A chat with UFC fighter Dan Hardy: Part One

Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy, who started martial arts as a kid, began training for competitive fighting in 2002 after 14 years of traditional marital arts. He joined the UFC in 2008 and made his debut at UFC 89, winning by split decision.

Dan hardy is a very hard working, outspoken person that personifies a great attitude. In part one of this interview, I had the opportunity to talk to Dan about his artistry, his experience training with the Shaolin monks, the GSP fight, the possibility of losing his contract with the UFC, being diagnosed with a heart condition WPW and the reaction by Dana White.

Mike Furci: First, I’d like to thank you for taking the time today to talk with me Dan.

Dan Hardy: No worries Mike, no worries.

MF: Fans of Bullz-Eye and MMA, today we’re talking with Dan Hardy, one of the most recognizable MMA fighters of today, a UFC welterweight crowd pleasure who fought Georges St-Pierre for the title in 2010. In that fight, he escaped two submission attempts that would have easily forced the vast majority of fighters to tap out, which I believe, Dan, is not only a testament to you, the fighter, but also Dan Hardy the person – as the audience will see as we proceed through this interview. And though you’re not currently fighting, you definitely have not been sidelined.

And before we get into what you’ve been doing recently, I’d like to take the Bullz-Eye readership back somewhat to get to know you a little better and discuss your career as a fighter, if you don’t mind.

DH: Sure.

MF: One thing I didn’t know myself as much as I follow MMA is that you’re an artist.

DH: Yeah, that always comes as a surprise to people.

MF: As most artists, I’m sure you discovered your talents when you were very young, and I understand you were also doing MMA at a very young age. What pulled you into the direction of MMA as a career?

DH: Really, just the drive at the time. I mean, I’ve always been an artist. As a kid, I always had a sketchbook in my hand, so even my parents thought I was going to follow that path. But when I was at university studying art, it occurred to me that this was my athletic peak and I needed to explore it right now. I could always return to art in the future.

MF: I understand you’re also involved with a record label? When you were fighting, were you in collaboration with a group that was writing your entry songs?

DH: Yeah. The first, I think, four fights I used an old ‘70s punk song called “England Belongs to Me” by Cock Sparrer. We contacted them to ask for their permission to use the song and they were really excited about it. When the title fight was announced, they asked if I wanted to go to the studio, because they wanted to rerecord it and rerelease it, so I did some of the vocals on the track for them as well, which was just surreal. I mean… one of my favorite punk bands of all time, and to hang around in the studio with these guys was pretty crazy.

MF: Wow, what an experience that must have been. That’s very cool how your artistry and your MMA in the beginning of your life kind of intertwined in your career like that.

DH: Yeah, there have been a lot of things where the art has been really helpful.

MF: Sticking with the artistry and MMA, can you give us a little bit of the experience you had training with Shaolin Monks?

DH: Yeah. It was intense. It was really intense. I mean, it was just a fascinating time when I was out there. It was very intense. We did, between 10 and 12 hours a day training. I trained in Scotland at 5:00 in the morning, starting with a run and then Tia Chi, and then the rest of the day was all stance work and forms of striking weapons training, throws and trips. It was really interesting because it was something I could integrate into my martial arts and use it in tournaments when I got back to the UK.

MF: I have to imagine that training with Shaolin Monks also helped you in your everyday life.

DH: Yeah, it did. The thing with that experience… I mean, I’ve been training since I was six, I’ve got 14 years of training under my belt at the time and I felt that I was a fairly well-experienced and expert martial artist and knew the level of toughness that I had. And when I got out there, I mean, just because of the volume of training that we did, and the intensity, was a new understanding of pushing through and finally understanding levels of toughness that I’d not experienced before. And that was really what set me up for a mixed martial arts career. And, yeah, really for the GSP fight.

MF: Right. The GSP fight. Switching gears a little bit, since you brought that up, those two submission escapes were simply outstanding. What prepared you for those situations, and how did you feel the next day?

DH: Well, funny enough, the next day I didn’t feel any problem at all. I was well warmed up before the fight and I have quite flexible shoulders anyway, more than I even do now. I was doing a lot of training in the New Jersey and Long Island area, and Dana White connected me with me with Matt Sera, so I was going over to work with him and his guys most days of the week leading up to the fight. And they had me doing all these kinds of escapes and that.

So fortunately, Matt Sera really helped me prepare well for that. I mean, obviously, the submissions were still pretty tight, and I did leave a little late before I escaped them, but it was the knowledge of submissions that I’d gotten from those previous weeks with Matt that really helped me understand how I was going to be able to get out of it.

MF: Including the GSP fight, your career was on an unstoppable trajectory all the way through 2009. You then hit a four-fight string of losses, which I know you’ve probably talked about many different times, but after almost a year of being away from the octagon you came back winning your next two fights. I’m sure you were under incredible pressure. What did you do in order to get beyond those four loses?

DH: Obviously the three-fight rule, you know, was bouncing around in my head. I really trained myself into a hole for the Anthony Johnson fight, which just seemed like a huge task. I was just so exhausted so going into it because I was aware that my career was on the line. And after that fight I was just kind of in a place where I had just had enough. I’d stopped enjoying myself, because I was so concerned about losing my job, and about fighting in the UFC, because my agreement with myself was that my career would end with the UFC. If I got cut from the UFC, I was done. I was never going to go back to fight in a different show and earn my way back.

MF: So you’re putting a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself, which is completely understandable.

DH: Yeah, yeah. And I don’t really know why actually. But obviously I didn’t want to leave the UFC. That was my goal and my dream, and I was there, so it was a lot of pressure. But after that fight, I was making plans to go back to university and stuff. But when they offered me the main event against Chris Lytle, really my intention was just going out to fight – I just wanted to go and throw punches with someone you like to fight, he was tough. I never really meant to go in there with the intention of winning, which obviously is not the right thing to do. But it was actually that fight, when Lorenzo said that they were going to keep me on for another fight, that really changed my priorities, because then I had to validate Lorenzo’s decision because there were even more fans that were demanding my contract to be torn up.

MF: Well, bringing our audience a little more into the present, you had a good fight scheduled with Matt Brown in April of 2013, which never happened because you were diagnosed with a congenital heart condition called Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome. Many people with this condition can be asymptomatic. How did it come about that you got diagnosed?

DH: I’ve never had any problem before, and never had any idea that I had something irregular about my heart. And before California, which is where the fight was going to be held, I had a required EKG, blood tests and all that, and the EKG came back abnormal. So I did the test a couple more times and spoke to a couple specialists, and they said it was possible that I had something abnormal about my heart, so they did more tests – a stress test, an ultrasound, and spoke more people and they basically said that I have a group of cells that produces second heart beat, which puts me in a slightly increased risk of cardiac arrest. So it’s kind of a weird situation. I don’t feel any different, but my life’s not changed in any way other than the fact that now I can’t fight anyone. I’m kind of in limbo.

MF: So basically, if the fight would have been in another state, you would still be fighting.

DH: Yeah, I wouldn’t even know about it.

MF: Wow. What options do you have?

DH: The UFC actually sent me out to Los Angeles, and I sat down with two guys – one was a cardiologist and one was a specialist in the electrical activity in the heart. They want stick a wire into my femoral artery and one into my carotid artery so they can see where the second heart beat is, how fast, and how dangerous it could potentially be. But I’ve never, never had a problem with my heart that’s seen me through years and years of hard work and extremes, and I just don’t really like the idea of somebody going into my heart when it’s never let me down. So the situation, really at the moment, is that if I don’t let them do that then they’re saying they won’t clear me to fight.

MF: I would have to agree with your observation; if it’s not broke why try to fix it? Has the UFC been supportive overall?

DH: Yeah, yeah. They actually are very good. It is in their best interest to get me fighting again. I am inundated with fans asking me when I’m fighting again, and I know the UFC is as well… so, you know, they’re doing everything they can. They gave me all the best options to get it sorted out, but ultimately the option is mine now whether I want to let them go in and take a look at it and study it or not, and it doesn’t seem worthwhile to me. I’ll be honest; the risk isn’t really worth a lot. As much as I would love to fight – and I really would – my health comes first. I don’t really get paid enough to continue it, to be honest. It’s not worth all that.

Stay tuned for Part Two, where Dan discusses fighter pay, his sponsor’s reaction to his heart condition, his WolfCam training videos, his views on Carlos Condit, the mental edge of athletics and passing on learned lessons.

To find out what Dan Hardy is up to go to Twitter, Facebook and Xyience.

Dan will be signing autographs during a meet and greet with fans during Olympia in Las Vegas. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 28 from noon to 2 p.m. at XYIENCE’s booth #2027.