Dan Hardy Discusses Leaving UFC, His Next Move and Conor McGregor's Future

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IAugust 4, 2021

Dan Hardy Discusses Leaving UFC, His Next Move and Conor McGregor's Future

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Dan Hardy isn't sure what his future holds.

    The 39-year-old Brit spent the last 12 years working for the UFC, first as a welterweight fighter and then, after being sidelined due to his Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome—a concerning but generally innocuous heart disorder—as an analyst and cageside commentator.

    That chapter of his life is over now.

    After 10 fights—including a championship loss to Georges St-Pierre—and hundreds of commentary hours, he parted ways with the UFC earlier this year.

    His life, going forward, is a tabula rasa. He can take his commentary and analysis to any show on Earth. He's also in a position to fight again, and already has some interesting suitors both in terms of promoters and opponents.

    Bleacher Report caught up with Hardy as he begins to pen his next chapter, discussing his time with the UFC, his next move and a couple of the hottest topics in MMA today.  

Leaving the UFC

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    It should come as no surprise that Dan Hardy, who grew up listening to amp-rattling, antiestablishment punk and hardcore bands, has no reservations about speaking his mind.

    That's just what he did during a 2020 fight between Francisco Trinaldo and Jai Herbert. Hardy took issue when referee Herb Dean allowed a dazed Herbert to absorb a meteor shower of brutal and unnecessary strikes rather than end the contest.

    "Stop the fight!" the former fighter could be heard yelling from cageside.  

    In the moments after the fight, Hardy and Dean were filmed arguing from either side of the commentary desk. 

    "I can see why the UFC would picture me as being a bit problematic, because I do say what I think," Hardy explained. "I know that the UFC weren't happy about that circumstance, about me speaking out on a UFC broadcast, but I still feel like that's misunderstood. People still think I took my headset off and slammed it on the desk and walked over to the Octagon door and waited for [Dean] to come out. It's actually the other way around. He came out of the Octagon and came straight over to my desk while I was trying to get ready for an interview with Trinaldo."

    Not long after that confrontation with Dean, Hardy was involved in an argument with a member of the UFC staff.

    His exit from the promotion came shortly thereafter.  

    In hindsight, Hardy acknowledges that his interactions with Dean and the UFC employee could have been handled differently, but he's also adamant that he was misrepresented throughout.

    "The method in which the UFC parted ways with me has been very vindictive," Hardy said, noting that the promotion revoked press credentials from some of his staff. "I think the whole thing's been misunderstood, I think some falsehoods have been told, and I don't think the people in the top positions have got the right information.

    "I don't think an actual investigation has really, fully taken place," he continued. "There were people there. They could have spoken to all of them and I know they haven't. That's frustrating, because that means it's my word against somebody else's."

    No longer with the UFC, and therefore no longer worried about jeopardizing his job, Hardy admits that the promotion—and really the entire sport of MMA—needs a bit of an overhaul, particularly when it comes to officiating and fighter pay.

    "Some guys are doing a great job with this class action lawsuit that's going on against the UFC at the moment, but we're still swimming uphill," Hardy said. "I mean, poor Cheyanne Buys last weekend. After her fight, she was talking about how she was in a massive amount of debt coming into the fight, and the $50,000 bonus was going to put her in credit.

    "Millions of millions and millions are being earned [by the UFC] and these fighters are sitting there talking about these things with a cryptocurrency logo on one side of their [fight kits] and a Venum logo on the other side, and they're getting pennies off the back of this.

    "I do hope some of these things change. The focus has got to be the fighters: the health of the fighters, the security of the fighters during their career and going into the future when they retire."

Favorite UFC Memories

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    Despite his criticisms of the UFC, Hardy will remember his time with the promotion fondly. A few fights in particular stand out in his memory.

    "Knocking Rory Markham out at the O2 arena was awesome," he said. "Beating Mike Swick in Manchester and then GSP coming into the Octagon to face off with me was crazy. Obviously the GSP fight too. And it's always been bittersweet because [the opponent] was Duane Ludwig, but that knockout, it saved me from a [four-fight losing-streak]. It felt like it was a stay of execution. That was always a big one—also because it was maybe my best punch of my career.

    "Even through commentary, I've had so many good laughs," he added. "I've worked with so many good guys, from John Gooden, Jon Anik, Brendan Fitzgerald. [Paul] Felder and I had some awesome times. All the commentary teams, then all the people backstage as well, the people that you don't see.

    "It was awesome. I have no bad memories of it. Of course, I would have liked the ending of it to be slightly different, but I didn't expect to stay with the UFC forever."

A New Chapter in Asia

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    At 19 years old, long before his move to the UFC, Dan Hardy took a trip into Northern China to learn Kung Fu with a school of Shaolin monks.

    "It was after my first year of university—it was a good investment of my student loan," he recounted with a laugh. "It was right up in the north of China. I flew into Beijing, then up to Changchun, then I was picked up at the airport in Changchun and driven through Siping right up toward the border of the Mongolian desert. It was up in the mountains in this old castle.  

    "It was a very surreal experience," he continued. "I grew up watching martial arts movies and Kung Fu movies, so you arrive with this picture in your mind—and it was very much like that. We were training with rocks with holes bored out of them for your fingers. We would train in clearings in the forest. We would sleep in castle buildings with no windows. It was just a fantastic experience. 

    "Then on the flip-side, the Shaolin monks, the ones that were there teaching, they loved Michael Jackson. They were playing with BB guns at one point. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways. The training was intense—it was 10 or 12 hours a day, full-on—but it wasn't as quiet and serious as people would think."

    Hardy's time in China helped him develop a deep connection to the country, and to larger Asia. Outside of a trio of fights for a small Japanese promotion called Cage Force, however, he didn't have many opportunities to fight on the continent.

    Now that he's parted ways with the UFC, it's looking like that could change. He has already started working with Asia's biggest martial arts promotion, ONE Championship, applying his in-depth analysis to the Singapore outfit's biggest fights. From the sounds of it, he could soon be fighting for them, too—and that possibility excites him greatly. 

    "I always dreamed of fighting in [defunct Japanese promotion] PRIDE," Hardy said. "As I was coming up, I was actually in a tournament in Holland and the winner of the tournament got to fight in PRIDE. I lost a decision to the guy that went on to fight [Takanori] Gomi [in PRIDE]. That was always one direction I thought could be slightly different in my career.

    "To be able to go out there and to step into an event like ONE is exciting," he added. "ONE is in China, as well as Singapore—it would be awesome to fight there as well. There's so many good options with ONE Championship with opponents and with locations and the way they produce their shows."

Matchup Options in ONE Championship

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    Hardy will have no shortage of options if he signs with ONE.

    Perhaps the most likely at this stage, surprisingly, is not an MMA fight, but a Muay Thai showdown with Australian combat sports legend John Wayne Parr. The pair have issued courteous callouts of one another on social media, and if the fan response is any indication, there's plenty of interest in seeing it happen.

    "The odds would be stacked against me [against Parr]," Hardy explained. "He's a veteran, a legend—how many different words do you want to apply to him?

    "He's a hard-nosed Muay Thai fighter with a lot of experience, a lot of skill, and he's always got a smile on his face," he added. "He's no drama, no beef, no disrespect. It's a case of him getting in there to do what he loves to do, at the best of his ability, and try to take my head off."

    Parr is hardly the only option for Hardy in ONE. The former UFC star is also interested in a showdown with Dutch kickboxing star Nieky Holzken, as well as MMA bouts with legends like Eddie Alvarez, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Shinya Aoki and Takanori Gomi—all but the last of whom call ONE home.

    "Nieky Holzken would be a good option," he said. "I saw on one of the Instagram posts from ONE Championship, we were discussing [the Parr] fight, and Nieky posted that he'd take the winner. I told him I'd be seeing him soon, and I think he liked the confidence. So it might be a case of doing caged Muay Thai against John Wayne Parr, kickboxing against Nieky Holzken, and then seeing what options there are in MMA.

    "If I'm cutting down to walk at 170 [pounds], then it opens up a lot of options, Eddie Alvarez being one of them," he continued. "I've got a lot of respect for Eddie and his team and I think it would be a similar buildup to the John Wayne Parr fight. There would be no unnecessary trash talk.

    "I also think Aoki is a good option. He's a how-many-fight veteran? He's a tall, rangy fighter. He's difficult to deal with. That excites me as well. And maybe if Gomi fancies coming out of retirement, we can set up a ring in Tokyo and do it there."

Conor McGregor's Future and the Lightweight Title Picture

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    Dan Hardy's time with the UFC is over, but he still pays attention to the promotion, both as a fan and an analyst for BT Sport.

    As such, he remains well positioned to comment on many of the sport's hottest topics—like the future of Conor McGregor, who is recovering from a broken tibia after a pair of stoppage losses to Dustin Poirier. 

    "I think he heals up and he regroups," Hardy said of McGregor. "We're seeing him be rather reactive on social media, which I don't think is a good look for him, and I think he'll know that if he looks back in hindsight, but what his injury has done is it's forced him to slow down. 

    "I think he's desperate to get back in there and to leave people with a better impression of what he's capable of," Hardy continued. "I do think he's capable of so much more as well. The difficulty that he has right now is to bring the right people around him that are going to really push his game forward. We already know what he's very good at, but he needs a couple of different angles and a couple of different looks. He needs a few more weapons, so he can then bolster the ones that he's already got. Hopefully this time that he's got to sit with a cast on his leg will give him time to think and figure that out. There's no way he disappears after an ankle break. I think we'll probably see at least four or five more fights out of him. Maybe a couple more in the UFC, then he'll cross over to boxing."

    Poirier, McGregor's two-time foil, is now expected to challenge Charles Oliveira for the UFC lightweight title. While many fans consider Poirier the lightweight division's uncrowned king, Hardy isn't so sure that's an accurate assessment of the hierarchy.

    "I think Oliveira is a horrible fight for everybody in the lightweight division, just because he bookends everybody's skills with really good jiu jitsu and really good striking skills. We know how good he is at jiu jitsu, but the level that his striking has reached in recent years—since he stepped up to lightweight, pretty much—you can tell that the finesse that he applies to his jiu jitsu is there in his striking too. That makes him incredibly dangerous.

    "I think toughness gets [Poirier] through a lot of his fights. I think with Oliveira, he needs to be more technical. He's got to make better decisions or he's going to find himself overextended or wrapped up in something he can't get out of.

    "I've been really high on Charles Oliveira for a while, and I think it's going to be really difficult to take the belt off him." 

Nick Diaz's Comeback

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    One of the biggest fights on the horizon involves welterweight legends Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler, who will collide at UFC 266 on September 25. The bout will be Diaz's first since early 2015, and while Hardy isn't sure if ring rust will be a factor for the returning legend, he does forecast a tough fight.

    "I'm hoping [Diaz] looks really good, because I think Robbie Lawler's going to look really good," Hardy said. "He got knocked out by Diaz a long time ago, and I bet that's always stuck in his mind. I think that's something he'll look forward to getting back. 

    "[Diaz] is effective, but he's never been the cleanest striker," he added. "I think Robbie Lawler has the boxing and the power and also the familiarity with competition to really push Nick and cause some issues. I think the best choice for Nick Diaz would be grounding the fight, dragging Robbie Lawler down, taking his back, and showing us the jiu jitsu skills we all know he's got. I think the more time he spends in boxing range, the more he's rolling the dice on getting slept."