"I think I had the quickest rise and the quickest fall the UFC has ever seen," Dan Hardy told an assembled media after his UFC Live 5 main event loss to Chris Lytle Sunday. "Four fights up and four fights down."
Ironically, Hardy, an outspoken critic of point fighting and lay and pray wrestling, was caught looking to game the system and earn some cheap marks on the judges' sheets.
"I shot in, I thought 'I'll score a couple of points.' Learned that from my last fight," a sheepish Hardy said. "I thought I might be able to even out the round a little bit. I went straight into his guillotine. I knew it was a strong technique of his. And he caught me with it."
The loss, as he says, is his fourth in a row since working his way to a title shot against Georges St. Pierre in 2010. A reflective Hardy seemed unsure of what to do next. UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta announced on Twitter that Hardy would not be cut from the promotion, drawing cries of outrage from some MMA pundits like Heavy's E. Spencer Kyte:
How far down the depth chart do you go to find an opponent for Hardy the next time out? And what does a win over a hand-picked challenger who will surely be a favorable stylistic partner really mean in the grand scheme of things?
Would a single victory over a low-end opponent erase a four-fight losing streak and allow Hardy to start again?
All of those questions need to be answered, and unfortunately, I can't see any of the answers being strongly tied to sport and competition.
And it's not just Kyte who needs convincing. Dan Hardy himself isn't sure what the future might bring. He was openly discussing a life after MMA in the moments immediately following his submission loss.
"I think my head's elsewhere to be honest. I'm going to step back a little bit and take some time. Just enjoy being in the gym for a little while and see where the future takes me," Hardy said. "...Either come back in a blaze of glory and make another run for the belt or maybe do something else. I'm not sure yet."
At Bloody Elbow, Fraser Coffeen had the prescription to cure Hardy's UFC blues:
Work takedown defense and scrambling back to his feet. He's never going to be a ground expert, so focus on keeping the fight standing. Start throwing. Against Lytle, one of Hardy's mistakes was that he was too cautious and calculating, undoubtedly because he feared losing. But he learned a valuable lesson from Lorenzo - losing is not the end all be all. If you can lose and entertain, you can stay. For Hardy, the best way to entertain is to let those hands and feet go and throw down.
No one knows what is necessary better than Hardy. It's the catch 22 of high level prize fighting. Hardy has to work on the basics in certain areas, especially in his grappling game. But the time required to train and prepare your body for several bouts a year just doesn't allow a fighter to make wholesale changes in their approach. If you do that, you risk not being in the proper condition for a major fight.
Eventually, however, something needs to give. Hardy is at a point where he needs to learn specific skills, not just ramp his body up for a series of fights.
"There are improvements I need to make. I know that," Hardy said. "And I don't think that between fights I've really had the time to invest in working on those particular things. I know I've got it in me. I've got to really dedicate the time to it."
In the end, Hardy is staying on because he makes Fertitta and UFC President Dana White smile. He's a walking template for the kind of fight they want to see. Hardy's continuing presence on UFC cards, long after almost any other competitor would have been shown the door, is a strong message to other fighters in the promotion. Whether pundits like it or not, the name of the game is entertainment. Winning, it seems, is optional.