It's rare that two fighters who are both coming off losses are paired in a main event. The last time it happened was last year when Jon Jones took on Brandon Vera in the inaugural UFC on Versus event; however, "Bones" didn't really "lose" to Matt Hamill in his previous match.
Nonetheless, Hardy and Lytle earned the spot for one reason and one reason only: To put on a crowd-pleasing, memorable show. Both men are fan favorites, Lytle in particular, and have often been praised by company president Dana White for their efforts.
Dan Hardy (23-9 MMA, 4-3 UFC):
Big wins: Rory Markham, Marcus Davis, Mike Swick
Bigger losses: Georges St. Pierre, Carlos Condit, Anthony Johnson
Biggest strength: Striking
Biggest weakness: Submission/takedown defense
What you need to know: Loser of three straight, desperately needs a win
What's at stake?: Employment
Chris Lytle (30-18-5 MMA, 9-10 UFC)
Big wins: Matt Serra, Brian Foster, Matt Brown
Bigger losses: Matt Serra, Josh Koscheck, Brian Ebersole
Biggest strength: Jack of all trades, master of none
Biggest weakness: Bleeder
What you need to know: Can never win the "big" one, this outcome will likely determine his fight future
What's at stake?: Retirement
Hardy, a former number one 170-pound contender, won four straight fights to kickoff his UFC career. However, he has fallen on hard times since his loss to division champion Georges St. Pierre, getting knocked out by Carlos Condit and then out-wrestled by Anthony Johnson. "The Outlaw" begged for one last chance, vowing to go out on his shield, and White gave it to him ... and then some. It's now or never for the British-born brawler.
Lytle has been in this business off-and-on since 1999. And the closest he ever came to competing for a world title was the prize at the end of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 4: "The Comeback" in 2006. Matt Serra ultimately foot-stomped his way past Lytle in the tournament final and then shocked the world with a first round knockout of St. Pierre. Lytle has been consistently inconsistent since that time, unable to get over on the more talented fighters who have been put in his path.
How they stack up:
On paper this is an exciting fight with all the ingredients of an epic, blood-letting brawl, which is the reason the promotion likely booked it. Both fighters have solid stand up and good hands.
Hardy has only finished one fight via strikes inside the Octagon (Rory Markham), during a fight in which his opponent allegedly entered the cage with a collapsed lung. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular finish. He's got faster hands and prefers to counter punch rather than charge forward with abandon. He'll want to keep his distance to avoid being on his back, which has proven to be his Achilles heel.
Lytle, who has an amateur boxing background, possesses the edge in power. He also has the better chin -- he's never been put out in his professional career. On the contrary, like his nickname "Lights Out" suggests, it's usually the other way around. He often throws caution into the wind, baiting opponents into furious exchanges. His submissions skills are above average and, for the most part, terribly underrated.
This fight, for all its promise of fireworks and fisticuffs, could turn out to be a dud. Hardy coasted to a decision win over Mike Swick, which was billed as a possible battle between two strikers. Anthony Johnson, known for his brutal power, turned around and took down Hardy in their fight despite his pre-fight guarantees to stand and trade.
The sport is filled with such scenarios -- fights don't always turn out as imagined/planned. The good news is Lytle, unless he gets dazed with a punch, will likely hang in the pocket more than most and trade punches.
Cuts, too, could also be an issue. Lytle's paper-thin skin has cost him two fights (Thiago Alves and Joe Riggs), as well as nearly ended another early (Josh Koscheck). The flip side to that token is that when Lytle smells his own blood, he typically shifts into urgent kill mode.
Hardy has his back up against the wall. Options outside the promotion are slim these days. He needs to win this fight -- his career with the UFC, at least in the short-term, is at stake. That type of pressure can either elevate his performance, force him to fight a (gasp) safe fight or compel him to come out guns blazing and get caught on the chin if he's too reckless. There's just no telling how this type of pressure can affect a fighter's performance at this important stage of his young career.
Lytle is a fireman and father of four. He knows that he's in the twilight of his career and that fighting for a living at this point is not going to put his children through college. This is perhaps his last chance to prove that he has a few drops of gas left in the tank to make one final push toward the top. If not, it's likely time to call it quits. His recent announcement to possibly pursue a State Senate run in District 28 or a State House run in District 53 in Indiana signals that he's thinking well beyond his cagefighting days.
Lytle via submission -- he holds a superior edge in this department -- or Hardy via decision. Lytle sustaining a fight-ending cut, as mentioned earlier, is also possible.
Hardy and Lytle are coming into this fight with different points to prove.
For Hardy, he needs to show his boss, Dana White, that he can continue to compete at the highest level despite his recent setbacks. For Lytle, he needs to show himself that he's not quite ready to put a ribbon around his fight career. There's no way he wants to bounce his grandchildren and his knee and tell them, "I could have been a contender."
Two very different men, at two very different moments in their careers, with two very different situations, will go toe-to-toe this Sunday night to provide clarity on their unique positions moving forward. Or so we hope.
After all, it is the main event for a reason.