As a former title contender and current UFC analyst, Dan Hardy has been front and center to witness the evolution of mixed martial arts. He likes what he sees, and not just for the future of the sport, but what the changes could mean for his potential comeback.
During a Monday appearance on The MMA Hour, the 36-year-old Hardy was asked if he noticed that younger fighters are starting to win more and more at recent UFC events. The example used was the promotion’s recent trip to Singapore, where several fighters in their early-to-mid-20s picked up wins over more experienced opponents. That included streaking welterweight Leon Edwards, who at 26, is nearly a decade younger than the man he beat in the main event, Donald Cerrone.
Hardy attributes this trend to the fact that this generation of fighters is taught the fundamentals of MMA at an early age, as opposed to studying a variety of martial arts disciplines and then later learning to mesh them together effectively as Hardy and many of his peers had to do.
“I think it is accelerating and I think it will continue to gather speed until a lot of the old guys are more fighting the old guys,” Hardy told host Luke Thomas. “I think it’s about time we had a ‘masters division’, to be honest. Because it is getting to a stage where these young guys — and it’s not the technical advantage or anything like that of the younger guys, it’s purely because they’ve grown up with mixed martial arts. They’ve grown up with a seamless game. It took me many, many years to go, ‘Okay, I’m striking. Now I’m in the clinch. Now I’m grappling.’ And for them to take all of those seams out and start blending it together, that’s what we’re seeing from these young guys.
“I’ve had guys that are in the UFC now that come up to me and they say, ‘The thing that inspired me to get into MMA was your fight with GSP. I’m like, that was 2010, you’d not even started training until then, but I forget they’ve had eight years to put that together. If you started training in 2010 and you’re watching the likes of Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo and then Jon Jones and Conor McGregor, you’re learning from the best as you’re learning your game and you don’t have all those bad habits.”
What was arguably Hardy’s most memorable moment in the UFC came against another member of the old guard, welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre. Hardy challenged “GSP” for a UFC title back in 2010, losing a five-round unanimous decision. It was the start of a four-fight losing streak for Hardy, who would rebound with back-to-back wins over Duane Ludwig and Amir Sadollah in what are to date his last two fights.
Health problems put Hardy’s career on hold in 2013 and he’s been looking for the right opportunity to put the gloves back on again ever since.
“Always. Absolutely,” Hardy answered when asked if he still thinks about making a comeback. “I sit Octagon-side and I watch these guys all the time and I think to myself, more than anything because I watch my old fights and I see those seams in my old fights and I’m like, I make so many mistakes. I was too heavy in my UFC career. I was talking to my old strength and conditioning coach the other day about this. When I was fighting at welterweight, I was starting training camp at 210. I’m walking around at 180 now. And I would probably still fight at 170, I could make ‘55 if I wanted to, but at 180 I feel like I move like a flyweight. I can kick people in the head no problem with my lead league without thinking about it. Before I was more interested in deadlifting 500 pounds because Anthony Johnson might be standing across from me.
“The sport has changed and unfortunately I got caught up with the trend at the time, which was be an athlete, get big and strong between training camps, boil yourself right down to the biggest you can be, and unfortunately it just didn’t suit my style.”
But even though he sees the sport advancing at a rapid pace, that doesn’t mean Hardy is discouraged. Quite the opposite, in fact. With more fighters competing closer to their natural weight, Hardy likes his chances of being competitive with the current UFC roster and thinks that the world has yet to see the best version of him.
“I think with the shift in the sport, if you look at the welterweight division there’s a lot of lightweights there now,” Hardy said. “There are a lot of guys in the welterweight division that a few years ago probably would have been lightweights. You stand Mike Perry or Colby Covington next to Gleison Tibau and they’re about the same size. And then you look at middleweights as well, we’ve got a former welterweight as the champion. Kelvin Gastelum’s wrecking guys that are bigger than him because he’s got the speed and the power.
“I think there’s a shift in the sport and maybe I got caught up in the wrong time and I’m looking back now thinking I’ve not really shown my best in the UFC and that’s the thing that keeps driving me to have one more fight. Because I feel like I could give much more of a better example of what I’m capable of now.”