Many expected the fight against a retiring Chris Lytle to be a “win or be cut” fight for the former British contender. When Hardy tapped to a guillotine choke moments after a desperate takedown attempt, most believed it was all but certain he would be released. Yet UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta immediately announced that Hardy would not be cut, sparking a debate between both media and fans on who should be kept on the UFC roster and who deserves to be let go.
Whether or not Hardy’s four-fight skid warranted a release is not the heart of the issue. The reality is that the UFC is very much an entertainment-oriented organization and Hardy is not the first fighter to get a reprieve based on performance. It is that entertainment focus that I truly believe has lead to much of the outcry directed at the British fighter.
In all honesty, Dan Hardy was not supposed to fight GSP for the title when he did. He was supposed to lose at UFC 105 to late replacement Mike Swick and Swick was supposed to fight GSP at UFC 111. Unfortunately for Swick, Hardy never got the message and took it to Swick, leaving the UFC in the position of having to fast-track Hardy.
The UFC found themselves in a similar position with Chael Sonnen when he upset Nate Marquardt and in both cases, stars were born. Both fighters were not quite ready for their opportunities however; Hardy was fighting a wrestler and had no takedown defense, while Sonnen did not have his paperwork in order and had yet to cover triangle defense. In both cases, the UFC drove the legitimacy of the title shots through the use of media interviews and promotional videos aided by their abrasive personas. Both fighters have since found their careers under the microscope because of the attention they garnered for their fights. Without the UFC push, both fighters would have likely faced far less controversy. While Sonnen was strong in his defeat to Silva, with most of the controversy coming after the fight, it is Hardy’s fight performances and subsequent reprieve that have made his controversy.
While Hardy often mocked wrestlers prior to his losing streak, Hardy himself attempted to use the art in his loss Sunday in an effort to pull out a win. In the fight, Hardy blasted (and got blasted by) Lytle but was unable to finish the firefighter. Knowing he needed a win, Hardy attempted the takedowns in an effort to steal rounds on the judge’s scorecards. This, to me, shows a fighter who is at least understanding the benefits of wrestling. Some have called it cowardice or selling out, but in reality, it is a fighter who is actually showing some semblance of evolution and fight awareness. Which is what MMA, as a sport, is all about.
While Hardy’s technique was fundamentally flawed, his post-fight comments indicated he realized he needed to make some changes. Hardy would do well to work on these changes, but not lose his aggression or pre-fight cockiness. While it may seem odd that Hardy is getting another chance in the Octagon, this is hardly the first time the UFC has done something like this for a fighter they liked and it will not be the last time.
The reality of the situation is that the UFC will give fighters a shot that put on a show inside or outside the cage a longer leash than those who do not. Fighters like Matt Brown and Keith Jardine are perfect examples of fighters, who despite mixed results, have been kept longer due to their ability to put on a show. Fighters like Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva (and it pains me to say that) are given a longer leash because they can still generate excitement for their fights despite their declining skills.
The opposite is true as well though. Tim Sylvia’s last UFC fight was for an interim title and won “Fight of the Night” honors, yet he still was not retained by the company. Sylvia’s dry personality and some weak performances are likely what made him expendable. The same thing is true of Andrei Arlovski, who after his first loss to Sylvia was never the same fighter who at one point appeared to be destined to be the face of the division for years.
With Hardy, the UFC has a fighter who is able to generate interest (both negative and positive), connect to his fans, and put on exciting fights. It also helps that he is one of few British fighters who can generate interest on both sides of the Atlantic. These are the key reasons why he was given another shot.
In the end, it should come as no shock that Hardy was retained. Hardy is a charismatic fighter who also plays the game the way the UFC brass wants it done. While you can make an argument that his recent octagon performances not being up to par for the UFC, his work outside the cage is obviously enough that the people in charge are willing to keep him around. The UFC combines both sport and entertainment to create the final product that we as viewers see. So wins and losses, while important, are never the only reason a fighter will be cut. Hardy also serves as both a positive and negative example of what can happen when the UFC puts a full marketing push behind a fighter.
Hardy is not the first fighter this has happened with and certainly will not be the last.