC fight yet. He needs to become the new Chris "Lights Out" Lytle.