The last time Anderson Silva was fighting in England, Dan Hardy was there. And he remembers it like it was yesterday.
“Even the people that were just there to watch some guys get knocked out and watch their mates yell at somebody and then have a scrap and get loads of drinks in them, when Anderson Silva was performing, there was a stillness that came over the whole arena,” he said. “People knew that they were experiencing something special. And the Tony Fryklund knockout was just the exclamation mark on the end of that period in his career.”
In the arena for the Cage Rage fights which Silva headlined from 2004 to 2006, Hardy was a hot prospect on the UK fight scene, a Cage Warriors standout in attendance to support his Team Rough House squadmate Paul Daley. The UFC had yet to return to British shores after an initial visit for UFC 38 in 2002, but with a kid from Manchester named Michael Bisping doing well on the third season of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter, there were rumblings that the Octagon might be coming back sooner rather than later.
But on April 22, 2006, all eyes were on Brazil’s Silva and the reverse elbow he used to knock out UFC vet Fryklund in London’s Wembley Conference Centre.
“It was silence,” Hardy recalled. “People were stunned. It was more shocking than it was impressive because to have someone that was so technical and so able to see a person in front of them and deconstruct them and take them apart with such ease, we all knew that there was something special going on.”
Silva’s next fight would be in the UFC, and a history-making run in the middleweight division would follow. For Hardy and his countrymen, it was back to work.
Two months after Silva-Fryklund, 24-year-old Dan Hardy lost a decision to David Baron on June 18, 2006. It was his second consecutive defeat, putting his pro MMA record at 11-5 with 1 NC. Six days later, Michael Bisping became the first British fighter to win The Ultimate Fighter, and that was a big deal for an MMA scene dying to be heard internationally.
“Michael Bisping had been a flag-bearer for UK mixed martial arts since pretty much the beginning of it being mixed martial arts,” Hardy said. “When he came on to the scene, that was a step forward to legitimacy. All of a sudden we had a British athlete. This was not a cagefighter, this was an athlete, and now we can start making some ground up.”
The UFC set up shop in England shortly thereafter, with UFC 70 taking place in Manchester on April 21, 2007. The door was now open for British fighters to get a spot in the big show and show their wares, and after Hardy went 8-1 following the loss to Baron, he got his opportunity, and he never left.
From his debut win over Akihiro Gono in 2008 to his most recent victory over Amir Sadollah in 2012, Hardy fit as much life into 10 UFC fights as anyone has. He scored a vicious knockout of Rory Markham, was the victim of one against Carlos Condit, he got into a heated trash talk war with Marcus Davis, fought for the world welterweight title against Georges St-Pierre, headlined an event, competed at home in Nottingham and made a stunning comeback after losing four straight. For many, that’s a career’s worth of fighting in 10 fights, but Dan Hardy’s career – and life – has been anything but typical.
“I’d still like to fight,” he laughs. “I’ve got three fights left on my contract and I’d like a couple at least.”
When we spoke Wednesday night, Hardy was in the midst of a whirlwind of activity preparing for the UFC London event on UFC FIGHT PASS that will be headlined by Silva’s return to England to face Bisping. No, the activity had nothing to do with training sessions or getting his medicals done for a fight on the Feb. 27 card. Instead, Hardy was doing his usual homework preparing for his new job as a commentator on UFC FIGHT PASS broadcasts.
And if you’re doing it right, the way Hardy is, that homework can be tougher than fight prep. But the 33-year-old is loving it.
“It’s challenging in positive ways, and it’s forcing me to look outside of my own skill set,” he said. “When I was fighting, I was always focused on myself and my opponent and it was always, ‘How does my skill set fit with my opponents, and how do they work with each other?’ Whereas now, because I can take myself out of the equation, I can focus on two fighters and not have to think about myself at all. And because I’m not putting myself in there and trying to maintain my own confidence and my own ego, and dumb down somebody else’s technique to make myself feel better (Laughs), I really enjoy it as a fan now.”
That enthusiasm is evident, yet at the same time, there’s a mix of professionalism, context, and expert opinion tossed into the pot, which makes Hardy’s work with play-by-play man John Gooden both enjoyable and educational on fight night.
“Of all the people I could have been partnered with, I’m very fortunate to have John,” Hardy said. “He’s a very diligent worker, he’s very dedicated and obsessive to a point, which is not a bad thing. I think we both feel a great responsibility, not just to the fans that are already tuned in to watch the fights and want to hear a slightly different perspective; but also to people that are tuning in for the first time. In Europe, we’re constantly picking up new viewers, constantly moving into new markets where people have not heard of us before, so we’ve added a little bit more of a broader picture of what’s going on and a bit more of the background of the fighters.”
Meet Dan Hardy, commentator.
As unique an individual as Dan Hardy is, there is one thing that he has in common with the men and women whose fights he calls, and that’s deep down, he will always be a fighter.
When Hardy was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome in 2013, he was forced out of a fight against Matt Brown and many believed that was the end of the fighting road for “The Outlaw.” Described as “A syndrome in which an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat,” WPW is not the type of affliction that goes hand-in-hand with a pro fighting career.
Yet that hasn’t stopped Hardy from training and, truth be told, it was something that never affected him throughout 36 professional fights. So there is always that idea that he could fight again, but asking him whether he would is probably the wrong question, considering that if he had his arms and legs cut off, Hardy is likely to still find a way to fight.
He laughs, and agrees. So the better question is, is it good for Dan Hardy to fight again?
“My focus is my job now,” he said. “My focus is commentary. I love working as an analyst and I love being able to sit and study the sport for hours and hours at a time. I’m actually finding that my skill set is getting much better just by osmosis from watching so many fights. So even if I did go back to fighting, it would be much more of a very serious pastime than a career. I’m not interested in going back to fighting as a job. I love my role within the UFC and within the sport now and, for me, fighting now would be purely for my own selfish entertainment, a need to test myself and massage my ego a little bit.”
That’s good news.
When Dan Hardy is Octagonside providing commentary, there’s a sense that this isn’t just a paycheck for him. And it isn’t. It’s so much more than that. It’s something that someday people can look back to and not just hear that Fighter A hit Fighter B and Fighter B fell down, but how that happened, why it happened, and what it means in the big picture.
“From my perspective, I’ve always been a bit inspired by Hunter S. Thompson,” Hardy said. “I have tattoo of him on my leg, and with his idea of gonzo journalism, instead of just going in there and talking about the horse race and who won and what jockey was riding what horse, he gave a feeling of the environment that he was in, of the atmosphere around the sport. And the two fighters in the Octagon are almost as important as the arena itself. That atmosphere is a gladiatorial combat arena, and I think it’s important to get that feeling across, that feeling that these people are putting something on the line, this is very important to these people, and we are privileged to watch them test themselves in that way.”
Hardy is privileged to be Octagonside on Feb. 27, calling a fight between two of mixed martial arts’ most notable stars. He’s not going to be in there fighting, but this is as close as he can get to it without getting hit, and that’s fine with him.
“Just thinking back to when I was fighting in Manchester and Randy Couture was headlining the card, you feel like you’re in the presence of greatness,” he said. “As cheesy as that may sound, it’s very true. The UK fans grew up watching Michael Bisping on The Ultimate Fighter and at the same time they watched Anderson Silva dominate the middleweight division. So we’ve got two heroes headlining this card – a hero of the British MMA fans and a hero of martial arts internationally.”
And a hero calling the action, one who had some special nights of his own in his home country as Cock Sparrer’s punk anthem “England Belongs to Me” blared from the arena speakers.
But does England still belong to Dan Hardy?
“England will always belong to me, but it belongs to everybody that represents England,” he said. “Brazil will belong to Anderson Silva on that night and England will belong to Michael Bisping and every other British fighter on that card. I don’t mind sharing that privilege of representing the country.”