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It's a good thing Dan Hardy can count on the support of his fans, because he made few friends in the MMA community with his recent attack on "timid" wrestlers.
Never one to shy away from controversy, the headhunter who boasts a 23-7 record with 11 finishes by TKO and four by submission shrugged off remarks from fellow fighters upset with his outburst and now claims that these so-called "boring" fighters threaten the very future of the sport.
"From what I understand from the fans, the majority of people agree with me," said the 28-year-old welterweight, speaking to ESPN.com deep into the training camp for his UFC 120 showdown with Carlos Condit. "It's a massive issue. If we don't entertain, we don't get paid. We can win as much as we like, but if there's nobody watching the sport it's completely insignificant."
Writing for his local newspaper in early September, Hardy penned a column that drew heavy criticism from high-profile fighters such as middleweight contender Nate Marquardt. Marquardt suggested the Brit was suffering from sour grapes following his one-sided loss to welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre -- who happens to be Marquardt's training partner -- earlier this year.
Hardy's lack of an answer to St. Pierre's grappling led to widespread criticism of his recent comments, yet Hardy asserts his viewpoint has nothing to do with his unsuccessful attempt on the title.
"People are assuming I'm making these comments because of that fight and I'm not," Hardy said. "GSP had his submissions attempts, and he played the game the right way. I was under pressure in the fight -- there was no point where he was just holding me down. But there are some fighters who think, 'I've got a takedown, I can rest a bit here now.' There just isn't the intention to damage the opponent or submit them."
It was August's lightweight bout between Nick Lentz and Andre Winner -- Hardy's teammate -- that prompted his diatribe against boring fighters. Comparing Lentz's lack of engagement to that of UFC 83's Kalib Starnes-Nate Quarry fight/track meet, Hardy only echoed the oft-repeated sentiments of UFC president Dana White, the most vocal critic of overcautious fighters.
"First and foremost I'm a fan [of MMA], above every sport in the world," said Hardy. "To sit and watch guys who are not wanting to engage, it's frustrating. If I was just a fan, I could switch it off and find a different sport. They're affecting my livelihood as a fighter.
"We have a responsibility to give fans value for their money. You wouldn't go to see AC/DC sit down on stage and play guitars; you want to see Angus Young running around like a lunatic. You want to be entertained, you want to see them perform, but there's a difference between performing and entertaining."
Fighters have a duty to perform, but not to entertain. A safety-first style of fighting pleases few fans, so it was an inspired piece of matchmaking to put Hardy in with another man who finds it difficult to have boring fights.
Former WEC champ Carlos Condit showed why he's one of the sport's top welterweights when he and Martin Kampmann put on a three-round display of all that is great about MMA back in September 2009. Since his arrival in the Octagon, Condit has picked up a fight-of the-night honor (for his tussle with Rory MacDonald) and the stars look aligned to deliver another crowd-pleasing tear-up when Hardy and Condit meet in London on UFC 120.
"When Joe Silva called me up and said 'How about Condit?' I said to myself, 'That's an awesome fight.' I know he's going to come to have a fight, there's no doubt about it, he'll do everything he can to win. That's what I'm interested in.
"A guy like Carlos, he doesn't mind putting it on the line to chase the victory. That gets me excited because I know he'll be open, I can catch him with a clean shot and put him to sleep. I don't want to think, 'I've got to get this guy off my legs for 15 minutes.'"
Condit shares Hardy's excitement ahead of the bout and has promised he'll do his utmost to make it a fight the fans will appreciate. A rangy striker-cum-submission artist, Condit's style may be at odds with his opponent, but his mentality is much the same -- entertainment comes first.
|In your face: Dan Hardy won't have to look hard to find Carlos Condit, top.|
"He's the kind of fighter that I want to fight," Condit said. "You know, he puts on exciting fights, he comes to finish guys. I want it to be an exciting fight -- I want to give the fans a show."
These days, wrestlers seem to dominate MMA: the lightweight, welterweight and heavyweight divisions are packed with them. Chael Sonnen almost took the middleweight title from Anderson Silva, and the 205-pound belt has spent seven of the past 10 years in the hands of men with substantial wrestling backgrounds. Their current stranglehold on MMA begs the question: What will it take to redress the balance?
Hardy thinks he may have an answer.
"I think it will be people who can threaten from the floor or standing," Hardy said. "They might not be able to take guys down and pin them and beat them up, but wherever the fight goes, they're going to be dangerous. It won't be the strikers or jiu-jitsu guys taking the fight where they want it; it will be them threatening the wrestler wherever the wrestler wants to take the fight. That's the next level."
All this begs the question: Why is Hardy so obsessed with putting on a show? From the red mohawk and colored contact lenses, to the no-holds-barred interviews and dynamic in-cage style, there's got to be a reason why he's so committed to making fighting entertaining.
"I'm doing this because I enjoy it, because it entertains me. If I'm bored in a fight, I can't imagine how difficult it is for the fans to watch," Hardy said.
"If it was up to me, we'd stand on the [UFC-sponsored] Bud Light logo and we'd trade punches until someone falls over, and if I'm the first one to fall over, then I'm the first one to fall over. But at least I've had a good time doing it. I'm having fun, so the fans are probably enjoying themselves as well."
Hywel Teague is a contributing mixed martial arts writer for ESPN.com. He is a veteran reporter and edited the international MMA magazine Fighters Only for five years.