Dan Hardy was feeling great a few weeks ago as he set to prepare for his April 20 fight with Matt Brown. And since that time, as far as how he's feeling, nothing has changed.
But his career is in jeopardy and future in the sport is largely out of his control after being diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome.
WPW, something he was born with but had no idea he had, was diagnosed while undergoing an EKG by the California State Athletic Commission to be licensed for his fight in San Jose, scheduled to open the FOX network show.
Hardy (25-10, 1 no contest) had been fighting for nine-years without even a hint there was a problem. Even now, he's actually had no problem, just something that showed up in his test. The disease, caused by the presence of an abnormal accessory electrical conduction pathway between the atria and ventricles, is rare. It's not dangerous for the vast majority who have it, but there is the risk of sudden death, that one in about every 150 to 200 people with the disease gets.
But having it has put Hardy's career in a holding pattern. California wouldn't license him to fight. There is a minor surgery that can repair the problem, but Hardy at this point says it's not something he is considering. Hassan Assad, a pro wrestler who uses the ring name MVP in the WWE and Japan, was diagnosed with the syndrome in 2007, had the surgery, and continued his career, without missing a beat.
"That's really out of my hands," said Hardy, 30, about his fighting future, in an interview with Ariel Helwani during The MMA Hour on Monday. "That's on the UFC. I'll never leave and go fight in another organization. That's not an option. I've always said I'll finish my career with UFC no matter how it ended. I love the UFC. I'm a huge fan. It really depends on the UFC and what they're going to do with me. I'm split on it because I'd like to continue fighting. That's my selfish opinion of it. But there's a possibility something bad happens. That would be bad for the UFC, bad for me and bad for the sport in general.
"On the flip side, surgery in my opinion is not an option. I've never had any symptoms or problems. I'm of the opinion that if it's not broke, don't fix it. It's a really weird circumstance that I could never plan for."
The irony is that Hardy, 30, had talked about retirement in recent months. At the time, he said he was looking at going maybe another 18 months to two years and moving on with the next stage of his life. He said this just could be a sign that it's time to make that move.
Hardy is one of the UFC's more recognizable fighters, with his trademark red Mohawk. But he has gotten rid of and said if he does fight again, he's not going to bring it back, as he's moved on from that trash talker that made his name, although recognized that his old personality got him into the spotlight. But it's not the person he wants to be going forward.
Hardy broke out of the pack shortly after his UFC arrival in late 2008, largely because the British fan base immediately took to him, and then he scored a 69 second knockout of Rory Markham in London. He really made his name as a trash talker in 2009, building up a match with Marcus Davis, who he called a phony Irishman. He followed the win over Davis with an upset win over Mike Swick, in a match to determine who would get a shot at Georges St-Pierre's welterweight title.
The March 27, 2010, title match, which St-Pierre controlled on the ground for all five rounds, was a major box office success. But Hardy's fortunes went south from there. He lost to Carlos Condit, Anthony Johnson and Chris Lytle. In a sense, that four-fight losing streak showed how valuable UFC felt he was, since few fighters on that kind of a skid stay with the organization. But Hardy had a reputation of being a tireless promoter, and was, along with Michael Bisping, one of the two best known native fighters in the U.K. market.
Hardy had recently come back with wins over Duane Ludwig and Amir Sadollah, which earned him a spot on the FOX card.
"The EKG is not a standard test in most places from what I gather," said Hardy, when asked how come it took so long before the condition was discovered. "After the age of 35, you have to have an EKG. That's what I heard from doctors. I had an EKG when I fought in Florida (a 2004 loss to Pat Healy). I took the fight on a day notice. It showed up in the weigh-ins that I had an irregular heartbeat. I required an EKG to fight but they cleared me."
Hardy noted that there was more to the story than that.
"Yeah, well it was kind of a shifty situation. I won't go more into it. It was a bit of a shady situation."
Even though it's been a few weeks since California wouldn't clear him for the fight, with Jordan Mein replacing him against Brown, he hasn't any had lengthy discussion with UFC about what is next.
"It really depends on the approach UFC adopts. If they decide to keep me out of California and I can fight elsewhere, or whether now, everyone knows about it, and no one is prepared to take that risk, then obviously the options are Europe and Asia. It's up to the UFC to allow me to fight. The risk is less than one percent. It's really like the risk of getting hit by an airplane on the way to the gym. It's kind of stupid, but what can I do? It's out of my hands. I'm excited about the potential to do something else or whatever the future will hold."
There was actually a week after he was diagnosed before California made the ruling not to let him fight.
"It was a week where there was a lot of uncertainty," he said. "I had some doctors tell me I was going to get cleared. They did a stress test, ultrasounds, then I went to speak to a cardiologist (from the commission) to get cleared and he told me he couldn't clear me to fight. It was a surprise, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was also a possibility. I just figured it would work out. Why would it not? I had been fighting for years with no problems. It was kind of a shock."
But he said if this is the end of his career, then he'll accept it and move on.
"I can't not be okay with it because I can't spend the rest of my life being bitter about the fact that I didn't get to finish my career on my terms," he said. "It is frustrating because there are still things in the sport I'd like to achieve for myself and within martial arts. Martial Arts will always be part of my life. But competing is under threat at the moment. My journey in martial arts will continue. But competing is the easiest way of making money for the start, and it's fun. You get so much exposure and attention. It heightens the anxiety, but there's a lot of frustrations that come with it."