Dan Hardy relished the opportunity to compete in his hometown of Nottingham, England. But he didn't bring home the Hardy that earned fame from wild brawls or the 'kill or be killed attitude' of reckless striking exchanges. According to Hardy himself, that version of himself is gone. He hasn't been seen since losing to Carlos Condit at UFC 120 in October of 2010.
"The old Dan Hardy got knocked out by Carlos Condit," Hardy said at the post-fight press conference for UFC on FUEL TV 5.
And the new Hardy? He doesn't engage in dangerous striking exchanges for the sake of entertaining the crowd or to offer opponents a dance partner in the tango of senseless brawling.
Sure, he still feels the urge to do those things and admitted as much to the media on Saturday. He heard his name being chanted by the crwod in the first round of his bout with Amir Sadollah. That got his adrenaline pumping and ignited his old instincts to sit down on his punches to prove he was the 'better' man.
But something else told him not to. A new instinct, maybe.
Call it maturity. Call it a new attitude. Call it a fresh perspective. Whatever you call it, it helped guide Hardy to a unanimous decision win over Sadollah. More importantly, the win came from a performance that saw Hardy use his striking as well as newly developed offensive wrestling and ground and pound skills honed since training in Las Vegas, Nev., with Roy Nelson and Frank Mir.
The win over Sadollah brings Hardy's UFC win streak to two. But the numbers are irrelevant. It's the complexion of the fight that matters and it what says about the new Hardy. No longer one to complain about the perils of those who hold wrestling advantages in MMA, Hardy now recognizes how vital a complete offensive arsenal is to his future.
Everyone seemed to notice just how radical the departure was for Hardy on Saturday, not least of which was the head of the organization he is fighting for.
"Dan Hardy looked like a mixed martial artist tonight," said UFC President Dana White at the post-fight press conference. "He didn't look like a kickboxer."
While less so in the first frame, Hardy paraded his new abilities in the second and third rounds. Using double leg takedowns against the cage and in the center of the Octagon, Hardy routinely took Sadollah to the mat. From there he avoided Sadollah's submissions while battering him with elbows and punches from top position. In fact, it was these moments that presented Hardy as his most dominant throughout the contest. He won a unanimous decision, earning a 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 mark from the evening's judges.
As for what's next, Hardy himself is non-committal. The old Hardy would hold a focus on the grandeur of what's possible too down the line, causing him to not fail against his most present challenges. "It's a deep division," Hardy said. "I made the mistake of looking too far ahead in the past. Now I'm just focused on my journey."
He told those in attendance at the press conference he is happy to take whoever the UFC gives him as he worried more about fixing his own issues and developing his own progress than challenging any particular fighter in the hopes of some grandiose future prize that may never come.
Whatever one thinks of his internal focus, it seems to have finally righted his once flagging career. After four consecutive losses that had some fans and pundits calling for Hardy to be released from the UFC, the Brit seems to understand not simply what skills are required for success at the highest level but the accompanying attitude as well.
"He seems like his head is in a good place. He's with a good camp," White said. "We'll see what happens."