Even if you looked high and low, it would be difficult to find a fighter as unique as welterweight contender Dan Hardy, and it goes way beyond his trademark red Mohawk.
Take the after party for his Saturday bout against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson for example. Instead of promising drinks, girls, and mayhem, Hardy’s post-fight gathering at El Corazon in Seattle will double as a benefit to raise funds for the West Memphis 3 legal defense fund.
For those who don’t know, the West Memphis 3 was the name given to the three teenagers who were tried and convicted of the 1993 murders of three young boys in Arkansas. What wasn’t taken into consideration during the trials was that DNA collected at the crime scene didn’t match that of the defendants, but of the stepfather of one of the victims. In 2011, the three are expected to receive new hearings to present their case again. It’s been a cause célèbre for many over the years, and it hit home to Hardy.
“The thing that stood out to me was that if I wasn’t born in Nottingham, if I was born in that little town in Arkansas, that could have been me,” he said. “I was the kid with the black t-shirt, the long hair, and the piercings. I had the black nail varnish and the Megadeth CDs and that could have been me or any of my friends. And the fact that they were singled out because of that, that’s not grounds to convict somebody of a really, really awful crime. That’s not how the justice system is supposed to work. Personally, I have a lot of anarchist views so I don’t really do the whole authority thing too much anyway, but for everybody who does, they need faith in the justice system and that could have been any number of people that stand out in the crowd because they have different tastes.”
Hardy’s “different” tastes are serving him well these days, and if he’s not training, fighting in the Octagon, or raising money for a cause he believes in, you can usually find him listening to music, a trait that recently got him nominated as “Most Metal Athlete” for Revolver magazine’s Golden Gods Awards.
“I was kind of surprised to be honest, especially when I saw the other people in my category,” he said. “Jeremy Shockey’s in there, the Miz is in there from WWE, and there are a lot of big names out there, a lot of people who have a big fanbase, and then there’s me, kind of a lower level celebrity, if you like. (Laughs) It’s cool, it’s awesome, and I think it’s one of the first times that my musical tastes have actually been a benefit to me. (Laughs) It’s just strange because 10-15 years ago, I was the one kid that listened to metal and now I’ve been nominated for an award because I talk about my musical tastes.”
It’s almost as if Hardy is coming full circle, considering that it was his musical career that had to be sacrificed when he began pursuing mixed martial arts as a full-time job.
“When I made my decision to focus on mixed martial arts, I was in a band,” he recalled. “I started to travel over to the US, I was training at American Top Team and Team Quest and it became unfair to the guys who I was in the band with because they were giving a hundred percent and I was kinda dividing my time 50-50 between training and singing, and it just wasn’t fair on them. So I had to make a decision and it was still one of the toughest decisions I made because I just loved being in the studio, being on stage, and being in that whole lifestyle. But I had to make a decision and fortunately it paid off. I still miss it though, and I would still love to be involved in the music industry in some way.”
These days, Hardy’s musical output consists of a blog he writes for the website Metal Army, a sponsorship by Earache Records, some backing vocals on the remake of his walk-in song, Cock Sparrer’s “England Belongs to Me,” and some lyric writing.
“I still write lyrics and I’ve always got my guitar in my hand,” he said. “I’m absolutely useless at it (Laughs), but I do make an effort.”
He says that when his athletic career is over, he’ll eventually return to university and to music on a more regular basis, but for now, there’s still work to be done, beginning with his bout against Johnson. A knockout artist who has finished off each of his five UFC wins via strikes, “Rumble” isn’t exactly the guy you want to face after suffering a knockout loss. But Hardy, who was KOed for the first time in his career by Carlos Condit last October at UFC 120, didn’t hesitate when the bout was offered to him by UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.
“Why not?” he chuckles. “That’s not my job. His job is to pick my opponents, my job is to get in there and try and figure them out and beat them. Anthony Johnson was the next name, and I don’t give myself a choice in the matter because I don’t think it’s important. What’s important is that I’ve got a problem that needs solving and I either need to find the skills or relearn the skills that I need to beat the guy. I’m not scared to fight anybody in any weight class. It doesn’t make a difference to me. What’s important to me is that I get in there and have a good time.”
Hardy’s good time got in the way of a win against Condit, as his willingness to trade recklessly sent him into a shootout, and when he and his foe both threw left hooks at the same time, Condit was a split second quicker, and Hardy was knocked out.
“The only thing that I took away from the fight was a bit of anger and frustration because it was my own fault,” said Hardy, who dropped to 23-8 with 1 NC. “It was a bit of cockiness and arrogance and it was a lesson in life. Unfortunately it was seen on national TV in front of millions, but it was probably the best way to remember the lesson and I won’t be making that mistake again.”
It was almost the expected way for the 2010 campaign to end for Hardy, who began the year in March with a lopsided decision loss to UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. It was a disappointing defeat for the Brit, despite the acclaim he received for his gutsy effort, yet when he lost to Condit, it actually made the GSP fight the lone highlight of the last 12 months.
“I’ve only got experience of 28 years, but that was the worst of the 28 up to now,” said Hardy of 2010. “In and out of the Octagon it was just a rough year in general. I actually think the best day of the year was getting my arms twisted off by GSP. (Laughs) But it’s the way it goes, and for want of a better phrase, you’ve just got to roll with the punches. Christmas came and I dusted myself off, gave myself a good talking to, and I’ve started this year with a vengeance and everything’s gone well. I’m feeling like March 26th is gonna be the best I’ve ever been, and I genuinely feel that. I know it’s a cliché, but I feel my best in general, just the best version of Dan Hardy yet.”
And if he can take one thing away from last year, it’s that he earned the respect of his peers. Johnson has nothing but praise for his foe, and he’s not alone. That type of talk brings a smile to Hardy’s face.
“One of the main things for me when I started competing was that I kinda felt like I was fighting for respect,” he said. “I wanted to test myself, but that was for me to respect myself as a martial artist and respect the effort that I put in at the gym. But at the same time I wanted the respect from some of the fighters that were getting in there and doing it. I wanted people to look at me and say ‘that guy is doing it too and he’s doing it to the best of his ability.’ And that’s what it’s all about. Obviously, winning’s important because of the financial benefits and the career benefits that come with it, but for me, the most important thing is the fight. I genuinely love getting in there and just trading punches. My first year I had 14 fights, and if it was up to me I’d be fighting that regular now. Obviously now the competition’s higher so I’ve got to be a bit more sensible about it, but I just love a good scrap, I love a good tear up and I learn a lot about myself in those situations as well.”
It’s likely that he’ll learn plenty this weekend in 15 minutes or less with Johnson, one of the hardest punchers in the game. But Dan Hardy expects to be doling out some lessons of his own on his way back to the top of the division, and it all begins in Seattle.
“It’s time to take a step forward,” he said. “I know where I stand in the division, I know where I stand in the eyes of the fighters and in the eyes of the UFC and I feel that all of those things need improving on. As a person, I feel like I need to evolve as well, and that’s my focus this year. I’m planning a complete evolution from this point onwards, and that started as soon as 2011 entered the calendar. I’ve changed a few things in my training camp, I’ve sacrificed a few things, and I’ve really shaken things up.”
High Noon for the Outlaw
"I’m not scared to fight anybody in any weight class. It doesn’t make a difference to me. What’s important to me is that I get in there and have a good time.” - Dan Hardy