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Hungry for competition, Dan Hardy sets sail on next adventure in Clipper Yacht Race

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Courtesy of Clipper Race

If Dan Hardy has it his way, he’ll fight again in 2016. He’ll fight at least three more times in the UFC all told, which is the extent of his contract. He will, at some point, climb a daunting mountain, perhaps one of the bigs in the Himalayas, so that he can make himself feel insignificant enough for further self-discovery. And, by early October, he will have "sailor" listed as one of his many occupations.

Sailor Dan.

That’s because the UFC fighter-turned-commentator Hardy boarded a sailing vessel from his native England on Sunday, as part of the highly competitive Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. This is the first leg in the 10th edition of the race. By Sunday afternoon, Hardy was already floating down the Thames in London. By Monday, he was out to sea. His destination will be Rio de Janeiro, some 5,300 miles away, a port he won’t reach for more than a month.

In the meantime, it’ll be him and 23 others, drifting across the void, racing 11 other international vessels in the fleet, dealing with the elements, the cosmos and every shrinking thought imaginable — of what’s above, what’s below, and what’s inside.

And for Hardy, who was presented with the idea of sailing halfway around the world in May, such an experience was just too uncomfortable-sounding to pass up.

"They were recruiting athletes for Team Great Britain, and one of the women who works for Clipper used to work for the UFC in Canada," Hardy told MMA Fighting a day before he and his crew set sail. "And with the way that UFC fighters are a little bit crazy, they reached out to the UFC office in the U.K. to see if I’d be interested in doing it. To be honest, I love a challenge. I love doing something different, and this is just right up my street. It’s something that I’m forced to be a beginner again, and I’m forced to learn new stuff, and to put myself into an uncomfortable situation where I have to adapt and question myself."

Making yourself vulnerable for the public is one of the tenants of cagefighting, part of the thrill stemming from the prospect of failure. For Hardy, who trained with the Shaolin monks in the northeast of China at 20 years old, this sort of adventure is his raison d’être. He said the stakes have to be lively, and there has to be a considerable amount of doubt to overcome.

Much of what Hardy has gone through in his life has been about just that sort of conquering. He went from the monks at the Yee Hee Castle in Changchun to art school, and from there to prizefighting. Hardy was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2013 — Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome — which at least temporarily put him on the shelf as a fighter. In the meantime he has taken up other pursuits, such as working as the color commentator for UFC Fight Pass broadcasts overseas. He’s worked as an ambassador of fighting, and as an advocate for animal rights. He is a muscle car aficionado, and a punk rock connoisseur.

Hardy on Clipper
(Courtesy of Clipper Race)

He’s always up to something new, segueing from one thing to the next. And the idea of drifting out to sea — in a competitive race — gave him just enough of the right kind of pause to agree to it immediately.

"There are a couple of things," he said. "One is being so far away from land; I can’t get myself back on my own accord. It’s like relinquishing that sort of control and … being a part of a team, and being part of a vessel that functions as one. That will be a challenge for me.

"But I’m looking forward to the doldrums, to the ocean just being really still and flat even though we’re thousands of miles away from anybody. That will be an experience."

If that weren’t enough, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston — the man who founded the company, and who was the first person to circumnavigate the globe by himself, back in 1968 — gave Hardy and his crew a pep talk.

"We were just at the crew briefing," Hardy said, "and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said to us, ‘Have a think at this — there’ll be points in the race where the other nearest human beings to you is the international space station. I was like, holy sh*t."

Though he hasn’t had much nautical training in his life, Hardy said he had a crash course over the last couple of months to help him get used to the idea of life aboard a ship. He believes he retained a lot of the information, but expects to really catch on as the action unfolds.

"I’ve only done four weeks of training," he said. "We do four levels of training, and we started in May. So I’ve only known about it for a couple of months really, three months. We’ve did four levels of training, one level per week, and that was all out on the boat, getting as much experience and sailing as much as we can. All of the health and safety aspects, abandoning ship, rescuing people overboard, all the stuff you need to learn before you get out on an ocean."

His team, which is comprised of one skipper, 21 crew (including himself) and two camera people, will be in tight quarters for the duration. The Great Britain/Northern Ireland team will be racing against vessels from Vietnam, from China, and from other ports of the globe. All told, the Clipper Race lasts 11 months, with over 600 crew members participating internationally.

It’s become a very competitive race in a short time.

"There are a lot of amateur sailors, a lot of people doing it for the experience for the competition with themselves, but when you get on your boat and you’re around your crew … everybody’s very eager to get a good race started and to get a good place in the race," he said. "That’s really what it’s all about, and that’s the motivation for keeping going.

"Especially when we can’t see any of the other boats for a week. You’ve got to keep motivating each other to keep racing and remember that there are other people chasing us and other people we’re trying to keep up with. It’s a massive thing. More than anything, you’re competing with yourself, and you’re competing with the elements."

Asked if adventures such as this will one day come to describe his life, Hardy said that might end up being the case.

"To be honest, I’m not very good at sitting still for very long," he said. 
"I always like to have something new to talk about, and have something new that will force me to ask questions about myself. It’s been a weird couple of years given the fact that I was sidelined from competition and I’ve been doing a lot of commentary. Although I am wanting to be as good at commentary as I can, it’s the competitiveness I’ve been missing out on.

"So this really filled the void that I need filling, and it’s going to lead to many other things. I already know it. I’m already thinking about hiking and climbing and other adventures."

As for fighting, that’s an adventure "The Outlaw" expects to keep going. The 33-year-old Hardy — who fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight belt at UFC 111 in New Jersey, and won his last two bouts over Duane Ludwig and Amir Sadollah — never wanted to retire.

And he’s got his eye on a return.

"Most definitely, the goal is to fight again — I’ve still got three fights left on my contract with the UFC and I would very much like to have those fights," he said. "Obviously I’ve been sidelined for a little while, and I’ve not been able to go and do the tests that I needed to do because I’ve been so busy. But once this race is over…the beginning of October we arrive in Rio, at the end of October we’ve got the massive Dublin show [UFC Fight Night 76], which is going to be absolutely crazy.

"And then in November and December, at the moment I’ve got them put aside just for training, with the intention of doing a good couple of months training camp and then going to do whatever tests I need in the U.K., to see what the doctors have to say and what their thoughts are on me getting cleared to fight. The feedback’s been good so far, so I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue. But it’s just a case of actually getting in there and getting on the treadmill and showing them I’m physically able to fight. Once I’ve done a full ocean race, they can’t really argue with me, can they?"