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Dan Hardy: England 'Insane' Over UFC

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to England on Saturday for UFC 95, and the loudest cheers in London's O2 Arena are likely to come for Dan Hardy, the British welterweight who will take on Rory Markham.

On Tuesday I talked to Hardy about his fight (which will be shown in the United States at 9 PM on Spike), the popularity of the UFC in England and why he's been training at gyms in California and Las Vegas. The full interview is below.

Michael David Smith: What's going through your head right now, with just a few days to go before the fight?
Dan Hardy: I'm excited. I can't wait for this fight. My training camp has gone perfectly. My diet has gone perfectly. I don't have a lot of weight to cut before the fight, and I think it's going to be a great fight and I can't wait.

How popular is the UFC in England right now?
It's insane. Everywhere you look, you see the UFC, in newspapers and magazines. People can't get enough of it. It's everywhere.

When you're out and about in England, do you get recognized as a UFC fighter?
Yes, quite a bit. I'm kind of at the point where people look at me and point me out to their friends, but they don't come over and say hello yet. I think with a couple more fights those same people will come up and say hello.

How big a star is Michael Bisping?
Oh, he's way up there. He was voted Britain's Coolest Man. Everyone knows who he is. And as soon as you say, "UFC," Michael Bisping is the next thing people mention.

I know you've done some training in the United States, both at Eddie Bravo's gym and at Xtreme Couture. How important has it been for you to expose yourself to different training partners, and to get to know fighters in the United States and not just in England?
It's helped my game a lot. I've seen how world-class athletes train and conduct themselves, and I've learned a lot from it. Just as far as my skill level, my wrestling and jiu jitsu have improved markedly. But I think it's been even more important seeing how athletes put their training camp together, their diet, things like that. I've really learned a lot and that's a major benefit.

Are there any particular fighters you've worked closely with and learned from, either from sparring with them or rolling with them or just from watching how they prepare themselves?

The two guys I work with quite a lot when I'm at Xtreme Couture are Mac Danzig and Martin Kampmann. They've both been really helpful. Myself and Martin Kampmann have worked on a lot of wrestling, and Mac Danzig is a good friend. He lets me stay at his house when I go out there, and it's just interesting to see how he goes about training, how he paces himself during the week. He shows me how to work hard training without doing too much. It takes some discipline to leave the gym and get enough rest.

What kind of fight are you expecting from Rory Markham?
I'm expecting a real fast-paced, scrappy fight. I think he's going to come out and be full speed from the first bell to the last. It makes for a real exciting fight because neither of us want to leave it to the judges. I'm going to push the pace and I think he will too.

Is it important to you not just to win but to be exciting when you do it?
Without a doubt, and that's for myself as much as for the fans. I don't want to be bored with the fight. I'm in there to do a job and that's to get my opponent out of there before the last bell, that's the way I see it. My techniques are exciting because I use a lot of fast punch combinations, high kicks, things like that, and that's both the right approach for me to win and the approach that the fans seem to like.

Have you watched much film of Rory to prepare?
Yes. I watch video of him every day. I carry around some videos of him on my iPod, and I'll sit down and watch a few minutes of his fights every chance I get. I like to get myself to a place where I can close my eyes and see his fights in my head, pick him apart and expose his weaknesses.

I've talked to some fighters who tell me they prepare the same way for every opponent. But it sounds like you come into the Octagon with a specific game plan tailored for your opponent?
Definitely. I like to get in the Octagon knowing what I should be expecting. I wouldn't want to step in there and waste the first five minutes of the fight trying to figure out what he's trying to do. From the first bell, I'm looking for ways to stop the fight.

What is your preparation like in these last days before the fight? Are you focusing on cutting weight, or on mental preparation, or stretching exercises, or what?
The training is a lot less in the last few days. Just getting my diet right is really the only thing I need to concern myself with in the next few days. I do a lot of visualization because the fight is constantly on my mind. I have everything I go over in my head, but other than that I don't have much to worry about. I don't have to worry about my diet too much. I don't cut any water weight until the weigh-in Friday.

And you're sure you'll make weight?
Without a doubt.

How many fights do you have left on your current UFC contract?
I have three more, including this one coming up on Saturday.

Do you have any thoughts on who you might be able to fight after Rory, and how soon you'd like to get back into the Octagon again?
It really depends on this fight, and how I'm feeling on Sunday. I'm expecting to win, but physically I want to see how my body feels, whether I'll need a week to recover or longer. But I don't want to wait too long before I fight again. June or July would be perfect for me. As far as the opponent goes, I don't think of that until I get past Markham, but just in terms of challenging myself against an opponent of a different style, I'd like to face a grappler or wrestler next because that would force me to work on that part of my game.

Is that important to you -- to fight different types of opponents so that you give yourself different challenges?
Yes, because it's important for me to improve during the fights. If I can step into the Octagon against a guy who poses a new challenge, that forces me to improve myself as I prepare. For Rory, he's got good punching power and he's a good boxer, so in my training camp I've worked hard to make sure I have those areas covered. So if I fought someone next with a similar style it would be a similar training camp. And although I'd continue to improve in my stand-up, I'd rather find a guy who would force me to work on things that are new to me.

In addition to wanting to challenge yourself by taking on opponents with different styles, do you have long-term goals? Do you think about where you want to be in three years, or in five years, or when you're done in the sport?
I do have a loose plan of what I want to do over the next four or five years, but a lot of it is up to the UFC right now. My five-year plan four years ago was to raise my game to the level where I can get into the UFC, and I achieved that goal. My goal in the next five years is to hold a UFC title, and I'm going to work hard to get to that point.

Do you think you could fight for a title now, or do you have some improving to do first?
I've definitely got some improving to do before I'm at that stage. The top guys in the division -- I'm not ready to face them just yet. But I'm certainly heading there, and after a few more fights and a few more good training camps I'll be ready for that title shot.

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