LEICESTER, England—It’s the usual cold, rainy stereotypical evening for an English winter, yet the plush surroundings of the Leicester Tigers Rugby Football Team facilities where UFC welterweight Dan Hardy is training lifts the grimness.
The number one contender to Georges St-Pierre’s 170-pound crown, Hardy acknowledges what a crazy whirlwind he finds himself in before flying to Newark, New Jersey for UFC 111 at the Prudential Center this Saturday.
When he returns to the motherland there is no special allowance given for diva attitudes regardless of his international acclaim and undefeated UFC record. He has to fetch his own weights, is expected to just “get on with it” and remains relatively unknown to the other athletes around him.
This is the norm for the Nottingham native, who welcomes the down to earth treatment he receives in the United Kingdom. Four UFC fights, four Octagon wins and critics still dismiss “The Outlaw” as unworthy of a title shot even after defeating Mike Swick in a way that should have silenced them. He is none the wiser as to why this is.
“I don’t know really. I’m not sure whether it’s because people generally don’t think I’m very good or whether they just want me to lose. It’s probably a combination of the two if I’m honest,” says Hardy, smiling, obviously not concerned by the lack of public confidence.
“I’ve always been underestimated, even on the smaller shows, it was always, ‘Oh this is the one where he is going to lose,’” he continues. “I always seem to pull through. I’m not maybe as physically imposing or not as technically or athletically gifted. I think the thing that gets me through a fight is the sheer enjoyment of putting a beating on somebody and I think when the fight gets into the later rounds and you have to dig deep, I can dig a little bit deeper.
“That’s how I’m getting through, and you know that’s not something you can see when you look at somebody which is probably why I’m being underestimated a lot. And people want me to lose.”
There’s an air of rebel about Hardy that seems to revel in the confrontational attitudes of others. He casually reclines in a leather chair in the office of his Strength and Conditioning coach, Ollie Richardson. The trademark Mohawk flattened down and in need of a buzz, he mentions he has changed hairdressers. For a man that takes that much pride in his appearance, this must be a big deal.
“I just decided to bring in a different guy, a close friend of mine who’s not chasing profit. I think that’s the best way to put it.”
He definitely doesn’t lack any conviction when it comes to shaking things up. Hardy recently parted ways with Warrior Promotions, the management company that took him from his fledgling fighting beginnings to a title bout.
“The management thing was just necessary,” says Hardy. “ I felt like the progress my career was making wasn’t right, and I needed to change things up a little bit and I felt like I needed a little bit more control over it. I took on a lot of the responsibility myself and I’ve got my Dad helping me as well.”
It takes some balls to make an adjustment of that magnitude right before the biggest fight of your career. Hardy continued his aggressive culling, making some instrumental modifications to his usual camp by bringing in new corner men and coaches despite his empty UFC loss column.
“I wanted to make sure I was progressing, I kind of felt that it was time to bring a fresh set of eyes on to my game and see what they could add to it.” says Hardy. “Nothing against the people that I’ve been training with in the past, but every now and then you have to shake things up a bit to keep things moving forward.”
Hardy speaks without pausing, and it’s obvious he knows his own mind and is confident in his decisions. He has tweaked and changed everything within his 74-inch reach to ensure perfection in his camp – 14 weeks, six longer than his usual training cycle.
“It’s getting to the stage now where I feel I’m about to lose my mind. But everything’s going well and everything’s moving forward,” says Hardy. “You have your bad sessions and your good sessions like normal. In general everything’s getting better. I’m faster. I’m more powerful. I’ve got some new tricks.”
This is a different Hardy to the less polished, more arrogant fighter thirsty to make his name back in 2008, before his first UFC fight. He has outgrown the desire for the flash in the pan fame, replacing it with a need for everlasting glory. In just four fights he is the contender for the UFC gold. The whirlwind doesn’t look like slowing any time soon.
Read part two here.