"The Outlaw" isn't so counterculture that he can't bathe in the love of the fans. In fact, Dan Hardy
revels in being the center of attention, which isn't an altogether unusual trait among men who fight in a cage for a living.
Just last weekend, Hardy walked into a Long Island, N.Y., bar to watch the Manny Pacquiao
boxing event when he came face-to-face with a UFC poster, adorned with his own Mohawked mug.
"It's just awesome," he said. "It's fantastic. I just love the spotlight. I'm a bit big-headed like that, I guess."
When Hardy walks into the cage against champion Georges St. Pierre
at UFC 111
on March 27, he'll have the attention of the MMA world upon him. At risk will be his seven-fight win streak and, more importantly, the UFC welterweight championship. But in his first main-event, co-starring role, he's been cast by many as a supporting player, subjected to astronomical odds stacked against him.
Hardy says it doesn't bother him in the least, and that he expects to be at his best knowing that more people than ever will be watching him perform.
"I love it, to be honest," he said. "I'm all for the lights being on me. I like that feeling of everybody watching me. It's just a real exciting prospect to be in there knowing that there are millions of people around the world watching you."
That's not just lip-service. Amazingly, Hardy has walked into all four of his UFC bouts as an underdog on the betting line and walked out with a victory. Mike Swick
, Marcus Davis
, Rory Markham
and Akihiro Gono
all were expected to beat Hardy, the same way St. Pierre is expected to emerge with a win.
St. Pierre says he's learned his lesson from Hardy's propensity to upset favored foes.
"A lot of people underestimate Dan Hardy, and it's a big mistake," St. Pierre said. "It's a big mistake I'm not going to do. He's a very well-rounded and smart fighter, a thinking fighter. He doesn't want to make a brawl, he's very technical when he fights. A counter puncher and thinker. He's surrounded by a great team. The worst thing I can do is underestimate him. I learn from my mistakes before, and I never want to do that again."
Hardy said in recent days he's felt a movement in his direction, but thinks it's mainly due to people wondering how the division would be affected with a new king atop the throne.
"I think it's more the fact that people are ready to see a change in the division," he said. "Me taking the belt off George will really open the place up. I think people are excited about the potential of what could happen in the division once I've got the belt, more than the fight they think I can win."
Finally, he promised that unlike the aforementioned boxing match in which Clottey wasted the opportunity of a lifetime by playing defense for 12 rounds, that he would fire every bullet in his arsenal.
"There's really no time for nerves, or no need for them, because I'm very confident I can do the job," he said. "And I'm in a situation where I can put myself on the line and I can take some risks because I really have nothing to lose in this situation."