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Dan Hardy's Judgement Day Set For UFC On Versus 5: 8.14.11

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Dan Hardy is near rock-bottom. The former top-ranked 170-pound contender finds himself in a must-win situation this weekend as he sits on three straight losses. A fourth could spell disaster and he's not about to let that happen. We go one-one-one with "The Outlaw" as he readies for the biggest fight of his career in this exclusive interview.

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Sorry ancient Mayans, Dan Hardy's calendar ends tomorrow (Aug. 14, 2011) at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The former number one contender has seen his status significantly slip in the past 17 months, losing three straight bouts, which includes a unanimous decision defeat to division champion Georges St. Pierre, as well as a devastating knockout courtesy of Carlos Condit.

He was supposed to get back on track when he "rumbled" with Anthony Johnson earlier this year, but that fight didn't end in his favor either. 

It's now or never for "The Outlaw" as he prepares to lace up his gloves and sling leather with Chris Lytle in the UFC on Versus 5 main event. And he knows it. Hardy hand-picked "Lights Out," hoping that the aggressive, hard-hitting Indiana fireman can bring out the best in him.

He's not alone -- Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) apparently believes that the pairing is potent, promoting it to the top of the card despite both their recent struggles. Main eventing a UFC show is pressure enough, much less having to do it while backed into a corner. 

However, Hardy wouldn't have it any other way.

He's well aware of the importance of this upcoming fight. Hardy has even moved to a new town, relied on new training partners and even changed up his trademark mohawk all in an effort to find a way to win. Find a new way to get better and keep doing what he loves before it's taken away from him. 

We recently caught up with the British brawler to talk about his unique position, superstitions, how he's dealing with the pressure and what he expects out of himself, as well as Lytle, when the cage door closes in "Cream City." He was candid, honest and oddly relaxed as he heads into a fight that will likely decide the course of his UFC fight future.

And possibly end it altogether. In the short-term, anyway.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Three straight losses. It's a far cry from the number one contender status you enjoyed a year ago. How have you handled this roller coaster?

Dan Hardy: I had to seriously question my position in this sport and what I need to do to improve it. MMA is like life, it's up and down. And the further you get along in your career the highs are higher and the lows are lower. It's just one of those things where I try to do everything I can and the rest is out of my hands. My last couple of fights just have not gone my way and there are things that I needed to change and that I needed to assess. I've done that. And the fans are going to see some major improvements on Sunday night.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What were those changes and improvements?

Dan Hardy: I moved out to Las Vegas, Nevada, to train with some new guys. I had Roy Nelson coaching me every day and he has great guys around him who are great at jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling -- everything -- and they have really been able to push me to my limit. It's just given this training camp a different feel and a different look. I hadn't really changed my training camp a great deal since I joined the UFC, so I kind of got a little too comfortable in Los Angeles. That's when I hit this bad patch and it's because I settled a little bit too much. I think that was a part of the problem, so I made myself get out of my comfort zone and force myself to evolve. This sport and the fighters are growing so fast and it's important to keep up. Just one little rest and you can get passed by. So just giving this training camp a fresh look and a fresh feel has really made a difference. I'm working mixed martial arts every day now, rather than just focusing on one discipline at a time. Every session is an intense mixed martial arts session, not just a jiu-jitsu or wrestling focus. So that's really made a huge difference.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What made you seek out Roy Nelson in Las Vegas when you decided to change up your training? Did you already have a relationship with him?

Dan Hardy: I actually didn't seek him out or anything. After watching him on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), I wasn't in a hurry to meet him, to be perfectly honest. It was just a circumstance where after the loss to Georges St. Pierre I went over to North Carolina to watch Ross Pearson and Andre Winner fight in Charlotte. That was the same night where Roy knocked out Stefan Struve with that big overhand right. I was quite impressed. We got to talking later that night and the guy who I met was very, very different than the guy I assumed he would be like by just watching him on television. He's a completely different person. We got to talking and I realized that he's a very humble, quiet and knowledgeable person. We then bumped into each other again a few more times after that at various events and he offered to help me out. He's a black belt in jiu-jitsu and he's a fantastic coach. It was an opportunity that he offered and I finally took him up on it, leaving Los Angeles for a week or two, spent a little time with him, and I liked it. So I thought it would be a good idea to move out there and spend more time there -- it's a good match. I can help him with my striking and conditioning and he can help me with jiu-jitsu and wrestling. Together we benefit from each other's company.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Have you been focusing all this time on wrestling and jiu-jitsu? Lytle is good at both, but he's a boxer first.

Dan Hardy: Striking is and always will be my bread and butter. It's always going to be my strength. It's what I enjoy the most -- I've been doing it since I was six, so it comes very natural to me. It's still a big focus. For the first month of this training camp I actually flew out to England to train at Team Rough House to spar and work on my stand up. Those guys have always looked out for me, it's where I started my career. When I left, I took my striking coach with me and he's been around me every day for months. We have great sessions. My striking sessions are always my best sessions in the U.K. That was something I wanted to continue doing here, in addition to working with Roy and his guys, I definitely have a much more well-rounded camp.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What's it like training with "Roy and his guys?"

Dan Hardy: He has a lot of talented up-and-coming guys in his gym. He has two guys, one a 185-pound fighter and another really good 155-pound fighter, which is perfect for me because one of them is big, strong and technically sound, while the other is smaller, faster and just as technically able. There are always other guys coming in and we often headed out to the ThrowDown gym and sparred over there with guys like Gilbert Yvel and a few other guys. It's been a really, really good experience. There is so much more in Las Vegas in terms of working with great fighters. The town is full of them.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: You've made it clear that you're making adjustments to your training. But I also remember you saying you'd make an adjustment to your trademark mohawk on fight night. What can we expect?

Dan Hardy: I actually had it cut last week and I really like it. It's orange this time. Orange hair, orange shorts. I'm going for the Shaolin Punk look.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Is this a superstition? For example, if you don't cut/dye your hair something bad is going to happen?

Dan Hardy: More than anything it's a way for me to get my head around an upcoming fight and focused on the task at hand. Throughout my career I've always had my hair cut just before a fight, which at this point has become a ritual. It also makes me more recognizable, people now expect it. If I don't do it, my fans now get quite annoyed, actually.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Are there any other superstitions or rituals that you need to address prior to getting into a fight?

Dan Hardy: Sure, I do lots of weird little things, even down to the way I brush my teeth on fight day. I just like to have a routine that I'm comfortable with that I know is stable and regular. I don't no if it's a superstition, but more of a system so that I don't have to think about anything on fight day, everything is all laid out and I know what I'm going to do at each step. I wake up, brush my teeth, take my supplements, eat, rest. That sort of thing. Even the foods I eat on fight day are always the same. It's a regular thing. This way my only focus is the fight. I don't have to think because I'm on auto pilot.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: So how will you brush your teeth differently on Sunday rather than tonight?

Dan Hardy: (Laughs) It's more about the time and energy that I put into it more than anything else. It's more of a meditation thing. I floss and brush and floss and brush. Then I use mouthwash. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes, and during that time I'm just alone in the bathroom, thinking about the fight. I'm not talking to anybody or having anything else to think about. It gives me some important time to be by myself and get myself ready for the day.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: You've been called the fighter that enjoys getting announced more than anyone else. Can you describe the feeling when Bruce Buffer is introducing you?

Dan Hardy: It's awesome. I've been a huge UFC fan first and foremost -- I'm not just a fighter. So to hear Bruce Buffer announce my name it's pretty cool, I'm not going to lie.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Your mind games with trash talk have helped you win fights in the past, the Marcus Davis bout in particular. Can you talk about how important the mental game is in MMA?

Dan Hardy: It's very important. One thing I've said before and I'll say it again: I'm not going to trash talk for no reason just to sell a fight. If I feel it would be of value to me or I legitimately didn't like the guy, then fair enough, I'll speak my mind. But I'm not going to trash talk just for the sake of trash talking. If I have an opinion, I'll say it. Sometimes that's a curse, but at least everyone knows what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Ever regret saying something you probably shouldn't have?

Dan Hardy: I don't know. There are things that I've said that have obviously upset people, but I've never said anything with malicious intent unless it's about Josh Koscheck (laughs).

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: How come you've been relatively quiet heading into this weekend?

Dan Hardy: I have a lot of respect for Chris and I think it's going to be a great fight. I'm respectful for him taking this fight and stepping up. And I know he's the kind of guy who is going to push the pace and make me work, so I've got nothing but positive things to say about him to be honest.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What is it about Chris Lytle that made you call him out?

Dan Hardy: It's just his approach to the fight and his style of fighting. He always gets in there with the intention of giving 100 percent and he doesn't mind taking risks to try and finish the fight before the final bell. I think it's an approach that all fighters should have each time they enter the Octagon, actually.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Does he have any weaknesses that you plan to exploit?

Dan Hardy: I just think with the reach advantage, as well as the advantages in speed and conditioning, I think those are big factors that favor me in this fight. I'm not so sure his aggressive style will mean much in this fight. We're going to stand right in the center of the Octagon and the guy who gets knocked out first is going to be the guy who loses. And I'm confident that I have the heart and tenacity to see that through to the end.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What's your plan if he pulls an Anthony Johnson, promises to stand and bang and then wrestles his way to victory?

Dan Hardy: I've learned the hard way that you can't expect an opponent to fight a certain way, and if that's what Chris does, then I'm prepare to fight him on the ground. I'm prepared for every eventuality now. If he takes me down I'm confident I can avoid his submissions and threaten with my own. And if I choose to I know I can get back up again. Let's also remember that Chris isn't the best wrestler, not like Anthony Johnson or GSP, so I'm confident my wrestling is good enough to keep the fight where I want it this time.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Did you learn anything from that loss, in particular, perhaps its more important to fight safe and win rather than go balls to the wall and lose?

Dan Hardy: I'm just going to go out there and do my thing. I'd rather go out there and give it everything I've got and lose rather than go out there and fight safe and have a boring fight. That just wouldn't live up the fans expectations or my own. Anthony Johnson was very smart in that last fight, he sold it like we were going to stand up and trade punches, and in the end he punked me. I'm not going to fall into that kind of trap again. He got me good. And he got his win bonus.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: You've got three straight losses. Lytle lost his last bout, too. Why do you think you were picked to headline a fight?

Dan Hardy: I'm not really sure. I have no idea, to be honest. Obviously people know that Chris and I have exciting styles and they know that because of our names and they way we fight that we're going to sell tickets. I was surprised because there are other fights on the card that are also worthy, if not more worthy, for the main event spot. Just look at the main card and every fight is good, especially the fight between Jim Miller and Ben Henderson. It's actually a difficult position to be in. At the end of they day, I think the UFC knows that a fight between me and Chris is a guaranteed fan favorite. We both want to get in there and prove that we really do belong in the UFC, neither of us mind taking risks and trading punches. That's what the fans buy tickets to see and we're going to give them a show.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Is it added pressure, being expected to put on a show-stealing fight, while at the same time knowing that a fourth straight loss could be disastrous?

Dan Hardy: I don't think so, maybe for some other fighters, but for me and Chris I don't think so. We both expect that of ourselves anyway. It's also something the UFC expects, so by them reinforcing the way they want us to fight and what the fans want to see, it just makes it easier to get up for a fight like this, really.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Dana White has said numerous times that he likes you. What's that relationship like?

Dan Hardy: There is nothing really to it -- I only see him at events and other appearances. He's always a nice guy and we always have a short little chat, so I think maybe he just appreciates my efforts for the organization, as well as for the fans. He knows that I'm going to give it everything I've got and maybe he doesn't feel that way about other fighters in this sport. I don't know. I think I'm very easy to work with, which also might be part of it, too.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: How do you react when people say you hold an unfair advantage in job security because of your U.K. marketability?

Dan Hardy: I'm not sure. I think the problem with the UFC in the U.K. is that they don't have that many marketable fighters like they do in other countries like Brazil and Canada, for example. Obviously there is me and Michael Bisping, who I'm not sure is as popular as they'd like him to be here in the states. A lot of the other guys don't say much at all, or their accents are so strong you can't understand what they are saying. I think that's a big issue, which has maybe worked in my favor a little bit. But I don't want to be in the UFC because I'm British, have a crazy hair cut or people think I can box. I want to be here because I deserve it and I plan to prove that this weekend. Maybe it's helped me or been a little bit of a saving grace this time, but I can't expect for that treatment to last forever if that's the case. And I wouldn't want it to.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Have you ever considered what you would do with your career if you were cut from the UFC?

Dan Hardy: No, not at all. There are a lot of things that I want to do when my career winds down, but as far as right now, the end of the world is Sunday night. Everything else is completely irrelevant at the moment. I'm excited to do other things with my life, but as for right now I'm a UFC fighter and that's what I plan on being for a very long time.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: If you weren't fighting, what would you be doing?

Dan Hardy: I do a lot of writing. I'm working on a couple of books at the moment. I enjoy teaching. I'd like to go back and study again, take a few University courses. I want to travel. The list is endless, really. But my UFC career is my focus right now.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What kind of writing do you do?

Dan Hardy: It's kind of difficult to explain. I'm a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson, he's the one who wrote "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas," which was made into a movie with Johnny Depp. He invented a style of journalism called "Gonzo." He was a very interesting dude. I'm also writing a piece of non-fiction at the moment.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Is any of this in print anywhere or is it all hidden in notebooks stuffed under your mattress?

Dan Hardy: (Laughs) No, some of it is out there. Most of it is for magazines that aren't that well known. I also do a couple of blogs for a few websites. The actual personal writing is kept away at the moment and I'm saving that for a later date.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: Looking back on your career, what has been your most memorable moment?

Dan Hardy: The GSP fight stands out. And on top of that the Swick fight was enjoyable for me. I thought it was one of my better performances, which was also in from of my British fans. That was the one that set me up for a title shot. It was a good weekend. It's times like that, where I really believed I was getting somewhere in this sport, that carry me through tough times like this. It's definitely a position I want to get back to.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What's the best part about being a UFC fighter?

Dan Hardy: I love the fact that I get to travel a lot and meet so many cool fans. I get a lot of nice compliments and respect from people from around the world who enjoy what I'm doing. It's just nice to know that I'm doing something that can put positivity in the lives of younger kids and they can use that, hopefully, to better themselves in some little way.

Thomas Myers, MMA Nation: What is the legacy that you want to be remembered for?

Dan Hardy: I don't want to be remembered as a fighter. Sure, it's an important phase of my life and my career, but I think there are a lot of other things that I can do after that will contribute a lot more to the world and have a lot more impact on people. We'll see. I'm in the process of becoming the best man I can be and this is just a small part of it.