There was a time not too long when UFC welterweight Dan Hardy knew inside his heart that he should take a break from fighting to refocus on his training and career to get things back on track.
Now what you might be thinking is the time off that Hardy has taken over the last several months following his fourth loss in a row in the UFC is what he was talking about, but you’d be wrong.
Looking back, Hardy points at his 2010 loss to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre as the first major bump in the road that should have caused him to step away from the sport, and get back to his roots as a fighter.
He didn’t listen. Three more losses followed and Hardy ended up in a very dark place.
“I should have done this a long time ago to be honest. If I could take my time again, I would have done it after the GSP fight. I really think things would have been different for me. The title fight was what it was. I could have fought it 100 times and it probably wouldn’t have been any different. GSP was the better fighter and it showed why he was the champion and I respect him for that. I enjoyed the fight. It was an honor to fight him, but after that I went into the (Carlos) Condit fight with a little bit too much ego,” Hardy said when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio.
“Because I lost that fight, I was two down and really I should have stepped away then. I mean I should have stepped away before the Condit fight. But in hindsight, stepping away after the Condit fight and really assessing what was going wrong would have been the wise thing to do, but coming off two losses I was so keen to get back in there and get another win and get back on track.”
The first of Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion states that “the velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.” In this case for Dan Hardy, he had no one around him that told him to stop after the Condit fight, so things just continued to spiral downward.
Hardy forced himself back into training camp because the loss left a bad taste in his mouth, and he desperately wanted to wash it out. What better way to do that than to get in another fight as soon as possible.
Obviously, it was the wrong move. It didn’t work when he fought Anthony Johnson, nor in the following fight against Chris Lytle.
“I just pushed too hard. I was over-trained for the Anthony Johnson fight and I was massively over-trained for the (Chris) Lytle fight, as well, because I was up against it. I was two down and the general rule is three (losses) and you’re out. That was the last thing I wanted, so I put everything into my training camp and I didn’t have anybody really managing me and anybody that was holding me back and telling me you need to take a session off and just chill out a little bit,” Hardy stated.
“So I was exhausted. I mean, three weeks before the Lytle fight I was ready to go, and by the time the fight came around I just wanted to be over with it.”
The end result for Hardy was two more losses. Staring down four defeats in a row it left him in a lonely place, searching the shadows of what was just a year earlier a very promising career.
With great power comes great responsibility…
Prior to the fight with St-Pierre at UFC 111, Hardy became more famous than he ever imagined he would be when he decided to give this pro fighting thing a try. He was on magazine covers, doing interviews every day, and he was the headliner for one of the biggest UFC cards in history.
With that level of notoriety, however, also comes a world of pressure.
There was no way for Hardy to step back after the St-Pierre fight because the spotlight never dims. There’s really no way to escape it. Expectation is a mighty big thing. Hardy had the weight of the world on his shoulders and it almost brought him crumbling down.
“I changed a few things in my camp and they were not working for me, but everybody was aware of it, so I just couldn’t escape it. That made me push more to really try and fix it, but I was pushing in the same direction as when things weren’t working for me, so I was just pushing harder at the things that weren’t fitting for me. It was frustrating,” Hardy said.
“I was just very, very close from just walking away altogether.”
The Outlaw Torn
A nickname in MMA is something that can become synonymous with a fighter. Quinton Jackson is simply “Rampage” to most people, and more fans probably know the name “Mayhem” than they do Jason Miller.
For Dan Hardy, his nickname became his lifestyle and there were certain things he had to do to live up to it. People expected his Mohawk to be colored and raised at all times, and there was no off switch for him to just be Dan Hardy. He always had to be “The Outlaw.”
It got to the point where Hardy actually contemplated leaving the sport of MMA altogether because he was no longer the kid who wanted to be a fighter. Fighting became his job, and it stopped being fun for him.
He also points out that because of so many issues in the past with crooked managers, he didn’t have an adviser around that was looking out for his best interests. No one to pull him back off the ledge.
“I got into this sport because I love fighting, I love martial arts, I love the challenge of being in the gym every day and trying to improve myself. But the problem was the title fight, it changed things so much for me. There were so many things that altered after that because of the notoriety I got after the fight and obviously the added exposure through the media. A lot of the fun of it was taken out for me. I stopped enjoying myself in training because it wasn’t just about going in and improving anymore. It wasn’t about martial arts anymore,” said Hardy.
“It was about being The Outlaw, being the guy everyone wants to see on TV, and there was just so much demand on me and there was nobody filtering that for me because I’ve had a lot of problems with management in the past. I’ve been very resistant up to this point because there are a lot of bloodsuckers in this sport, in this industry, a lot of people want a piece of you and don’t want to give anything back. I was very resistant to management when really I needed it the most at any time in my career.”
There has been a lot of chatter about bad management in mixed martial arts of late, and Hardy is a case of a fighter who has been burned in the past. It left him jaded to even thinking about hiring a manager, but ultimately that came at his own detriment when there was nobody around to save Hardy from himself.
“There’s a lot of people that are just bad guys, a lot of bad people around this sport. People that are realizing there’s money coming into the sport and guys are making money, there are a lot of people that want a piece of it. They’re not qualified, they don’t care, they’re not interested in the struggles the athlete goes through, they’re just interested in getting their piece. I’ve had to deal with a lot of these people over the past couple of years. A lot of people coming up to me and trying to get a piece of me, and get a piece of what I’ve achieved,” said Hardy.
“It’s very, very difficult to tell the difference between the genuine people and the people that are just poison.”
Hardy came to realize that in MMA he became a stock. Something that people wanted to buy and sell, not really invest in, and he lost his identity.
To be completely honest, Hardy actually missed the days of working a regular day job because at least in those moments he didn’t have to be The Outlaw.
“I was really up against it in those three fights and it was just a bad run. I wasn’t at my best. It was just a really bad phase that I was going through in my career, and a lot of the times in this sport, you feel like a product, you don’t feel like a person anymore. You feel like you’re a commodity to be traded and that’s a very depressing feeling. Because a lot of people don’t get to know you as a person, they just see you as you are on TV and think you’re a product,” Hardy stated.
“Sometimes I think it would be kind of nice to work nine to five cause then I know when it’s Friday I’ve got a couple of days to just chill out and be me, do my thing, but you don’t have that luxury in this sport.”
Hardy got into MMA because at the heart of it all he wanted to be a fighter and he loved martial arts. When it stopped being fun, when he stopped enjoying himself on daily basis, the Dan Hardy that grew up pretending he was one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles died. What was left was a shell of the man who beat guys like Mike Swick and Marcus Davis in the UFC.
“Martial arts for me, it’s been my core focus since I was a kid,” said Hardy. “And to find myself in this situation where I was doing what I thought I was going to love as an adult, just being able to train full time, to becoming frustrated and not wanting to be anywhere near it, it was upsetting for me because obviously martial arts is very important to me. I’ve made a lot of good friends and I’ve had a lot of good experiences through martial arts, but there’s a lot of negativity that comes with it as well when it becomes a business.”
The business was sinking and Dan Hardy was going down with the ship.
Come back for Part two of The Death and Rebirth of Dan Hardy when he tells what pulled him up from the mire, and why he’s happy to be back fighting again.