Dan Hardy in a place that has been kinder to him than in the cage. Photo via UFC.com.
When you look back at the career of Dan Hardy up to this point, it's hard to believe he would one day be mocked the way that he has. Nobody really cares that he engaged in a war with Chris Lytle in August that was as exciting as it was brutal. What matters, at least to his critics, is that he got choked out while attempting a takedown in his fourth straight loss, illuminating a unique once-in-a-lifetime irony. An irony highlighted by Hardy's own mouth: he's always been vocal about wrestling, and his allegiance to the Nick Diaz school of pugilism.
Like Hardy's current career, it's hard to believe how fans so viciously turned on him. His style is entertaining. He's well rounded (except for his wrestling of course). He publicly, and quite eloquently defended MMA. And he doesn't come out to crap like STEMM, instead opting for the unique sound of Cock Sparrer's England Belongs to Me.
But none of that matters when you're brash, British, and got a title shot many fans look back on and scratch their heads over. Hardy was a proper contender in my opinion at a time when WW was still figuring itself out, but it doesn't change the fact that his performance did little to justify the shot in retrospect despite a supernatural display of musculoskeletal toughness.
What makes Ben Fowlkes' story on Dan Hardy so unique is that it allows readers to peer into a window many fans would have otherwise ignored, and provides a vivid look at the proverbial "fall from grace" narrative. Hardy has become a sort of pariah in the MMA world. 'What the hell is a guy that is currently 0-4 still doing in the UFC?', the critics ask.
Beneath the vitriol from fans that usually accompanies it is a completely fair question, and one Hardy himself is aware of. It calls into question consistency, 'why Hardy and not others?', and even prompts the cynical observation that it's only because Hardy "is British" that he's able to stay.
I think these criticisms ignore whether or not Hardy is worth keeping. Plenty of fighters wash out of the UFC and eventually return. But not all of them have fought for a title. Despite a record that indicates he isn't UFC-level, perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt. As for how Hardy feels:
"I don't feel like myself right now," Hardy says.
You look in his eyes and you know he means it. He sits slumped in a plush leather chair in the lobby of a posh downtown Toronto hotel. He speaks so softly you have to lean in close just to hear him. The last thing he wants to do these days is draw attention to himself. He knows what people are thinking. And even if they aren't thinking it, they might as well be, since he hears their accusations in the wordless glances from across the room. It's not just the fans, either.
"I start to feel like other fighters are looking at me like, why is he still in the UFC? And I don't want people looking at me like that."