Once upon a time the premise of this article was scarcely conceivable.
Four fights into his UFC career, Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy had yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon and was busy preparing for his shot at perennial pound-for-pound prince and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Even after what one might charitably call a one-sided loss in the aforementioned title fight, there was cause for optimism. At just 27-years-old, the puckish Brit had time on his side and, having received generous praise for his efforts against St-Pierre, his stock was at an all-time high.
Unfortunately, Hardy did not make the best use of said time.
Rather than rounding out his skills and developing his grappling, the Nottingham native seemed much too content to hone his already potent striking game.
Even private wrestling lessons from Alexander Karelin and Dan Gable wouldn’t have aided him against Carlos Condit and the murderous left hook that left him gazing at the arena lights, but he sure could have used a little more mat time in the losses that followed, to Anthony Johnson and Chris Lytle.
Certainly, the loss to the latter was a particular low point for “The Outlaw”. He not only looked one-dimensional, but he surprised many by tapping out to a choke—something he had refused to do against GSP.
Much of the goodwill he had accrued over the years had by now been used up and fans openly questioned whether the UFC could justify keeping Hardy on the payroll after four consecutive defeats—particularly after Gerald Harris had been cut for the crime of enduring one loss in four fights.
One might argue that the Zuffa boss’ decision was vindicated after “The Outlaw” starched Duane Ludwig with his trademark lead left hook at UFC 146, but the same questions remain unanswered.
How we wish we could flip to the back of the book and find out whether Hardy has learned how to remain vertical against anyone who has ever donned a singlet.
No one expects the 30-year-old to start double-legging opponents like he’s a 170-pound Brock Lesnar, but Michael Bisping has demonstrated that you can be British and still develop an effective wrestling game for MMA.
Dan Hardy’s future as a potential title contender is contingent on the extent to which he has addressed this one major weakness.
In his brief time away from the cage, how much of it has he dedicated to wrestling? We have no way knowing. What’s more, we are unlikely to find out on Saturday night.
Amir Sadollah has an excellent, easy-on-the-eye striking game, but the chances of him putting on a wrestling clinic or on a par with Jake Shields lighting up Anderson Silva on the feet: nonexistent. In other words, we probably won’t get to see Hardy show off the well-rounded game he claims to possess.
We need to see “The Outlaw” in the cage against someone like Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Rick Story or even an ageing Matt Hughes in order to truly assess his progress. Indeed, pitting him against strikers will likely lead to another false dawn.
Once Dan Hardy comes face to face with an accomplished grappler, we will quickly discover whether he has developed the tools to again reach the sport’s summit.