Exclusive | UFC Artist Dan Hardy Talks Self Expression, Sadollah, Hughes, Critics and Religion
Hardy says Sadollah ‘in for a beating,’ that he’d be ‘honored’ to fight Hughes, that hunting’s ‘not morally righteous,’ and that he wants critics to know ‘I’m not an asshole.’
They say life imitates art, and if that’s true, UFC welterweight Dan Hardy may well be a Renaissance Man. Fans know the Briton as an accomplished fighter, but few may realize he’s also an artist who writes and has an interest in music and philosophy.
BJPenn.com caught up with Hardy to discuss his role as host of XYIENCE’s XenArt competition, which runs through Aug. 6 and tasks aspiring artists with creating original compositions incorporating a Xenergy theme. Hardy offered not only his thoughts on art, but also a peek behind the curtain of his psyche, sharing his views on his opponents, critics, and even religion and politics.
On His Love of Art
How does a professional fighter end up hosting an art competition anyway?
“I’m sponsored by XYIENCE and I’m kind of the obvious choice for doing it. I went to university and I did the degree in art, so it’s a familiar background to me. It’s something that I’ve been involved with a lot in the past. The other thing is, there’s not many things that Vegas is known for outside of drinking and gambling, but there are a lot of things going on here that are away from that scene. We’ve got quite a big art scene developing in Vegas, so I’m just trying to encourage that a little bit and maybe bring some culture to Vegas — other than losing all your money and getting a headache.”
Hardy said events such as the XenArt competition give him a chance to engage UFC fans, which he enjoys.
“It’s just nice to be around the fans. The thing with me, I always consider myself a UFC fan before a fighter. So really, I feel at home around the UFC fans because I have a lot in common with them. It’s just nice to be in environments with people that are as enthusiastic about the sport as I am. XYIENCE has always been great, and they make an effort to do things that are slightly outside of the box, like the XenArt competition. A lot of other sponsors might not give the opportunities to do these types of things.”
Hardy sees similarities between the worlds of art and mixed martial arts.
“Art’s always been a big thing for me. It’s just always been something that interested me, expressing yourself. Mixed martial arts is quite similar in a way. You’re out there expressing yourself. You’re constantly pushing yourself to become better, to evolve. For me, my interest in art, my style of art, was very much along the same lines of self expression, self exploration, and trying to understand who I am, what makes me up as a character and how I communicate that to the world.”
On His Victory Over Duane Ludwig After a String of Defeats
As fans who’ve kept up with Hardy’s career might imagine, his victory over Duane Ludwig at UFC 146 was a breath of fresh air for Hardy following four consecutive losses in the Octagon.
“It was just a huge relief. I spent two years training, and I’ve been working hard. I’ve got good coaches around me and I’ve got training partners helping me out. But if you’re not winning, it almost invalidates everything that you’ve done. There really is only one thing that can [validate you] after all that training, and that’s the fight. You’ve got to get the win.
“For the last two years, I felt like I wasted a lot of time and maybe took my eyes of the prize a little bit. I’d become a bit distracted and discouraged. I had a great training camp [for the Ludwig fight], and going out there and getting the knockout over a well respected striker, a guy that I’ve looked up to for many years … it was a huge relief. You know, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I’ve got to get the job done.”
Hardy traced the course of his mental evolution over of his last several UFC fights.
“With the Condit fight I was overconfident. I had no respect for him. I didn’t even think of a way I could lose that fight. Going into the Johnson fight, I was worried about losing my job, about having to go back and fighting on other shows and building back up. And once the Lytle fight came around, I was three losses down and I kind of felt like my job was affected, like I was fighting on borrowed time. And that fight didn’t go my way either. But the good thing about that [fight] was that I really enjoyed it. And that encouraged me to not quite call it a day yet, but I realized I had to make some changes. It was kinda now or never. It was kind of a last opportunity to really put things right.
“I did everything I needed to, so that by the time the Ludwig fight came around, I felt very calm. I was enjoying the experience and appreciating it for what it was … whether that was going to be one time of many to come, or the last one ever.”
I asked Hardy to explain what it felt like to get a victory with all the anticipation surrounding the Ludwig fight.
“It’s a very difficult emotion to describe. The best way to help someone understand it is to imagine you’re underwater and you can’t take a breath. And you’re holding your breath, and you can feel your body really struggling for oxygen and starting to shut down. Then the moment you see your opponent hit the canvas is that moment where you get that rush of new oxygen into your lungs. It really feels like that. It’s a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. From three months up to that point, everything is hanging in the balance. The fight could’ve gone either way that night. I was fortunate on May 26 of this year; I’m well aware of that.”
On His Next Opponent, Amir Sadollah
What challenges does Hardy see Sadollah posing for him?
“He’s quite an underrated fighter. He’s very durable. He can take a punch when he’s coming forward, and he can make people work for a full 15 minutes. That is one of his biggest strengths, being able to wear people down like that. He’s very well rounded. He’s got good striking, technically. I think as far as a thinking fighter, I have an advantage. I think I’m smarter, and I think I can play my skills better, more to my advantage than he can. But he’s got some submission skills. And he trains with good guys, so I know he’s going to be prepared.
“At the same time, he’s flying out to fight me, you know? Regardless of whether we’re doing our training camps in the same city or not, it’s still my home town [we’ll be fighting in] at the end of the day. There’s got to be some level of annoyance that he’s been picked for this fight, I think. If the UFC had picked me to go into Amir Sadollah’s home town to fight him, I would think that everyone had turned against me. (Laughing).
“So I think he’s got a point to prove. I think that I’m the biggest name that he’s fought. I win over me would be great for his career. I just generally think I’m too much for him. I’m too quick. I’m too strong. I’m far too technical. And I’m too determined. I have the hometown advantage, you know? I’ll have a few thousand fans cheering me on [and more] around the world. I just can’t see me losing in my hometown.”
As for his gameplan, Hardy said he has more ways of beating Sadollah now than he did earlier in his career.
“The good thing for me now is that I have a lot more options than I might’ve in the past. We haven’t seen a great deal from me other than the striking and getting hit in the face. And people see that as the limits of my skills. I’ve been working religiously with Ricky Lundell on my wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu, and I also work with Robert Drysdale a lot and his guys. I’ve made some huge advances in the past few months, certainly since the Chris Lytle fight. And I feel that going into this fight, I have a lot more options. It’s truly my fight to win.
“I’m too quick for him. I’m quite fast for my weight class and I have quite a long reach, which is another problem for him to deal with. And I have a lot of experience. This is another thing which might be overlooked a little bit, but I have almost three times as many fights as him. I’ve had all kinds of experiences, and I’ve pulled myself out of the trenches in the past. I know he’s had some tough fights, but against the kind of opposition that I’ve went against, he wouldn’t have had the same success.”
Hardy doesn’t think there will be much trash talk between him and the even-tempered Sadollah in the lead up to their September fight, but he offered up a few verbal jabs nonetheless.
“He seems like a nice guy. I saw him at the fighters summit and shook his hand, said ‘hello’ to him. He seems like a nice dude. But he’s got that deadpan, one level of emotion. You never see him happy or sad, he just kind of is. (Laughing). His emotions don’t fluctuate a great deal. I don’t have any interest or time to waste in trying to provoke him in any way. I have the skills to get the job done, and that’s really all that needs to be said. I think he’s aware of that as well, and the pressure’s on him to come in and perform and try and beat me. And I think that’s all that really needs saying. He knows he’s in for a fight, and I know he’s in for a beating.”
Sadollah doesn’t have the experience Ludwig did, and when the two met head-to-head, Ludwig beat him. I asked Hardy if he would’ve preferred a bigger name or if he felt like this fight was a step back for him.
“I’ve always kind of liked Amir as a potential fight. It’s the kind of fight that the fans want to see: Two guys that like to strike, that can take a punch and don’t mind being hit. The fight just kind of made sense. It was something that I was thinking about before the Ludwig fight. You know what this sport’s like. Any guy can beat anyone on any given night. The fact that I have a win over a guy that he has a loss against doesn’t really affect much. I don’t think [Sadollah’s loss to Ludwig] is going to affect his confidence in any way. I’m expecting him to come in there and believe he can win.”
Hardy said the difference in the fight may come down to his experience and the high level of competition he’s faced that Sadollah hasn’t.
“I was kind of thrown in the deep end at the very start of my UFC career. I had Akihiro Gono as my debut, which was a hell of a tough fight. I think he came in with almost 50 fights, and experience does make a difference. And I’ve had tough fights since then. Rory Markham is a power puncher, Marcus Davis at the time was at the top of his game, and Mike Swick was the #1 contender.
“After that I had a string of losses against tough guys as well: champion, interim champion, the biggest guy that’s ever made 170 in Anthony Johnson, and then Chris Lytle is, well, he’s Chris Lytle. You don’t need to say much more about it. I think we’ve fought good competition, but the level of competition I’ve fought has been slightly higher.”
I asked Hardy if we could expect him to start a new streak — a winning streak — and if he would ever crack the Top 10 rankings or compete for the welterweight title again.
“Yeah, without a doubt. I don’t wake up every morning anymore and think ‘OK, I’m going to be UFC champion.’ I used to do that a lot, obviously after the Swick fight, but before that as well. My goal was always to do that. But now, my goal is just to improve as a person and as an athlete. I’ve got to really streamline my focus and just make sure that every day I improve in some way.
“If you look so far ahead, you kind of look past what’s immediately in front of you. I can’t be training to beat Georges St-Pierre or Carlos Condit when I’m not fighting either of them. In order to get to that destination, I’ve got to take the first steps. And the first steps, the immediate trials that I’ve got in front of me, start with the Amir Sadollah fight and then whatever comes after that. For me, the biggest win of my UFC career will be my next fight, and that’s the same for everybody. If I look past that, it almost trivializes my opponent. I should be focused on what’s right in front of my face.”
On His Critics
Those who follow Dan Hardy know that he has more vocal critics than other fighters. It seems like fans either love Hardy or greatly dislike him, but very few are indifferent. I asked Hardy why this was the case.
“I don’t know, and it’s kind of odd. I’ve watched the shift in popularity, which has been quite a lot since I joined the UFC. When I came into the UFC back at 89, there was a lot of dislike around Brits in general, because of the Mike Bisping vs. Matt Hamill decision. That kind of turned everybody against fighters out of the UK. No one wanted to see them succeed.
“Then people were thinking I got a decision against Gono that I didn’t deserve. And then after the GSP fight, my popularity soared. Everybody liked me, but there were still the guys who wanted to see me get knocked out against Condit. I think the losing streak really kind of changed opinions of me. It certainly changed me as a person.
“Particularly in the last fight, the feeling that I got from the fans, I felt like everybody was rooting for me. There were a few who were upset about the fact that I still had a job. I don’t know what kind of person campaigns for somebody else to get fired, but they’re out there. I recognize the names and Twitter handles. There are people that support me and have throughout the bad parts and good parts of my career. And I realize who the critics are and how fickle the general fan can be.
“But one thing I realized after the Lytle fight is that 90 percent of the fans, they tune in to watch a good fight. They’re not worried about the rankings, who’s the best fighter at this weight and that weight, and who he’s beaten and stuff. Most UFC fans want to see two well-trained guys that are tough and determined have a good fight. And I can always guarantee I’m going to come in and give it everything I’ve got.”
Hardy is known for interacting with his critics on Twitter. I asked him why he does this.
“A lot of people see what is portrayed in the sport, they see the nice watches, flash clothes and Bentleys wrapped around lamp posts. And they kind of get this view of the sport that it’s all glitter and diamonds, all wonderful. I sleep on a bed of money and I wake up every day and everybody’s nice to me, things like that. It’s just not the case.
“We live the lives of normal people, just in the spotlight. Fans don’t realize some of the stuff that people say to us, people that we’ve never met who have no real weight or position within the sport. There are people out there who will shit talk to you just to be a shit talker. It’s like a way of getting attention. And I kind of feel like it’s almost my responsibility on Twitter to highlight these people, for the decent people on Twitter to see that there are idiots in the world and that we need to keep them in check, because they’re not helping anybody.
“Everybody in this sport [is trying hard] … For the most part, we’re all in the gym getting our asses kicked every day to try and get better. And sometimes in sports you just lose. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I’ve just come to look at it for what it is. [The critics] don’t know; they really have no idea.
“I’m confident that if I can sit down with somebody for five minutes and have a conversation, regardless of their thoughts on anything — politics, religion, MMA, it doesn’t matter — I’m pretty sure they can at least say that I’m not an asshole at the end of the conversation. So I try and just forgive people for just being ignorant and thinking that by saying something negative it’s gonna bring something positive into the world.”
On His Beef with Matt Hughes, Dislike of Hunting and Love of Animals
Speaking of Twitter, Hardy still taunts UFC legend Matt Hughes on the social media site. I asked Hardy if it was fair to say that he still wanted to fight Hughes.
“There has been confusion around this whole situation. I would be honored to fight Matt Hughes. I would be honored. If the opportunity arose, I would take it. But I’m not calling him out by any means; I’ve got no real interest in fighting him, particularly now at this stage in his career. He is on the downside of the hill, and I think we’re all aware of that. We don’t even know whether he’s going to fight again. I’m not going to be that guy who’s calling out these aging fighters to avoid proving their worth in the sport.”
“My issue is with him as a human being. As a fighter he’s achieved a lot. He was a great champion, and he still holds a bunch of records. I mean, I have Hughes vs. Penn in the DVD player right now; UFC 63, I’ve been watching it. You know, I’m a fan and I can learn a lot from him. But it’s the way he acts as a person, that’s my issue with him more than anything. And it’s away from the sport, but because we’re in the same weight class, the sport is automatically drawn into it.”
But why go after Hughes, who is a born-again Christian and doesn’t really seem like a bad person to most people? Is Hardy really that incensed by the hunting?
“There are some things that I’m not gonna talk about publicly. Word gets around in the MMA world about what happened behind the scenes, and I don’t respect him in that sense. I’m sure he knows what I’m talking about, and other people as well.
“But the hunting thing’s a big thing for me. I eat meat. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I am a meat eater. I’m not vegan; I’m not vegetarian. I understand that we do eat meat; we’re omnivores. At the same time, I understand my place on the Earth and I’m not thinking for any second that I have any ownership over it. None of it’s mine. I’m blessed to be here.
“To go to a nature reserve that’s stocked for hunters, to go out there and wander around and shoot animals … you know, you’re gonna take a photograph with it and then maybe take the skin. That’s not a respectful way to treat the planet. In my opinion, it’s not a morally righteous thing to do.
“We do eat animals. We do wear stuff made out of animal products. It’s just a respect thing. I’m not gonna go out and shoot a rare animal just so that I can have a wallet made out of its skin, just to have it. I’d rather have the animal alive and out there reproducing and contributing to the atmosphere and the planet, as opposed to in my back pocket full of $100 bills.
“I would hunt for my own food. That’s a natural process. I could have some interaction with the animal and just have some respect for it. We’re taking a life to sustain a life. That’s the way of nature. But it’s the taking photographs of animals that you’ve shot to have the photograph as a souvenir [that bothers me]. It doesn’t help that the thing’s dead. Have a photograph with an animal that’s alive. Or just take a photograph of the animal to appreciate, as opposed to a photograph of a dead one that you’re standing next to.”
Many fans may not know that Hardy recently received the East Lake Pet Orphanage Kramer Award for his compassion toward animals. I asked Hardy why he felt so passionate about the animal cause.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I just appreciate where I am; I appreciate what I’ve got. I don’t feel like it’s my entitlement to be here any more than any other creature on the planet. I’m not the kind of guy who chases flies around the house and swats them. I’ll open the window and let the fly out, but I’m not in the position to judge whether it should be alive or dead. I want to concern myself with things that are immediately affecting my life, not anything else’s life.”
But doesn’t Hardy think it’s ironic for a guy who is compassionate toward animals to fight human beings for a living?
“I guess to some people it would be kind of odd. My argument to that is my opponent had the option of stepping into the Octagon. The bobcat does not have the option of getting shot. That’s my argument. The people that get in there [and fight] are doing it on an equal footing. I’m not shooting them from 100 yards with a sniper rifle and taking their skin home on my back after a fight.
I asked Hardy if he felt like Hughes wasn’t looking for a fight with him because he felt that a fight with Hardy would be beneath him, or if instead he felt like he would lose to Hardy at this stage of his career.
“It could be one or the other, or it could be a little bit of both. He could see no value in fighting me, and know that he would lose to me. I’m confident I could beat him if the fight happened, but I’m also aware that this is not the best that he’s ever been in his career. He is past his best. I wouldn’t take as much pride in beating him now as I would back in the day when he was winning and defending his belt. He was the best at the time. I’m not sure what his reluctance is. I think a lack of education outside of his immediate world is part of the problem. I just don’t think he can articulate or put the sentences together to verbally defend himself for his actions. There’s not a lot of logic tied into him.”
Hardy said he doesn’t believe the two will ever meet in the Octagon.
“I don’t. Like I said, it’s not something I’m chasing. If I fought him now, beating him at this age, at this stage in his career would not be the achievement that it would be fighting him at UFC 63. Beating him up would be enjoyable simply because I don’t like him as a person, but I don’t think it would add anything to my career. It certainly wouldn’t add anything to his career. It would take away from it. Logically, I just don’t think it would make sense for us to fight. I don’t think we will. I can dream though.”
On Being a Nonbeliever in a Sport Dominated by Christians
Hughes and Hardy stand in sharp contrast to one another in many ways, not the least of which is religion. I asked Hardy what it was like to be one of the few atheists in the UFC, a term that he bristled at.
“I don’t really like that word to be honest. I don’t think there’s a word for [what my beliefs are]. There are more atheists in the UFC than you think, actually. You’d be surprised. They’re just not quite as vocal about it as particularly the Christians, but actually there are quite a lot.
“Atheism has become quite a militant thing. It’s almost like a faith in itself, like a religion to have no faith. But I’m not against anything; that’s my standpoint. Atheism, to me, means against theism, against religion and spirituality, which I’m not. I’m far from that, from being against either of those things. There’s a lot out there that I don’t understand, that I’m happy to say that I don’t understand. I can’t make a decision because I don’t know. That’s the big step between where I’m at and atheism.
“If somebody’s a Christian, I’m not going to say ‘Well, you’re wrong. There’s no God.’ Because I can’t prove it. I don’t think there is, personally, but I do think there’s some truth to it. I think there is truth to a lot of religions. I just think there’s a lot we don’t know, and I’m not in a position to commit myself to anything because maybe I’ll never know. I think I’ll be on a journey of discovery from now until the day I die, to be honest, and probably after that. I don’t see a destination, and I don’t really require one either. I’m happy with the journey.
“There are elements of all different faiths that I like, and I think that most faiths generally have the morals right. I think that’s the benefit of having religion, the structure of morals that people can draw from if they have questions. I know what’s right and wrong for me. I know I don’t need to kill another being if I’m not using it to sustain myself in some way. I need to respect where I’m at. But just because I hold an opinion on something doesn’t mean it’s the right opinion. I certainly shouldn’t shoot down somebody else’s opinions because they’re different from mine, other than if it affects another life, as it does in the Matt Hughes situation.
“As far as religion in the UFC goes, every fighter needs something to believe in. It’s a very testing sport and a very testing lifestyle. I think faith gives people something to anchor themselves to, to build upon. And I’m kind of happy without that. I believe in myself and in my abilities and determination.
Hardy said that, beyond himself and heavyweight Frank Mir, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is also a nonbeliever.
“I think it’s pretty common knowledge that Joe Silva is a hardcore atheist. He’s very much on the atheism team. I get some fascinating emails from him sometimes. He’s a little more hardcore than most.”
On his Political Ideology
In addition to being a nonbeliever, Hardy is politically an anarchist, a belief system he said can be a tough sell to people.
“There’s a very negative stigma around that word. I think any kind of political ideology is a goal, it’s not something that’s necessarily feasible. A lot of the time we’re not taking into account that we have human nature to contend with. A lot of us can say what the right thing to do is, but once people get into that position of making the decisions for the rest of us, they don’t make the best decisions. You say anarchism and people start thinking about people with ski masks on rioting and causing problems, and that’s really not what it’s about.
“There are people sitting in Washington, D.C., that are making decisions for millions of people that they’ve never met. To rely on them to make moral decisions is wishful thinking. I just don’t think anybody should be or needs to be in a position where they make decisions for other people.”
On Being an Intelligent Fighter in the World of MMA
I asked Hardy how a person with such diverse and well-articulated views ends up fighting for a living.
“Boy, who knows. There’s a certain amount of self evaluation that comes with a sport and with a training regimen like what we put ourselves through. There’s only so many books you can read and so many pilgrimages you can go on to really learn about yourself. You need to suffer a little bit. And for me, testing yourself on a daily basis — getting in the gym and trying to learn new things, trying to get better — it’s almost like forcing evolution. I’m not satisfied with the position I’m at right now in my evolution; I want to push forward in every area of my life, my intellect, my outlook and my approach.”
Does Hardy think there’s room for intelligent fighters and fans in MMA?
“Without a doubt. There’s plenty of room. We need more of them. (Laughing). I’m not fighting for money. I’m not fighting for fame. For me, I just want to test myself. I want to explore the limits of my personality.”
On his Legacy
I asked Hardy what his legacy will be when all is said and done. What will people remember him for? Hardy brought the conversation full circle, back to his need for creative expression.
“This is a question I’ve had at the forefront of my mind for at least the last couple of years. I really don’t feel that I’m gonna be remembered as a fighter. I know people are going to be aware that I was a fighter. But I certainly hope that I can leave something behind that’s more creative than that.
“The thing with the fighting is, your fights will be watched in a few years time, your name might come up in a conversation between two guys at a sports bar while they’re having a drink and reminiscing. ‘Oh, wow, do you remember way back at UFC 146?’ and we’re on like UFC 3,010 by now. (Laughing).
“There will be those memories, but that for me is not really enough. In my opinion, the things that matter are words or creation. The sport I’m in right now, it’s very creative for me as a person, but outwardly it’s very disruptive. And I’d like to leave something that’s outwardly creative, that people can benefit from for years to come. Books, music, art maybe? I don’t know.”
So the story of Dan Hardy remains unfinished? To be continued?
“Without a doubt. There’s a lot more to come of me.”