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Dan Hardy - Nobody's Safe

"First and foremost for me, I like having a good time and I like having a tear-up, and that means taking some risks in fights and I don’t mind taking risks."

As affable as UFC welterweight contender Dan Hardy is outside the Octagon, at heart, he’s still a fierce competitor, so when you ask him about the shoulder-wrenching kimura he gutted his way through in his most recent fight, a five round decision loss to 170-pound champion Georges St-Pierre, he drops his voice a bit, as if he’s leveling with you.

“It wasn’t as bad as it looked on TV,” said ‘The Outlaw’, who added to his growing legion of fans with his gutsy effort against one of the sport’s best, pound for pound. But come on Dan, that lock looked really painful.

“I remember watching it back and thinking it looked pretty painful,” he smiles, “but my main focus was just getting out and getting it back to a position where I could start trying to win the fight again. My main focus is not really on the submission he’s got me in. I’m not thinking about the pain that it’s causing or anything like that, and to be honest, adrenalin’s one of the best painkillers I’ve ever experienced. It’s quite easy to shut those things out when you’ve got adrenalin pumping through your veins. But at no point in my head do I think about giving up. I just can’t accept defeat like that. It’s something I promised myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t do anymore.”

The 28-year old Hardy, 23-7 with 1 NC, has been on the other side of a tap out three times, all coming in his first year as a pro. But after what Lee Dosk, Pat Healy, and David Baron forced him to do, he wasn’t about to submit to defeat again. And oddly enough, it’s what most fans took away from the March championship fight – not St-Pierre’s dominant performance or the poor takedown defense that allowed the Canadian to take Hardy down at will, but at the refusal of the brash kid from Nottingham to give in. And as Hardy found out over the next few days, that kind of thing goes a long way.

“I was a little bit disappointed with how the fight went and I would have liked to have been a bit more bruised and beaten up because at the end of the day, I trained hard for a fight and I didn’t really feel like I had been with a fight,” he said. “So I had a couple of frustrating days, but with so many fans coming up to me and saying how much they appreciated my efforts, it kinda made the pill a little bit easier to swallow.”

It didn’t totally erase the night of March 27th though, and for Hardy, much of his frustration sprouted from the idea that his shortcomings in the ground game turned his dream opportunity into a nightmare, as St-Pierre took advantage of the challenger’s lack of wrestling early and often. More annoying though was that if he was going to lose, he wanted to go down with guns blazing, not on his back.

“It was difficult,” he said. “I always go into a fight expecting a war and I always look forward to getting in there and trading some punches. GSP did the smart thing and I don’t take anything away from him. He kept the fight in the areas where he was the strongest and where I was the weakest, and that’s why he’s the champion. First and foremost for me, I like having a good time and I like having a tear-up, and that means taking some risks in fights and I don’t mind taking risks. I don’t mind stepping in with a few punches and opening myself up to take a few, and I think there are some fighters that decide that they’re gonna do the right thing and play it safe and keep the risk factor low for themselves and get the win. For me, I’m in this sport because I enjoy it and if at any point I’m at the stage where I’m not having fun, then there’s no point in my doing it. And for me, having fun is trading punches.”

But call it a lesson learned, as Hardy has upped his ground preparation in advance of his Saturday bout against Carlos Condit, just in case the rest of the welterweight division hones in on the GSP fight as the blueprint for beating him. Of course, given Condit’s history, the prospect of a three round grappling match isn’t likely, and Hardy agrees, but at the same time, he’s prepared for a worst case scenario breaking out in the UFC 120 co-main event.

“I think it will be interesting,” said Hardy. “He (Condit) is the kind of guy that likes to come and bring the fight, and he does take risks and doesn’t mind trading punches and putting himself on the line to try and finish the fight before the last bell. Having said that, he is training at Greg Jackson’s now and they are notorious for doing the safe thing and doing the right thing, and I’m sure he’s watched the GSP fight and I’m guessing that he saw something there that he feels he has the skills to exploit. So it wouldn’t surprise me if he came out and tried to get the fight to the floor and work a submission. I certainly don’t think he’ll be as cagey as some other fighters, and I think he’ll still try to take risks and get the fight finished early. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he does try and play the safe game – either back up and try to counter for a little while or try to take me down and work a submission. I’m hoping he comes to fight, but you can never be sure.”

At least Hardy is an open book when it comes to his fighting – both in philosophy and in action. He likes to scrap, he’ll take one to give two, and that attitude, coupled with four consecutive wins over Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, Marcus Davis, and Mike Swick to start his UFC career, earned him a shot at the belt in less than two years. In fact, his bout this weekend comes just two days before his two-year anniversary in the organization. It must have been some ride so far.

“It’s been pretty wild, to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t think that it would be like this. I knew I always had a big mouth and I think that’s contributed to a lot of the attention I’ve been getting. (Laughs) But my main focus is always to work hard and to win fights and enjoy myself as I’m doing it, and I think that the fans appreciate that and I think that’s the reason why things have moved so fast for me. If you would have told me two years ago that I would be in this position now, I would have been quite surprised. But it’s awesome and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

That’s short-selling himself a bit though, because to beat the aforementioned foursome and earn a title shot takes more than some trash talk, a red Mohawk and a cool entrance song. He agrees, but he is also well aware that first impressions are also lasting ones sometimes.

“I certainly think there are some people that look at me and don’t see anything more than that,” he said. “I spend all day every day in the gym and I do want to keep improving, and I just think that sometimes the Mohawk and the big mouth is the first thing that a lot of people encounter and they do tend to overlook the rest of it.”

Does it bother him?

“As long as I keep winning fights, eventually people are going to start taking me a little bit more seriously,” he said. “But it doesn’t really bother me. I am who I am, and if people don’t like me they don’t like me, but it draws more attention to me and it makes the fights more high-profile and adds a little pressure, which is all fine for me.”

This Saturday’s bout hits each of those talking points, as Hardy has gotten plenty of attention in his home country (and abroad) over the last few weeks, he’s in a co-main event slot on the largest grossing UFC event ever in the UK, and he’s facing a former WEC champion and respected contender in a pivotal, pressure-filled bout. So now that he’s gotten all his wishes, what’s next for ‘The Outlaw’?

“I want to send a message out that I’m back and I’m better, and I’m still a legitimate contender for the belt,” he said. “I think there were a lot of hopes riding on me for the last fight, with me being the first UK fighter to contend for the belt, and obviously I fell short, and I think a lot of fans were disappointed with that. So as a way of apologizing to the fans for my last performance, I want to put on a show and give them their money’s worth, and at the same time scare the hell out of the rest of the division and let them know that nobody’s safe.”