The past two years have been nothing if not forgettable for Dan Hardy.
After starting his UFC career in rousing fashion with four straight wins, 2010 and 2011 brought him four consecutive losses, leaving him on the brink of walking away from the sport of MMA altogether.
Hardy got into MMA for one reason and one reason only: He loved fighting.
But those losses and subsequent problems in training led to him losing that passion for the first time in his 29 years, and he wasn’t sure where to turn to find his love of fighting again.
A lot of that changed for Hardy after his loss to Chris Lytle in August 2010 when UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta took to his Twitter account and proclaimed that the British slugger was going nowhere except back into the Octagon.
“Will not cut Dan Hardy,” wrote Fertitta. “I like guys that war.”
That message from Fertitta gave Hardy something to fight for again, because someone believed in him and it wasn’t about the paycheck and it wasn’t about the money they were going to earn off of “The Outlaw.” Someone was a genuine enthusiast and cared about his career, and Hardy knew he couldn’t let Fertitta down.
“When I read that tweet after the fight, I didn’t really know what to do with myself,” Hardy admitted on MMAWeekly Radio. “Cause four in a row, I had never been down three losses in a row, so the fourth was a real big hit.
“I kind of felt like I was drifting a little bit after that, but reading that tweet it really changed things for me because now I’m not fighting to get myself back on track because I know how much the UFC got and Lorenzo got for keeping me around. Because there are some fans out there that demand if you lose three fights then you’re out.”
Finding a Mentor
It wasn’t an overnight change for Hardy, however, because he still had a lot of problems he had to solve before he could get back in the cage and compete for the UFC again.
Hardy had relocated to Las Vegas part-time in 2011 and worked alongside UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson, but eventually the Brit knew there was something still missing from his daily routine. So Hardy picked up and moved lock, stock, and barrel to Las Vegas to live and train full time.
He then started work at a new training camp and found a new mentor along the way.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Frank (Mir),” said Hardy. “My first real encounter with Frank is when he fought Ian Freeman in London, and I know he came out with a loss in that fight, but he showed so much heart in that fight. At the time Ian Freeman was a beast, he was one of the best fighters in Europe, and I trained with him. I knew how good Ian Freeman was. So my respect for Frank shot up massively after that fight.
“Now I’m around him all the time. He’s just such a genuine, honest guy. He really cares about helping people, and that’s something that’s very rare in this sport. There are a lot of people, a lot of pretenders, a lot of people who say things and mean something else. Frank’s as genuine as they come.”
Hardy has been working alongside Mir and his trio of coaches including Jimmy Gifford, Shawn Yarbrough, and Ricky Lundell, as well as traveling to famed jiu-jitsu instructor Robert Drysdale’s gym in Las Vegas.
As corny as it sounds, Hardy is having fun training again. It’s no longer a chore to walk into the gym and force himself through another work out. He’s enjoying every minute of it, and can’t wait to get back in there and do it again.
“I was in the gym this morning and I was hitting pads and I feel like I’m being studious again. I feel like I’m learning again. I’m exploring my potential as far as a striker goes, and then sparring. I’m already excited, I can’t wait to get back in the gym and get working. That’s not something I’ve felt for a long time,” Hardy expressed.
The Need to Win
Despite being an eight fight veteran of the UFC, Hardy feels like a newborn about to step foot in the Octagon for the first time when he returns at UFC 146 in May to face Duane “Bang” Ludwig.
“I feel like I’m in that stage where I just joined the UFC again, and I’ve kind of made it, and I can show people what I’m capable of,” Hardy said. “That slipped a little bit in the last few fights, and like I said, I stopped enjoying myself. You’re going to see improvements in this next fight, without a doubt. People are going to be like how has this guy improved this much between August and now? I really feel like people are going to see a massive difference.”
Now just being happy doesn’t erase the fact that Hardy has lost four fights in a row, and his fight with Ludwig has to be viewed as do or die as far as his UFC career goes.
Hardy doesn’t brush off that notion, but he embraces the knowledge that any fight in the UFC can be your last. Losing one fight or losing five, the UFC can always decide to make a change and so he can’t approach the fight with impending doom hanging overhead.
Hardy just wants to go out and fight his fight, and if he’s having fun, the result will turn out the way it’s supposed to.
“The thing I’ve realized about fighting in the UFC is it’s always a need to win basis. Even if you’re on a roll and you’ve won five fights in a row, you need to win the next fight because there’s so many things that come with a loss at this level that every fight’s a need to win,” said Hardy.
So often fighters say things like “it’s UFC or bust” or “there is no bigger place to fight than the UFC” and often times they are correct. For the new and improved Dan Hardy, he loves being a UFC fighter and he hopes to be a UFC fighter for many years to come, but being a fighter doesn’t define Dan Hardy.
“I’m fortunate enough. I know there’s a lot of fighters out there that fight because they don’t have as many options as me, but there’s so many other things I want to do with my life. That’s really taken a lot of pressure off me thinking that way. If this fight doesn’t go my way, there are so many other things I can go on and do after. It’s not like I’m stuck in this line of work. There’s a lot of things I want to do and a lot of things I want to experience,” Hardy explained.
“My mindset right now is I’m going to give this everything I’ve got and I’m just going to enjoy myself while I’m doing it. That’s kind of taken a lot of pressure off of me. This was never meant to be a job. This is me chasing that dream of being a professional fighter I wanted to be when I was six years old running around as a ninja turtle.”
With a renewed vigor and love of the sport, Hardy is attacking his training camp like he did in his early days in England. He’s the first to the gym and the last to leave, and he’s loving every second of it.
Hardy now realizes what it means to go from love to hate and back to love again, because that’s been his torrid affair with MMA over these past few years. Is that to say he’ll never fall down again?
Of course not, Hardy is aware of the pitfalls and still may drop down a well, but he’s found a way to climb out at least once before, and he can do it again.
“I’m in a very fortunate place. A lot of people are in jobs that they hate. A lot of friends of mine don’t enjoy jobs that they’re doing. I’m fortunate enough to be in a situation where I can have control of my own life. If I need to take a day off then I can do it. I don’t have to answer to anybody. I’m very privileged in this situation, and sometimes you forget that when you have to deal with all the other things the sport has to throw at you,” said Hardy.
“I’m excited to show people what I can do now. I’m excited to show that I have been working. All those guys that tweet ‘oh you’ve got to work on your ground game, you’ve got to work on your wrestling,’ these guys don’t know what I’m doing every day. This is my opportunity to prove that I’m a whole new fighter.”
This is a new beginning for a kid who didn’t want to grow up to be President, or a firefighter or a policeman. Dan Hardy wanted to grow up to be a fighter and that’s exactly what he’s doing now.
He’s growing up.