Over the last year, Diddy’s “Coming Home” has become an over-used anthem in the world of mixed martial arts. Every fighter competing within spitting distance of their hometown has sent the song blaring through arenas all over the world.
Saturday night in Nottingham, Dan Hardy could add his name to the ever-growing list of fighters to “tell the world that [he’s] coming home,” as the 30-year-old UFC welterweight squares off with Amir Sadollah in the co-main event of UFC on FUEL TV 5 at the Capital FM Arena in his hometown. He won’t be walk out to Diddy’s verses, of course, because (1) he has far better taste than that, and (2) Cock Sparrer’s “England Belongs to Me” will forever be his walkout song, but the sentiment of the track is fitting, and Saturday will surely be an emotional experience for “The Outlaw.”
Hardy is one of the most popular fighters in the UFC; his bright red Mohawk, acerbic wit, and constant interaction with his fans, dubbed “The Outlaw Army,” have helped make him one of the most recognizable and well-liked fighters in the sport today. After a four-fight losing streak that spanned two years sent Hardy to the sidelines to re-tool, the Nottingham native returned in May with a first-round knockout win over Duane Ludwig. As the bout ended and the reality of being back in the win column sunk it, you could see the sense of relief on Hardy’s face.
Nickname: The Outlaw
From: Nottingham, England
Record: 24-10, 1 NC
Not many fighters get the opportunity to remain employed by the biggest organization in MMA after three consecutive losses, yet alone four, but Hardy‘s exciting style and strong relationship with the UFC brass bought him a stay of execution, and after making the most of his first chance to earn a victory, the tattooed and talented striker is ready to start putting together a winning streak when he steps into the cage with Sadollah on Saturday night.
This is a very winnable match-up for the charismatic Hardy, who used his colourful personality and a four-fight winning streak to carry him to a title shot against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 111 in March 2010. Sadollah comes from a kickboxing base, and hasn’t shown a great deal of development since winning Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter four years ago. While Hardy‘s UFC record shows a patch of success followed by a run of defeats, Sad0llah has yet to manage any real consistency in the cage. He’ll win a couple fights and look like he’s ready to turn the corner, only to drop the next outing, and leave fans and critics wondering if he’ll ever take the next step.
That’s a question that continues to follow Hardy as well, and one that he needs to start answering with his performance.
Putting a win on his resume against Ludwig at UFC 146 was a must, and earning the finish made it even better, but winning favourable match-ups against fighters in the bottom third of the welterweight division isn’t going to be enough to keep Hardy in high profile positions on fight cards like this.
Like Ludwig, Sadollah feels like an opponent hand-picked for this pairing based on his style, and having some name value after winning The Ultimate Fighter is a definite plus as well. While this isn’t a must-win match-up for Hardy in the sense that his job is on the line, but in a different way, it most certainly is.
As the prodigal son returning to fight in the largest venue in his hometown, there is even more attention than normal on Hardy heading into this fight. During his climb to challenging for the title, other competitors (Jon Fitch and Josh Kosheck to name two) voiced their frustration with seeing a fighter with a lesser record but greater personality receiving a championship push ahead of them, and his three additional losses following his decision loss to St-Pierre at UFC 111 gave credence to their argument.
While he’s gotten back into the win column, that four-fight losing streak still stands out on Hardy‘s record. In order to completely change the focus and once again prove that he belongs to be consider a credible threat in the 170-pound ranks, “The Outlaw” needs to continue piling up impressive victories every chance he gets.
Saturday night is another one of those opportunities, and though he always has a legion of loyal fans cheering him on wherever he fights, the roar you hear when Hardy steps in the Octagon this weekend will be louder than ever before.
“The Outlaw” is coming home.