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Hardy reluctantly comes to grips with the ground

8/12/2011

MILWAUKEE -- Dan Hardy readily admits he has a difficult relationship with wrestling.

“Complicated,” says Hardy, a sly grin breaking across his face when discussing the topic during a public appearance at the Harley Davidson Museum, a couple of days before his main event fight against Chris Lytle at UFC Live 5. “That’s a good way of putting it.”



He’s a professional mixed martial arts fighter after all, so somewhere deep down in his striker’s heart, Hardy understands that a certain acquaintance with the grappling arts is necessary for success. That doesn’t mean he has to like it. It’s no secret the hard-hitting Englishman would rather meet in the center of the cage and throw haymakers than engage in a clinic on the ground and his frustrations with his recent opponents’ play-it-safe game plans are well documented.

In the wake of unanimous decision defeats by grappling-minded foes Georges St. Pierre and Anthony Johnson, Hardy has been critical both of his own performance as well as his opponents'. After watching teammates Andre Winner and Nick Osipczak each lose slow-paced judges’ verdicts at UFC 118, he even went as far as to author a column on the website of his hometown newspaper declaring “there’s beginning to be too much wrestling in the Octagon.”

“My understanding of martial arts is disposing of an opponent as quickly and effectively as possible and controlling someone for 15 minutes isn’t effectively beating someone, in my opinion …,” Hardy tells ESPN.com. “GSP had two submission attempts in 25 minutes and Anthony Johnson didn’t really have any offense as far as trying to finish the fight. More than anything, I’m disappointed not only because I lost, but because those fights were really boring.”

Fittingly, of his current three-fight losing streak Hardy seems most at peace with the one that was also most devastating -- a first round knockout at the hands of Carlos Condit at UFC 120. Hardy refers to that fight as “good fun for the first four minutes, until I got caught with a left hook” and he’s publicly called for Sunday night’s bout against Lytle to be a equally exciting. In that, Lytle has agreed to oblige him.

Yet, for any fighter who wants to remain employed by the UFC, talk of philosophy can only take you so far. The promotion is in the business of selling exciting fights and it likely wouldn’t have booked two competitors who are each coming off losses to headline a nationally televised show if it didn’t expect Hardy and Lytle to put on a show, but it also has a habit of cutting guys who don’t consistently win.

There is fairly unanimous agreement that Hardy is likely out of a job if loses again, so he couldn’t afford to be anything but pragmatic in his preparations for this fight. That meant doing a lot of work to shore up his ground game, or at least sharpen his transitions and takedown defense so he can keep the fight in his own realm. He recently relocated to Las Vegas, where he says he’s been training with Roy Nelson’s Country Club fight team on improving his all-round game, which includes a steady diet of grappling with the 265-pound big man.

“With Roy’s input, with his blackbelt in jiu-jitsu and his wrestling throughout his life at school, there’s a lot good coaching coming my way …,” Hardy says. “I’m feeling a lot more smooth as far as transitioning between the ranges. I can go from striking to wrestling to jiu-jitsu and back again a lot smoother then I could in my last few fights. I think that’s the key.”

Hardy concedes that his complaints against wrestling are easy to dismiss so long as they come off as sour grapes from a guy who just doesn’t have much takedown defense. In that regard, he’s embarked on a new initiative that he says will only make his arguments stronger: Beat the wrestlers at their own game.

“My job now is to continue to complain about wrestling while starting to wrestle and beat guys with wrestling,” Hardy says. “I think that’s the only way of doing it ... If I step into a fight and everybody is trying to take me down, I can always use the ‘Well, they don’t want to stand and trade with me’ line. But mixed martial arts isn’t just about standing there trading punches, it’s about going out and beating your opponent.”

So wait, will the day come where Hardy comes out of his corner and shoots a double on an unsuspecting adversary?

“Maybe, maybe,” he says. “I wouldn’t count it out.”