Prior to UFC 105 in November, people seemed to have gotten used to the idea that Mike Swick was going to be the next challenger to Georges St-Pierre's UFC Welterweight Championship.
No disrespect to Mike Swick, but the prospect of a St-Pierre vs. Swick matchup wasn't exactly going to inspire a wave of excitement. Nonetheless, people seemed to be getting ready to accept it.
Up steps Dan Hardy.
Dan Hardy stepped inside the Octagon at UFC 105, and he rocked Swick more than once en route to a unanimous decision over the former TUF contender. It was an impressive and surprising performance from Hardy, and by beating Swick he took his spot at the top of Georges St-Pierre's potential contenders list.
Hardy entered the fight with Swick riding three consecutive wins inside the octagon; wins over Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, and Marcus Davis. Though Swick was seen as a step up in competition, Hardy rose to the occasion—he took his chance, and provided a convincing win over Swick.
Now Hardy takes on the biggest challenge (by far) of his career as he fights French-Canadian superstar Georges "Rush" St-Pierre at UFC 111 for the UFC Welterweight Championship.
St-Pierre is an incredible athletic specimen. He has the best wrestling in MMA, lethal striking, and relentless takedowns. Many, including myself, regard St-Pierre as an overwhelming favourite.
If you look at just some of his recent victories, it's easy to see why.
At UFC 87: Seek and Destroy, St-Pierre outclassed Jon Fitch. He out-wrestled him, and brutalized him for five rounds.
The same Jon Fitch who is commonly regarded as the No. 2 welterweight in the world.
At UFC 94, St-Pierre simply battered BJ Penn. He took him down, passed his guard with ease, and beat BJ so badly that his corner stopped the fight prior to the fifth round.
Most recently, St-Pierre did something similar to Thiago Alves at UFC 100. Thiago is a beast of a welterweight, with world class Muay Thai and excellent takedown defense. St-Pierre punished him for five rounds.
Now, it's Dan Hardy's time.
Dan Hardy is going into this fight as a huge underdog. Very few people expect him to be able to deal with St-Pierre's incredible athleticism and wrestling ability. The term "punchers chance" has been thrown around frequently.
Mainly because that's the only chance they think he has.
Whether that's true or not, several people haven't hesitated to lament the fact that Hardy has received a title shot before them (Josh Koscheck, I'm looking at you). Fans and bookmakers alike are writing Hardy off.
People believe that this Georges St-Pierre is a lot stronger than the St-Pierre that fell victim to the hands of Matt Serra, and they don't think that Hardy will catch him cold.
Hardy, though, seems to enjoy being the underdog. He loves getting under people's skin by talking trash in the buildup to fights (as we saw in the buildup to the Marcus Davis fight), and trying to get inside their head.
Whatever happens at UFC 111, you have to believe that Dan Hardy will be a winner. This title shot has lead to words being exchanged between Hardy and members of the American Kickboxing Academy.
Fights with Koscheck, Fitch, and possibly even a rematch with Swick would likely be decent draws for the UFC, meaning that Dan Hardy has gained from this match already. He's becoming an asset for the UFC in the same way Michael Bisping already is.
Regardless of your feelings for him as a fighter, you can't deny that he can talk the talk and hype his matches. That's something that the UFC values.
Dan Hardy challenges Georges St-Pierre on March 28th with the chance to shock the MMA world. I'm sure that with the attention he's gained from being a part of this match, Hardy will leave UFC 111 feeling like a winner in the long term—regardless of the result.