With his refusal to tap out to champion Georges St-Pierre's compromising situations, Dan Hardy won the respect and admiration of many mixed martial arts fans and personalities at UFC 111 in March. He just didn't win the fight.
"When you come to fight Georges St-Pierre, you better bring some takedown defense," UFC president Dana White said of the British fighter that night.
Seven months later, Hardy begins the long climb back toward the No. 1 contender spot at welterweight with a fight against Carlos Condit at UFC 120 in London on Saturday. But has anything changed?
"If it's up to me, I'd just stand on the Bud Light logo right in the middle of the octagon and throw punches until he falls over," Hardy said last week. "I'm confident with my power and with my chin. If that's the way this fight goes, then I'm all for it."
OK, so maybe you can't take the brawler out of the "Outlaw" just yet. But in order for Hardy (23-7, 4-1 UFC), a promising young mixed martial artist, to climb that ladder to a second title shot, he'll need a more well-rounded arsenal.
It's one thing to win a few fights, catch a break with other injured fighters and earn a title shot. But to climb the mountain, get tossed off the side of it and then climb back up is another world. It typically takes at least 18 months, unless of course the first title fight is controversial.
Hardy's loss to St-Pierre was anything but. St-Pierre completely removed Hardy from mounting any offense with his superior takedown and wrestling skills. If Hardy wants to build toward a second title run, the 28-year-old might have to reinvent himself.
"I've been working out on my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu," Hardy said. "So don't be surprised if I take him down and put him to sleep."
That's a nice quote, huh? It's one of those pre-fight sound bites that works well everywhere except in the cage on fight night. But for him just to think that is a step in the right direction.
A lot has happened at 170 pounds in the past seven months. Jon Fitch kept winning. Josh Koscheck has another title shot. Jake Shields joined the UFC.
Hardy isn't the only fighter on the path to reclamation at UFC 120. Say "Michael Bisping" to someone, and they're likely to cringe at the memory of his vicious knockout by Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in July 2009.
2009! See, it's hard to climb the ladder.
Fifteen months later and Bisping (20-3), a British middleweight, still has to answer those questions. Still has the fight as a measuring stick for him. And he's already had three fights afterward.
"That was the best thing to ever happen to me," Bisping said. "It made me go away and work hard on finding mistakes I was making."
Whether that trip was worth it depends on Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Bisping is farther along than Hardy on his return to the upper echelon of his division. The 31-year-old Bisping is 2-1 since that brutal knockout. His loss by split decision to Wanderlei Silva could have gone either way. If Bisping is ever going to fulfill the promise he showed by winning Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter," it needs to happen now.
"I feel I've got it in me to run for the title," Bisping said. "I'm well rounded, and I'm one of the better athletes in there. I've got to put up or shut up. It's all well and good me sitting here talking about it. People don't want to hear that. They want to see results."