by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
UFC 95 rolls into view on Feb. 21 at the O2 Arena in London. One fighter who is absolutely chomping at the bit is British welterweight standout Dan Hardy.

“I know this is going to sound like a cliché, but I am in much better shape now than ever before. I was in better shape a week ago than I was in my last fight against Akihiro Gono, and I thought I was in great condition for that one,” explains Hardy, adding that his camp has been more homegrown this time round.

“This is a back to the roots camp for me. I did a lot of my technical stuff in U.S. before Christmas, but I have been back here since the New Year, working solidly with Nathan ‘Levo’ Leverton on my jiu-jitsu, Owen Comrie on my Thai, and Oli Richardson on my conditioning. I feel fantastic.”

Hardy is riding high on a successful debut in the Octagon against the aforementioned Japanese opponent, but furthermore, he is coming into this bout off the back of nine wins (excluding a dodgy disqualification over in Japan) and faces an opponent who doesn’t seem to respect his stand-up power.

“I saw the comments he made about (me) not having any power in my hands, but that just makes me wonder what fights (of mine) he has been watching. I don’t have his kind of punching power, I will admit that, but he will have a shock if he thinks he will just shake my strikes off,” he laughs.

When taking a fight at this level, there are loads of elements that factor into a gameplan. As has just been mentioned, video analysis of previous fights, looking into your opponent’s training camp and stylistic tendencies – an area where Hardy and the Rough House team have been particularly successful in the past. So how does he see this fight going and what has the preparation entailed?

“We have analyzed everything we can find on Markham. He can land a decent punch, but he doesn’t seem that well rounded. He has no wrestling, no jiu-jitsu, and he isn’t that technical, but it seems to work for him, as he has never been to a decision. He seems to either KO someone or get KO’d himself. His style puts him in danger as he is always coming forward, but he doesn’t seem to have the chin for it.”

Fighting words indeed, but Hardy is aware that both are in the same place within the organization at the moment and is philosophical about how to apply his craft. “He is trying to lure me into his game, but I am not buying it. We know how to beat him and in the process of finding that out, he will get an answer to questions about my power.”

The final piece in replicating an opponent’s style is to ensure you can prepare for what they bring to the table. For this encounter, Hardy has been doing a lot of work with Paul Daley and Jim Wallhead. He picks up the tale, “We’re missing a couple of guys out of the camp at the moment because they are out in America doing stuff, but one thing that has been great is having Paul back for sparring. We have normally gone our separate ways, but I can really see how much he has improved, very explosive, nice tight combinations, and with a naturally gifted knockout power in his hands. We don’t hold back much in sparring and I know Markham won’t be hitting me with anything like the shots Paul has. All you have to do is look at the guys Paul has been knocking out in comparison.

“The thing is, I am taking this fight a lot more seriously than Gono. Although that was a tricky fight, I am not sure how much Gono still wants things. With Markham, I know he will be hungry as we’re both coming off wins in the UFC, we’re of similar age and stand point in our respective careers,” he offers. With the UFC welterweight division being as stacked as it is, a run to the top of the division can take a long time, just ask Marcus Davis.

So what does he want to achieve this year?

“I want to rack up three solid wins, that’s my aim for this year. I am a realist; I don’t have title aspirations yet. Markham is a good start to the year for me. After that I want two more good solid wins and then to pick off someone close to Top 10 or break into it by the end of the year.”

Finally, with the hard work in the bag, and UFC 95 just round the corner, what does Hardy do between now and the bell ringing?

“Well it’s nice not having to travel. I will have massive home support, which will always give me a boost. But mostly it’s about mental preparation and positive visual enforcement. I imagine the walk out to the cage, play the fight out in my mind, gameplan, techniques, and finally my opponent standing across the cage from me, looking through their eyes at what they will face.”