The Ultimate Fighter
"I’ve got to go in there and get the job done like I’m never gonna have this opportunity again." - Dan Hardy
You will get no argument from anyone if you declare welterweight veteran Duane “Bang” Ludwig to be one of mixed martial arts’ true good guys. But you’ll also probably agree if it’s said that it seemed like a healthy number of fight fans wanted Dan Hardy to beat him in their UFC 146 bout in May.
And that’s not a knock on Ludwig. It was more a feeling that after four consecutive losses, Hardy, another one of the sport’s good guys, needed the win a lot more than “Bang” did. It was a sentiment not lost on Nottingham’s “Outlaw.”
“It was kind of unfair on Duane because he was coming in there to do his job and try to win a fight, but I really felt like there were a lot of people willing me to land that shot and get back on track,” said Hardy, who snapped his losing streak with a first round finish of Ludwig that also earned him Knockout of the Night honors. “I had a quick rise to the top, and a lot of people didn’t like it when I got the title shot (against Georges St-Pierre in 2010), which was fair enough. I was quite a character back then, a lot more so than I am now, and I think with the losing streak, it gave me much more of a normal human personality and I think people started to get on my side a bit. And once fight week came around, everybody I spoke to really looked into my eyes and said ‘good luck on Saturday, we’re really pulling for you,’ which I’ve never had before. I never had that universal support from everybody. I’ve normally got a big bunch of people that really want to see me get knocked out again.”
Hardy laughs, and it’s the response of a man who exorcised the demons of a four fight losing streak that had him not only on the verge of unemployment with the UFC, but wondering what he needed to do to get a win after over two years without one. Sure, he didn’t lose to stiffs in a stretch that included current champion Georges St-Pierre, interim titleholder Carlos Condit, Anthony Johnson, and Chris Lytle, but that was of little consolation to him. So while it may be the most generic question ever, it has to be asked: when he landed the left hook on Ludwig that started the end sequence, what did he feel?
“Just relief more than anything,” said Hardy, now 24-10 with 1 NC. “The thing is, I always work hard, and even when I was on a rough streak and losing fights, I was still training as hard, if not harder, than I’ve always done, and you have so many people around you, supporting you through training camp. And obviously with the title fight and the losses after that, there were a lot of people willing me to get back on track, and I felt like I was carrying those expectations and those hopes of a lot of people and I knew a lot of people put a lot of time into me during training camp and things like that as well, and tolerated me when I was in bad moods. And to lose the fight, it would have just continued to invalidate all that good energy, and I needed that for everybody else more than anything.”
It’s the devil’s bargain of combat sports. All the weeks and months of training culminate in one night where you either perform or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re not a pitcher taking to the mound in another five days or a football player getting another shot next Sunday. You have to sit with a loss for at least a couple months, and that will either force you to make changes or work harder, or eat you up inside.
“I got into competing in martial arts because I played rugby and I played soccer and other team sports, and I didn’t like the idea of the success of my competition being left on somebody else’s shoulders because I know that not everybody’s gonna try as hard as me,” said Hardy. “So the individual sport thing was entirely on me – the win or the loss. I could either claim complete victory or it was entirely my fault if I lost and I couldn’t blame anybody else. But at the same time, if you’re watching football, if one of the guys on the Raiders has a bad game, they can pull him out and put him in the next week and no one really notices. But for an individual sport and for a combat sport where we’re not competing very often, a win can put you up for three months and a loss puts you down for three months, and it is rough. But I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest, and when I do get back on top and I have a win streak under my belt, I know that I’ve done it and it’s all on me.”
And now that it’s over, Hardy doesn’t look at the losing streak as something to be forgotten and never talked about again. For him, it’s a badge of honor that taught him some valuable lessons that winning never could.
“I would never change that losing streak,” he said. “It was as important, if not more important than my first four fights in the UFC when I was winning. The win streak at the start was great because it gave me that confidence that I belonged at this level of competition and that I could compete with these guys. Then I hit the title fight and I got a lot of heat for it, and I went in there to prove a point that I did belong, because I believed I belonged. Then I had a losing streak and it kinda got away from me a little bit, and I started to realize that I can’t look too far ahead. I’ve got to stay focused on what’s immediately in front of me and get that taken care of. And I can’t go into this next fight thinking I’ve got to win this because I want that guy or I want to do this or I want to do that, and the most important thing is winning the next fight, and that’s really what I learned from the losing streak.”
For Hardy, the next fight is this Saturday in the UFC on FUEL TV co-main event against Amir Sadollah. That’s the simple part. The more complicated one is that it’s Hardy’s first bout in England since his loss to Condit at UFC 120 in 2010, and his first in his hometown of Nottingham since he stopped Chad Reiner in three rounds in 2008, six months before his UFC debut. All of a sudden, the fight takes on a whole new meaning, one with a lot greater magnitude than your average fight. It could even be seen as a symbolic beginning of a new chapter in the 30-year-old’s career. But the way Hardy sees it, this homecoming fight is simply a thank you.
“This fight for me is more of a thank you to the UK fans that have supported me all along and the people that stuck up for me when I got my title shot and said I did deserve it,” he said. “I don’t know if you remember a guy called Eddie “The Eagle” (Edwards), who was possibly the worst skier that’s ever lived and he was an Olympian. And everybody got behind him just because he was British and he wore the colors and we loved him for it. And the UK, they’ve always been behind me and I always have such good support there. Obviously my last fight there was UFC 120, which didn’t go well, and before that was UFC 105, which was far too long ago. And I really feel like I owe it to the UK to go back there and have a good show for them and have a great win so we can all have a good night and we can celebrate as a country that we’re having victories on the world stage of mixed martial arts. It does start a new chapter for me and it is exciting, but if this fight was my last one and I went out with a big win in Nottingham, that would be a great final chapter. Obviously I’m not planning on it being that, but that’s the way I’m feeling about it. I’ve got to go in there and get the job done like I’m never gonna have this opportunity again.”
And after a one fight absence, Cock Sparrer’s “England Belongs to Me” will be returning as Hardy’s entrance song. Talk about perfect timing.
“I think it’s the right time to bring it back,” he said. “The last fight was the right time to change it, but now it’s time to bring it back.”