Back in 2009, if you'd have asked any hardcore MMA fan to name the fighter who would have the best chance at knocking Georges St. Pierre from his perch atop the UFC's welterweight mountain, they probably would've told that you Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy was the man to do it.
Riding high on a four-fight win streak heading into his collision with St. Pierre in the spring of 2010, fans would've been hard pressed to name another mixed martial artist who had a better chance of stopping "Rush" than Hardy would.
Obviously, that's not quite the way it happened. Instead of becoming the man who finally bested St. Pierre, Hardy would simply go on to join the rather long list of fighters who have come up short in their quest for welterweight gold.
In what has become Georges St. Pierre's calling card, the champion would simply grind his way to a five-round unanimous decision over "The Outlaw."
Having lost two fights since the title bout with St. Pierre, Hardy has gone from title contention all the way to now running the very real risk of being cut if he cannot put together a winning effort against Chris Lytle tomorrow night at UFC Live.
No matter how you look at this turn of events, however, one thing is certain: The UFC wants Dan Hardy to win this fight. Wait, let me rephrase that. The UFC needs Dan Hardy to win this fight.
Don't believe me? Read on.
For starters, its obvious that the UFC has wanted Dan Hardy to succeed from the start. I remember watching the hype videos leading up to his first couple of fights in the company, and wondering out loud "Why is Joe Rogan all over this Hardy guy's junk?"
I didn't understand it until I noticed one glaring bit of information on his official bio: "Fighting out of Nottingham, England."
Ahhhh, there it is.
I get it, I get it.
Dan Hardy is from the United Kingdom. Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, has been attempting to branch out internationally for the last couple of years. The UK has been a huge part of their globalization efforts. British fans want to see British fighters. It all makes sense now.
The company has been doing the same thing with Michael Bisping for a few years now. Unfortunately, while Bisping is adored across the pond, he is one of the most loathed fighters in North America.
"The Count" started out innocently enough, winning the third Ultimate Fighter competition, but his poor attitude and questionable ethics inside the Octagon quickly lost his favor with fans stateside.
Aside from that, and despite the company's efforts to change the fact, Bisping just doesn't seem to be a championship-caliber fighter. He has been absolutely handed a couple of gift-wrapped decisions, and has consistently struggled in fights against top-tier opponents.
No matter how hard Zuffa pushes him, or any other fighter, if they can't win big fights, their hype simply won't have an ounce of substance.
That's where Hardy comes in.
With Bisping quickly losing his favor within the MMA world, the UFC began their search for a new British representative. Dan Hardy, who had been on quite the win streak at the time, was quickly pegged as that new face.
After besting late replacement Mike Swick at UFC 105, Hardy was fast-tracked to a title shot against Georges "Rush" St. Pierre in March 2010.
Unfortunately for "The Outlaw," it was probably too quick a move. Despite quite a bit of hype surrounding the fight, Hardy was easily controlled by the defending champion, en route to a unanimous decision loss.
Obviously, there is no shame in losing to St. Pierre, so Hardy's stock in the UFC didn't immediately plummet. However, after losing two more fights in equally unimpressive fashion, Hardy now finds himself on the wrong end of a "win or go home" situation this Sunday at UFC Live.
Tomorrow night, Dan Hardy gets his final chance to salvage what was once an extremely promising career. If he manages to pull off a win against the more than capable Chris Lytle, he will be afforded at least one more shot at superstardom.
Maybe, just maybe, he will be able to turn things around and take his seat as the face of MMA in the United Kingdom. He will have all of his countrymen in his corner, and the entire front office of Zuffa will be right there with them.
As a company, the UFC clearly has a lot riding on this fight. If Hardy wins, they will probably be able to get at least one more big payday out of him in his native country.
If he loses, on the other hand, it's back to the drawing board for "The Outlaw," and back to Bisping for the UFC...
... and we all know what that looks like...
Sorry, I just couldn't resist.
Hopefully, Hardy will be able to piece his career back together tomorrow night. If not, the UK only has Michael Bisping to fall back on at this point.
That is, at least, until Dana White and Co. find their next hype machine for the UFC's British Invasion.
Until next time, fight fans, I look forward to reading your comments!