Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy was seen by many as an underdog when he traveled to the land of the rising sun for the Cage Force tournament. He silenced those detractors by smashing through current welterweight King of Pancrase Daizo Ishige (Pictures) and then Hidetaka Monma (Pictures) to reach the Dec. 1 final.
However, after defending well in the first round against noted fast starter Yoshiyuki Yoshida (Pictures), Hardy's dream collapsed around him. He was disqualified for catching the Japanese fighter with an unintentional low blow only four seconds into the second round.
As he looked back on the fight, Hardy's frustration was more than clear.
"I threw a kick off my right leg to the inside of his right leg, and as I threw it, he ran forward and that's why I caught him with the low blow," Hardy said. "It wasn't a misjudged kick; it was the fact that he was moving forward as I threw it."
Although he accepted that the decision was in line with Cage Force's peculiar rules, Hardy returned to his hometown of Nottingham brimming over with frustration at what he considered an overly harsh ruling. Jumping at the chance to put the fight behind him, "The Outlaw" proceeded to take out his frustration in a hastily arranged bout with Manuel Garcia (Manuel Garcia' class='LinkSilver'>Pictures) at a Cage Warriors show the following week.
"I had trained so hard for the Yoshida fight," Hardy said. "I knew no matter who I was put in there against, that I'd be able to deal with them."
Hardy surely did deal with the Spaniard. He held off a determined takedown attempt to bang in a spiteful knee to his crouching opponent's head before dispatching Garcia with heavy punches on the ground midway through the first round.
"I had no idea that he wasn't kneeling," Hardy said of delivering the knee that effectively sealed the contest. "That's one of the benefits of having a good corner team because I think that knee changed the fight. Soon as that landed, I think he changed his mind and didn't want to be in there."
As an explanation for his cool demeanor and vastly improved takedown defense in the contest, Hardy cited his various extended training camps in the United States. The sessions added layers of skill to his wrestling game, as he sparred with the likes of Yves Edwards (Pictures), Quinton Jackson (Pictures), Jason Miller (Jason Miller' class='LinkSilver'>Pictures) and Mac Danzig (Pictures).
"I also went over to Team Quest as well, the new one in California, and worked with Dan Henderson (Pictures) and Sokoudjou and all the other Team Quest guys," Hardy said. "It was a really good experience. I got a lot of input from those guys as far as wrestling goes."
After training with some of the world's best fighters and delivering a beating to some of Japan's finest talent in 2007, Hardy has no doubt where his future lies.
"Going into the tournament in Japan, I knew it was a risk because the first round I had the King of Pancrase and everybody wrote me off," he said. "Nobody thought I was going to win that, apart from myself, and I proved everybody wrong. From that, I've got the confidence to take bigger challenges and step up in competition now."
Hardy also plans on moving to Los Angeles, where he spent five months last year.
"I'm not planning on spending a lot of time in the U.K. this year," he said. "I'd like to fight a bit more in the U.S. now. It's better for sponsorship and just exposure basically. I go where the best opponent is."
Hell-bent on causing havoc in the United States, "The Outlaw" concluded with a warning for the welterweight division: "I've got the speed and explosiveness. When I land a high kick cleanly, they fall over, asleep. I can compete with the top guys. I beat a couple of guys that were ranked and I know now that there's nothing stopping me from getting to where I want to be."