Welterweight gunners Dan Hardy and Amir Sadollah co-star in Saturday's UFC on Fuel TV 5 event in Nottingham, England. The show's lead role is shared by heavyweights Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic -- the main-card broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. ET, picking up where the 1:30 p.m. ET stream of the prelims on Facebook leaves off.
Most top-level fighters experience their ups and downs intermittently, but Team Rough House pugilist Dan Hardy (24-10) rocketed up in the UFC by debuting with 4-straight wins and then plummeted right back down with 4-straight losses. The win streak: Hardy premiered strong with a gritty split-decision over respected veteran Akihiro Gono, rendered his best highlight-reel footage by nearly decapitating Rory Markham with his signature left hook and then out-dueled a pair of upper-echelon gunslingers in Marcus Davis (split decision) and Mike Swick (unanimous decision).
The win streak propelled Hardy to a shot at welterweight champion George St. Pierre's belt, which in turn led to ... The losing streak: GSP wisely avoided a brawl and enforced his unstoppable takedowns and tomb-like top control, Carlos Condit spoonfed Hardy a taste of his own medicine with a lights-out left hook, Anthony Johnson bullied him on the floor for a unanimous decision and Chris Lytle capitalized on Hardy's mispositioned head on a takedown with a 2nd-round guillotine choke. Sweet and sour, to say the least.
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Though his pitfalls were more interspersed, Amir Sadollah (6-3) has ridden a similar see-saw. With no professional fights to his name, Sadollah, then fighting as a middleweight, tore through everyone to win The Ultimate Fighter 7. He got into the house with a 1st-round armbar in the elimination match, smashed Gerald Harris, who went on to mount a 3-1 record (all wins by TKO) in the Octagon, then twice arm-barred C.B. Dollaway, who eventually won 6 of 9 at 185-pounds in the UFC.
Sadollah had come out of nowhere, flattened a creditable list of middleweights, increased the buzz by announcing he'd be dropping down to welterweight and, best of all, his UFC career had just begun. He was a hot prospect and had all the makings of a future superstar. Nowadays, most of the buzz surrounding Sadollah involves unmet expectations.
Playing evil harbinger, bearded villain Johny Hendricks stole Sadollah's thunder in a half-minute with a savage flurry of punches. Looking polished and technical on the feet, Sadollah rebalanced the scales with consecutive decisions over Phil Baroni and Brad Blackburn, but faltered against Judo machine Dong Hyun Kim. Two steps forward came against Peter Sobotta (decision win) and DaMarques Johnson (stoppage via elbows); one step back against cunning kickboxer Duane Ludwig (decision loss). Sadollah's last was an unconvincing split decision in May over Jorge Lopez that could've been a draw or gone either way.
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Sadollah was an intriguing prospect for good reason: the kid has legit, high-level Muay Thai, he's equally proficient on the mat with crafty submissions and he's demonstrated the skills and means to be a potent finisher. Also, in his defense, his losses can definitely be construed as intrinsically unfavorable match ups: Hendricks is a ridiculously decorated wrestler with cinder-block fists (and also the current #2-ranked welterweight), "Stun Gun" Kim's only fair and square, authentic defeat is to #1-ranked welterweight Carlos Condit and "Bang" Ludwig is one of the best Thai practitioners in MMA history.
I think those are fair albeit optimistic disclaimers. Sadollah might never be champion or top contender but he's still an exciting striker with room to keep improving, and certainly belongs in the UFC. As far as his evolution, his kickboxing has become finely polished with the distinct essence of traditional Muay Thai, such as his rangy effectiveness with the teep as a distance weapon in place of the jab, his hip-turn on roundhouse kicks and his comfort with spearing knees and short-arcing elbows in the clinch.
While the finesse is firmly intact, Sadollah lacks the fight-ending panache that attracts fans. Perhaps our expectations were too high after he introduced himself with 4 vicious stoppages in a row, but even his recent wins were missing that satisfying aftertaste that leaves viewers hungry to see more. Maybe he needs to mix things up and impose more of his Sambo background, which would subsequently open up more doors for his aggressive submission grappling. I'm not exactly sure what Sadollah should aspire to change -- I only know he needs to win more definitively and memorably or lose by going out on his shield in a blaze of glory.
That's something we can probably all agree on about Hardy: when he goes down, he goes down swinging. Even those turned off by his obnoxious mohawk or pre-fight trash talk should give "The Outlaw" credit for his valiant gameness. Before he even hit the skids he was collaborating with Eddie Bravo to fortify his Achilles Heel in the wrestling and submission departments, both of which he's shown marked improvement in.
These were all auxiliary functions of Hardy's dynamite boxing. He's a kickboxer by trade and embodied that style early in his career, but the Hardy of today handles most of his business with his mitts. His left hook is a renowned missile and by far his deadliest punch, and his tip-toed front leg and high guard gives him a coiled stance that's primed for delivering it.
If anything, Hardy could be a little too hook-heavy and might benefit from upping his use of straight punches, both in defending counter punches and expanding the sweet spot of his striking range. Still, Hardy has excellent timing, a seriously resistant chin (Condit is his only TKO loss) and is guaranteed to be in your face from bell to bell. His takedown defense is not stellar but adequate and improving -- if he stays wary and anticipates any potential takedowns from Sadollah, he should hold his own. If Sadollah is determined to get him down and sets up surprise advances with strikes, Hardy will be in trouble on the floor.
On the feet, the edge in power is a landslide for Hardy, but he'll be tasked with getting inside on Sadollah's frustrating length and range tools. Sadollah has an excellent grasp of plunging teeps and front kicks to the midsection from a safe distance. The catch is that he typically follows behind that leading strike to chip away in the clinch or at close quarters, which is where Hardy is at his best; that's also the range where Sadollah will have to finagle takedowns should he pursue them.
I give Sadollah and his clean technique a strong edge when striking from the fringe. However, that range prohibits power, which Sadollah desperately needs, and he won't gain any fans by staying outside and undressing Hardy betwixt evasive circling and moderately threatening blows. Plus, Hardy has the horsepower to drastically change the course of the fight with a single blow.
This is likely behind the hefty odds that favor Hardy over Sadollah in the vicinity of -200. Sadollah has the tactical ability to out-point Hardy or exploit his weakness with takedowns, yet the more likely scenario is that he mounts less memorable offense or wanders into Hardy's wheelhouse too often. A stoppage is possible but I'll be more conservative.
My Prediction: Dan Hardy by decision.