Photo: Esther Lin / MMAFighting.com
This is a guest post by Stephie "Crooklyn" Daniels. Follow her on Twitter @CrooklynMMA
There comes a time in every fighter's life when they need to question their motivation for their chosen career path. For Dan Hardy, it wasn't quite as clear as he wanted it to be over the last 2 years. With 4 tough losses, camp changes, and management shake-ups, the drive and desire to compete was still missing a vital element, anger. Dan has stated in recent interviews that he's regained that element, and is reacquainting himself with that spark growing in him, as the clocks and calendars edge closer to his UFC 146 bout with Duane Ludwig. I recently spoke with Dan about the changes he's put in place to get his name back in the win column.
SD: Tell me about what led to you "getting your anger back"
DH: Before I was signed with the UFC, I was pissed off because I wanted to be in the UFC, and I thought I should be in the UFC. I was having a tough run, I got disqualified in Japan, I was robbed of my belt in Ohio, so there were a lot of bad things that happened, and every day I was pissed off. That was what was getting me in the gym and making me work. When I joined the UFC, those first four fights made me feel like I'd achieved what I set out to do. That was before I'd reassessed and thought to make a run at the belt. That title fight, and everything that came with it, I had never experienced that before. It was all just kind of thrown at me, and that was exhausting. It kind of took all the fun out of it for me. Then I went into the Condit fight with too much confidence. I had no respect for the guy, and I paid for it. I'm in a position where I won my first four fights, and now I've lost my last four fights, and no one thinks I should be in the UFC, so I'm kind of back to where I was before I signed with them. Now I've got to prove to people that I belong in the UFC, and I'm pissed off that people don't think that I belong there. I want to win this fight in a big way, and show everyone that I belong. I wake up angry and I go to bed angry, and that's the way I was before. Now that I have that back, I really feel like I can go on a tear. I can do a lot of damage in the division. I could upset some people in the division.
SD: How much of this newly regained fire and anger will apply in your fight with Ludwig, considering that the two of you are on very friendly terms?
DH: It's not about going in there and hurting him. I'm not trying to end his career or anything. I've been a fan of his since he was with King of the Cage. For me, this is a competition of who's the best man. I have a lot of respect for him, but I think I'm the better man. I'm sure he feels the same way about me. I'm going to be hitting him to hurt him in the fight, but in the long term, I wouldn't wish anything bad against him. We know what we've gotten ourselves in for. We've got 15 minutes to get in there, and get the job done. He's going to be hunting for my chin, and I'm going to be hunting for his. It's just business.
SD: With this fight being a custom made striker's match, how much focus are you directing towards your ground game?
DH: I'm trying to train for the future, and not just for one fight at a time. My training camp is revolving around improving as a fighter, in general. Every training camp, from now on, will be this way. Everything will be dedicated to general improvement, because the thing with mixed martial arts is that you never know what's going to happen. You train for one thing, and something else happens, and it throws your whole game plan out the window. I need to be adaptable. I have areas that I want to improve on and different areas that I want to try out. I have the right guys around me to enable me to do that. My focus is just to be the best I can be when I step in there that night. Having said that, I'm bringing a lot of traditional Thai boxers in, and a lot of good Thai boxing coaches, as well. I'll be working with Ricky Lundell and Robert Drysdale for my clinch work and my ground game. I'll be ready for whatever comes. Obviously, I'm going to go in there and do what I always do, and try to get the big knockout, but I've still got to be ready for it all.
SD: With you having the distinct size advantage, are you giving extra focus to your wrestling, just to have another weapon in your arsenal?
DH: I have a full time wrestling coach now, Ricky Lundell. I've taken guys down, and I have the ability, so now I'm focusing and improving on it. If I decide that I want to put the fight on the floor, I'm confident I can do it. I'm the bigger, stronger guy, and my work rate is going to be just as high as his, if not higher. I could wear him out with wrestling if I wanted to. In my opinion, and I think MMA fans would agree, if Duane Ludwig starts shooting for my legs, he's in trouble. I'm not saying that the fight won't go to the ground, but if it does, it's going to be on my terms.
SD: Duane has plans to go to Holland to train with the Golden Glory guys in preparation for this fight. Do you have plans to travel to an outside camp, or to bring anyone special in for your camp?
DH: I'm in Vegas full time now. To be honest, if you can't find it in Vegas, you can't find it anywhere. I'm constantly surrounded by guys that are at the top level. Frank Mir and I are doing training camp together, so I've always got him right there to keep that level high of training, and to make sure that I'm not making any mistakes. I really feel like I've got everything I need right here. Being here in Vegas, with one phone call, I can have a bunch of sparring partners in the gym, and they're all high level guys, guys that fight for the UFC. For me, everything I need is right here in Vegas, and that's why I moved here.
SD: Over the last couple of years, you've bounced around between several camps, not really finding a solid place with any of them. Have you finally found your permanent training home within Las Vegas?
DH: I feel very settled here. The time I took off between the last fight and now, was basically to get everything in order, so that now, there's no big changes when training camp comes around. I will have the same guys with me all the time. I won't be traveling nearly as much as I used to. Partly because now I can afford to settle in one place, and have the right guys around me. Before, I was having to travel to get the training with the guys I wanted to train with, but I could only stay there for a limited amount of time, because of money issues. Now I'm much more settled. We've got a nice house that's right between the three gyms I train at. I'm in a much better place.
SD: What are those three, primary gyms that you train at?
DH: I train with Frank Mir and his guys at Suffer. It's a small gym with a great group of guys. I also train at Robert Drysdale's gym and work with his guys. The last one is the secret gym up at Redrock. We call it the Batcave.
SD: Who trains at the secret gym?
DH: Well, this morning it was myself, Frank Mir, Forrest Griffin, and Lorenzo Fertitta.
SD: What's it like, training with Lorenzo?
DH: The guy is a beast. I say this in all honesty. If there was a real life Batman, Lorenzo Fertitta is that guy. He's got everything that Batman has. If we ever had a masked avenger running around Vegas, I'd put money on it being Lorenzo. He's in the gym all the time, and he's in great shape. He's lifting every day, he's hitting pads. I tell you what, I'm glad he's not in my weight class.
SD: Do you feel that when you were bouncing around from gym to gym in the past, that it contributed to your recent rough patch with your career?
DH: Definitely. I do think there were a lot of good things that came out of it, as well. I made a lot of good friends, and I learned a lot of stuff. I worked with people I may have never had the chance to work with. The problem was that I was never settled in a place for long enough to really implement something into my game and get it working. Eddie (Bravo) and his guys at 10th Planet were great. I trained with them and they've helped me a lot over the years. A lot of the escapes that I do and the submission defense is from being in there with those high level guys. That's why I liked training at 10th Planet. It was a very productive environment. My main problem was that I've had a couple different striking coaches, traveled around to work with different people, and everyone's got their own style, and sometimes I was trying to pick up their style, and not really focusing on my own. Obviously, I wasn't spending enough time with them to really get a good grasp of what they were trying to teach me. I just had lots of pieces floating around. I'm here in Vegas permanently, and they've given me a structure to build around. I have a direction to move in now.
SD: Do you ever find yourself distracted by the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, with nightlife, casino gambling or anything of that nature?
DH: We're coming up to March 17, and on that day, it will be 12 years since I've had a drink, so the appeal of going down to the strip is just not there for me. Hanging out with drunk people in a club, unless I'm there to do an appearance for MMA fans,well, I really don't enjoy that environment. My job is enough of a gamble, so I don't need to lose my money as well as brain cells. We live as far away from the strip as possible. We're right on the edge of town. I'm always outside, either running or riding my bike. I really don't have an issue with distractions at all. It's definitely not a problem for me.
SD: With your return to the angrier side of your personality, are we going to see any of the pre-fight smack talk and hype that we've grown accustomed to?
DH: I've got nothing bad to say about Duane. I'm not going to fabricate some bad blood for the sake of hype. There's no need for that. I hold him in very high regard, and I just wouldn't do that out of respect. There are a lot of guys in the division that I've got plenty to say about, and if they ever decide that they're going to take the fight against me, then I'll let them know what I think about them. If I don't like someone, I'm going to let them know.
SD: Do you feel that you still have it in you to make another title run?
DH: Yes, definitely. Without a doubt. I don't look at anyone in the division and think that they can beat me. I'm more mature and realistic than I was in my early days, where I would've taken on anybody, but if Lorenzo called me up today and said, 'Do you want to fight Brock Lesnar on Saturday night?' I'd be like, 'Yeah, sign me up.' I don't think there's anybody out there that I couldn't, at the very least, give them a good fight. I'm not going to lay down for anybody. If you put someone in front of me, I'm going to give them everything I've got. I feel that, on any night, I can beat anybody in the division. All I need to do is put some of these wins together, and get back to where I belong. This next win is going to be a good one for me, and that's going to get me back on track. People are going to be surprised when they see me in May. They know how I fight, and they know what to expect, and none of that's changed. The fury and intensity is still going to be there, but now I have a lot more skills at my disposal. I have a lot more options. I'm going to get hit way less, and I'm going to be landing shots that are going to make people cringe. This is a whole new level I've reached, and I'm ready to put on a show.
SD: You've mentioned that you've had bad runs with shady managers. Have you found a management team that works to serve your needs in a fashion that you trust?
DH: I've had a lot of experiences with bad management. I have huge trust issues with handing control over to someone. The problem is, this sport is still very much in it's infancy. You get a lot of people that think they can put a suit on and make some phone calls, but it's so much more than that. So many managers are in it just for themselves. You've got to be able to trust the guy that's managing you. You've got to trust them like a friend, and if you can't, then they're the wrong guy. People tend to want to go with these mouthy managers that go in demanding twice as much money as their fighter should be making, and they might make a little money in the short term, but the fighters get a bad reputation, and then the managers get a bad reputation. Nobody wants to work with them. I'm not going to name names, but there are two managers in the industry today that I use as tools when dealing with sponsors. I just tell them, 'Look, you can either deal with me and be fair, or I can sign with one of these dickhead managers, and you can deal with one of them.' Having somebody out there demanding a few extra dollars, but being hard-headed and being an asshole isn't really helping anybody. I would rather have a good relationship with my sponsors. If they're dealing with an asshole manager, then they're going to have that same opinion of me, and I don't want that. The guys I've had dealings with are just not good people. They're not interested in or supportive of their athletes. All they want is to say that they're the manager of that athlete. Honestly, I can't name any good managers, apart from the guys I'm working with (Spiked Athlete Management).
At the conclusion of this interview, I felt obligated to get a little something extra, so I got information from Dan's fiance, Elizabeth, about some charitable efforts he does with animal welfare organizations. Dan has recently been recognized by animal welfare organizations, for both his courageous stance against recreational hunting and his fostering of homeless cats. The East Lake Pet Orphanage in Dallas, Texas has named Dan the recipient of it's annual "Kramer Award", given in outstanding recognition for animal welfare activism. He will be receiving the award on May 5th, 2012. Elizabeth also gave us some photos of a few of the cats he's rescued recently.
You can follow Dan via his Twitter account @DanHardyMMA