NEWARK, N.J. -- The numbers may say otherwise, but if Dan Hardy
finds a way to beat Georges St. Pierre
at UFC 111
, it will be the biggest MMA championship upset of all time. Bigger than Matt Serra
beating GSP? Yes. While Serra was a bigger underdog on paper than Hardy is now, at least we knew then that Serra had the ability to go bell-to-bell with an elite-level fighter like B.J. Penn
(even though Penn was early in his career, it was already obvious he was something special). We also knew he was good enough to knock down the usually iron-jawed Karo Parisyan
, had durability, a strong ground game and a record of being a fierce competitor.
Hardy has nothing to apologize for on his resume, but you can't find anyone on his record that has ever been considered elite. His best win is over Mike Swick
, and while that's a solid victory, it is a long leap from Swick to St. Pierre. In fact, there is no measurable way in which you could give Hardy an overall edge against St. Pierre.
Does that mean he can't win? Of course not. This sport has too many variables and the athletes bring too many X-factors to possibly predict every development before it happens. But every measurable also makes it very clear that St. Pierre's status as a heavy favorite is quite well deserved.
The first and most basic problem for Hardy comes in their primary styles. While St. Pierre has evolved into a wrestling-based fighter, Hardy employs an almost exclusively standup style. The issue there is that St. Pierre has been able to put anyone in his sights on their back.
Regardless of whether they were considered good wrestlers (like Matt Hughes
), had actual stud credentials (like Josh Koscheck
) or had proven MMA takedown defense skills (like B.J. Penn), they all go down like dominos when St. Pierre decides it's time. There's nothing in Hardy's past to suggest that he'll be the one to resist.
During his run in the UFC, Hardy has been fortunate to receive a series of matchups that played to his standup style. Akihiro Gono
, Rory Markham
, Marcus Davis
and Swick are all primarily standup fighters. Hardy considers himself the same. Sometimes he dominated (as in the 69-second KO of Markham), and other times he squeaked by (split decisions with Gono and Davis).
During that stretch of four fights, only Swick made any sort of effort to take Hardy down, and while Hardy defended well in those instances, Swick has never been known as a takedown artist as GSP is.
Still, Hardy does deserve a significant amount of credit for his recent history; dating back to the fall of 2006, he reeled off wins in 12 of 13 fights, with his only loss coming in a fluky disqualification.
Time after time, he's proven that his best weapon is his left hook, the same punch that he used to knock out Markham. It's safe to say that St. Pierre is painfully aware of the "most favored" status of the strike, and will be ready for it. Because Hardy's reputation has always been as a striker, it's quite likely that St. Pierre will feed him a steady dose of takedowns, just as he did to Thiago Alves
back in July 2009 during their UFC 100 bout.
Alves, who like Hardy defines himself as a striker, hoped to find a way to stay upright and deliver some of his power in an exchange. Even knowing what was coming, Alves was taken down 11 times, leading to 73 ground strikes landed against him during the five-round bout according to Compustrike statistics.
In the time since St. Pierre was knocked out by Serra, there has grown a chorus which continually sings about the unreliability of his chin, but the powerful Alves -- who had finished five of his last six opponents before facing St. Pierre -- landed 47 standup strikes during their fight; he never had GSP in trouble. Neither did Penn, neither did Fitch, etc.
That doesn't mean Hardy can't hurt St. Pierre; it just means that St. Pierre's "weak" chin has become like the Holy Grail: nearly impossible to find, and maybe even non-existent.
One fact working in Hardy's favor: St. Pierre's been out of action for over eight months. Though most fighters refuse to believe ring-rust exists, stats show that most fighters coming off long layoffs do in fact lose. But St. Pierre isn't like most; he stays in shape year-round.
Over the course of this fight, I expect St. Pierre's takedown, ground-and-pound attack to proceed as scheduled. Wash, rinse, repeat. Hardy may yawn and call it "sticking to the script," but if it was so easy to pull off, everyone would do it. Hardy may have a moment or two, but St. Pierre is actually the more dynamic striker of the two when he wants to be, and when he doesn't, he'll change levels, put Hardy on his back, and rough him up from the top.
One thing that's been glossed over during the leadup to the fight is that in 22 wins, Hardy has only one due to submission due to choke or lock. Just one. He's repeatedly said that he's comfortable on his back; he better get used to it, he'll be there, with a superior wrester and jiu-jitsu black belt on top of him. If it's not a bleak picture, it's awful close.
Hardy however, does look preternaturally calm and composed. He loves the spotlight, he has no fear of failure. He's embracing everything surrounding fight week, and he's mentally in the right place. I had a chance to spend time around Serra just before he shocked St. Pierre in '07, and Hardy gives off the same type of vibe, a feeling that he knows something you don't. So maybe he'll find a miracle. But any objective look at all the evidence shows that while Hardy is a good fighter, a game fighter who won't go quietly, he hasn't proven the ability to live in St. Pierre's world. This will have to be baptism by fire, and that's a scenario few survive.
The perception of Hardy as a monstrous underdog is exactly right. If he finds a way to win, the UK should throw him a parade as a conquering hero. He will deserve every ounce of confetti thrown his way, and every toast praising his name.