By Zach Arnold | July 14, 2011
By Mike Schmitz
For years, Dan Hardy has lived (and died) by his reputation as a brawler. Moving away from his striking-heavy MMA training style was never an option, no matter the opponent. However, with Hardy’s back against the wall in his upcoming bout against Chris Lytle at UFC Live 5, he’s pulling out all the stops.
As he said recently on the ESPN UFC Podcast, Dan Hardy’s slimmer, more refined on the ground and even sporting a new version of his infamous Mohawk. The 6-foot, 170-pound welterweight has fallen from grace since his title fight loss to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 111. He followed up the GSP defeat with back-to-back losses to Carlos Condit (KO) and Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson (Unanimous) and is a loss away from being cut by UFC.
He admitted he tried to get bigger after his loss to GSP, and it hurt him in his next two fights.
“In the last two fights, I haven’t done my skill set any justice. I’ve been really disappointed with my performance in the gym and inside the Octagon,” Hardy told the ESPN UFC Podcast. “I gained a lot of weight ever since the GSP fight, doing things like power-training, and a lot of it has been detrimental to me.”
With that stated, Hardy’s altered his MMA training for a bout he described as “the kind of fight that can define your career around.” He’s been training with Roy Nelson in Las Vegas to improve his ground game and is as fast as he’s been since coming to the UFC. However, Hardy fought Johnson less than four months ago. Will Nelson be able to improve his ground game in such a short time frame? Nelson certainly thinks so.
“I think you’re going to see a more refined Dan where he’s going to be confident in every strike that he throws, without worrying about getting taken down,” Nelson told MMAWeekly. “And if he wants he can take somebody down.”
It remains to be seen how quickly Nelson can turn what Hardy called a “gaping hole in my game,” into a strength, but there’s no doubt The Outlaw has to improve leaps and bounds based on his last fight against Johnson. Rumble wore Hardy out with the ground and pound and took him to decision, where he’s 8-4 in his career. Although Lytle can scrap when necessary, if Hardy can’t combat the ground and pound he could be in for another long and grueling night.
Lytle is a submission specialist (21-0) with two of his last three victories coming by way of ground submissions. If Hardy doesn’t want to spend three rounds on the ground and wait for yet another UD loss, he needs to pick his spots very carefully.
Although he calls himself a brawler, Hardy must fight smart and make sure he doesn’t go after Lytle like a chicken with his head cut off or he’ll get caught and spend the night on the ground. Hardy’s clearly fighting to revitalize his UFC career and working to add a ground game at least gives him a chance to defy odds and defeat Lytle. Why exactly should you think Hardy has a chance against Chris “Lights Out” Lytle?
Hardy can easily hang with Lytle in terms of striking. I’d actually give Hardy the advantage in that department, although with two dangerous strikers anything could happen at any time. Secondly, this is a fight Hardy wanted for a reason. He thrives in these types of fights – an all-out war. Eleven of Hardy’s 23 wins have been by KO and he’s only been knocked out once. Although Lytle is a dangerous striker and a pros pro, he hasn’t faced the level of competition Hardy has in his most recent fights, and only 10% of his wins are by way of knockout.
So, if this fight does end in a knockout as most expect, the 29-year-old Hardy has to be the favorite. If he’s going to secure the KO, Hardy needs to use his combos carefully, keep his distance and ultimately connect. If he’s against the cage clinching he gives Lytle too much of a chance to bring him to the ground, plus Hardy has a six-inch reach advantage on Lights Out (74-to-68).
Lytle is a 6-to-5 favorite and given his recent success (4-1 in last five fights) compared to Hardy’s struggles, it makes sense to take Lytle as the winner. Hardy’s back is against the wall. His UFC career could be over (according to popular belief), and everyone saw how that motivated Tito Ortiz in his win over Ryan Bader.
Even if Hardy doesn’t secure a win, he doesn’t deserve to get the hook from the UFC. He’s still 29 years old, brings a ton of draw and excitement with his knockout prowess and hasn’t faced pushover opponents by any means. Consider this Hardy’s second-to-last chance.
If he walks away victorious, Hardy moves back into the mix into the welterweight division. No he won’t be taking on GSP, Carlos Condit or even Rumble in his next fight like he used to, but he leapfrogs Lytle and jumps from on the fringe of irrelevance to the third tier of welterweights.
Hardy knows what he has to do to win the fight, he has much more to lose than Lytle and he has a striking advantage in a fight most expect to end in knockout. Before it’s all said and done, Hardy’s hand will be raised, his altered MMA training style will pay off, and his UFC career will be revived.