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“And then I’d wake up in the morning and before I’d go to training I’d be watching NCAA wrestling on youtube, which before was something I had to force myself to do. (Laughs) But now I’m spotting things that I’m using in the gym and I’m seeing things that I can go into training sessions after I’ve watched it and put into practice, which for me was very, very strange. And never before have I had somebody say to me ‘you know, you look like you’ve got a natural instinct for wrestling; you just have bad habits.’ And Cael Sanderson told me that the other day. I enjoy being in there now and I enjoy getting these things to work and I understand how it pieces together. 

“I’m a huge Lego fan, and a lot of the time in my head – and this is going to make me sound like a little bit of a crazy person (Laughs) – I build Muay Thai combinations like I put Legos together. I can take two strikes out of one combination or two pieces out of one Lego set and add them to another to make it different and better, and I kinda piece things together like that in my head. It’s the only way I can really rationalize it and vocalize it to make somebody understand. And now I started to do the same thing with grappling. Now it makes sense to me and now I understand the process to get the result that I want. Whereas before, I just had a whole bag of techniques that I was throwing out there and seeing what stuck. I never had a system before. And the good thing is that Ricky’s around all the time, he watches my sessions, watches the tape, and then he sits and says ‘at this point, where you made that mistake, this is what you should have done.’ And I’ve never had anybody doing that before. I’ve just had somebody trying to teach me their style of jiu-jitsu, which has just never stuck.”

Earlier this year, Hardy was ready to return to the Octagon, and despite all this new grappling knowledge he had to unleash on the world, the UFC gave him a striker – and one of the best – in “Bang” Ludwig. It may be safe to assume that Saturday’s bout will be a kickboxing match, but then again, we assumed that Hardy’s wrestlefest with Anthony Johnson in March of 2011 was going to follow the same course and that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, Hardy thought the same thing. As his countrymen The Who so famously put it, he won’t get fooled again.

“I’m not taking anything for granted anymore, let’s put it that way,” he chuckles. “I was very smart at the start of my career and I would watch tape on fighters and I would play those tricks on them and I would say I’m gonna do this or I’m gonna do that, and I’d do something completely different. I’m not really sure where I got away from that, but Johnson fed me a line and I took it. It was my mistake. And with this sport, you can’t take anything for granted. You can’t trust people’s words that they’re gonna do one thing because they’re probably gonna do something else, and everyone’s out for themselves. It’s a dog eat dog sport and there’s one thing going in there and having a great fight and entertaining the fans, but on the flip side, you keep doing that and keep losing, eventually you haven’t got a job and nobody cares then.”

Hardy knows what’s on the line this weekend and he doesn’t need to be reminded of it. What he may need a little nudge on is remembering that he is a talented fighter and not just a wild swinging brawler. Putting that old part of his personality may take some doing, but he knows it’s necessary. 

“I kinda got away from being a martial artist,” he said. “I was always about efficiency and taking the least damage possible and getting the job done as quickly as possible, and I got away from that because I like that gamble, I like that roll of the dice. I like to trade punches and see who falls over first. And at this level, you can’t do that. It’s not a smart thing to do. So I’m trying to be smarter now, and I have good coaches around me that are encouraging me to make the right decisions and do the right thing, and I feel like I’m in a good situation to step into this fight, and I really, genuinely believe I can beat Ludwig at any range, so it really doesn’t matter what he’s gonna do.”

Nine months later, Dan Hardy is back. He’s talked about missing the respect he used to get, but he misses something more that he hopes to rectify on Saturday.

“In the past three years I’ve missed winning more than anything,” he said. “That’s really all that matters, getting back on track.”

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