Dan Hardy: Michael Bisping Version 2.0
Earned a close split decision win on home soil that some people question? Check...twice.
Getting pushed as a potential champion despite the fact that his resume isn't nearly as impressive as you want in a title contender? Check.
Just like his countryman Michael Bisping, Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy has benefited from being British and put himself in a position where one more win would mean a shot at the welterweight title.
Not to take anything away from either Bisping or Hardy; they're both talented guys who have done some good things inside the cage during their time with the UFC, and both, as already mentioned, are highly marketable.
But being a marketable British fighter shouldn't carry more weight than your performance in the cage and in both Bisping and Hardy's cases, that seems to be what has transpired.
In pushing to break the British market, the UFC has isolated individual stars and given them the "Great White Hope" treatment, elevating them to top contender status despite the fact that their resumes aren't all that impressive.
Bisping's push coincided with winning Season Three of The Ultimate Fighter, but first stalled when he lost a close decision to eventual champ Rashad Evans at UFC 78.
In reality, Bisping's previous fight also offered a hiccup, as many believe the Wolfslair Academy fighter earned a home-court advantage on the score cards when a razor-thin decision against Matt Hamill at UFC 75 in London came out in favor of the hometown boy.
A drop to middleweight followed the fight with Evans, and while "The Count" certainly showed well in winning performances against Charles McCarthy, Jason Day and Chris Leben, they were winning performances over Charles McCarthy, Jason Day and Chris Leben; not exactly the upper echelon of the middleweight division.
Three straight wins put him opposite Dan Henderson as coaches on Season Nine of TUF and put the two inside the cage together at UFC 100 this past July. Speculation had Bisping earning a title shot at the upcoming UFC 105 if he could defeat the former Pride multi-divisional champ.
Search teams are still trying to locate Bisping's mouth guard in the seats at The Mandalay Bay.
With the UFC returning to his homeland, Bisping is returning to the ring, squaring off against veteran Denis Kang, a talented fighter, but certainly not someone you would put in the title picture at present.
Joining Bisping on the card and following in his footsteps is the flamboyant Hardy, red mohawk and all.
Three wins put Bisping into a title eliminator bout at UFC 100 and the same opportunity has arisen for Hardy, but the similarities don't end there.
Like his countryman, Hardy has come away with a couple close decisions on his home turf in his three-fight career with the UFC.
His debut win over Akihiro Gono ended in a split decision, as did his most recent and well-known fight, a grudge match with Team Sityodtong's Marcus Davis that started as a war of words and ended as an epic slugfest.
In between, Hardy made quick work of Rory Markham, dropping the Miletich product in just 70 seconds at UFC 95.
Now, with three straight wins and two close decisions in his favor, the highly-marketable native of Nottingham will look across the cage at Mike Swick with a 2010 title shot against Georges St-Pierre waiting in the wings.
While Hardy has had success so far, his string of wins is even less impressive than the trio that landed Bisping one fight away from a title shot: Gono is no longer with the UFC and currently riding a three-fight losing streak, Markham has yet to resurface and Davis, while tough-as-nails, has never been more than a mid-card performer.
And yet one stiff shot from Hardy's admittedly dangerous hands could land Swick on the canvas and Hardy getting dragged to the ground and repeatedly beaten by GSP early next year.
Breaking new territories and establishing a presence in international markets is certainly easier with a homegrown talent to put atop the marquee.
But what will make the UFC grow even more in England and abroad is pushing the fighters who have earned their way into title contention by beating the best the organization has to offer, not propping up a fighter with a lukewarm record just because he's from the land of tea, crumpets, and Kate Beckinsale.
The first attempt fell flat with Michael Bisping getting knocked into next Tuesday at UFC 100.
Now the second chance comes in the form of Dan Hardy.
At UFC 105, we'll find out if he is a true contender or simply Michael Bisping, Version 2.0.
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