|Dan Hardy challenges Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight championship at UFC 111 on March 27. (UFC photo)
Few people are giving Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy much of a chance in his upcoming fight against UFC welterweight champion Georges (Rush) St. Pierre.
St. Pierre (19-2), a native of Montreal, has looked unbeatable in his last six contests and is considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Hardy (23-6, one no contest) earned his title shot following a unanimous-decision win over Mike (Quick) Swick at UFC 99, but critics will be quick to point out he leapfrogged top contenders Thiago (Pit Bull) Alves, Jon Fitch, Josh (Kos) Koscheck and Paulo Thiago in the process.
Though Hardy is not surprised many see him as a sacrificial lamb, he has little time for the naysayers.
"I've been in this situation 100 times before," Hardy said on a UFC conference call. "Every time I step into the octagon, I'm supposed to lose. You know, Marcus Davis was supposed to knock me out; he was 'too strong' for me and Swick was 'too fast' for me. I've heard it all the way through my career.
"I'm stepping into this fight a bigger underdog than I've been before, which is just going to make me perform better. I take that pressure and I deal with it because it raises my game and forces me to fight better."
Hardy gets the opportunity to prove himself against St. Pierre in the headlining bout of UFC 111 March 27 in Newark, N.J. The card will also feature a co-main event between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin to determine the interim heavyweight champion.
With his title shot nearing, and not wanting to leave anything to chance, Hardy sought the help of a man who knows St. Pierre better than most -- Matt (The Terror) Serra.
"I came out to New Jersey to finish off the camp because I didn't want to be flying out too close to the fight," Hardy said. "When I got out here I decided I was going to put a few feelers out and see if there was an opportunity to train with Matt.
"I'm spending a lot of time working with him and I'm learning a hell of a lot."
Serra shocked the mixed martial arts world at UFC 69 in Houston, beating St. Pierre by first-round TKO to win the welterweight strap. Though he never defended the title, Serra's reign lasted one year before he lost the rematch to St. Pierre in Montreal at UFC 83.
"Matt's been in there twice with Georges and, obviously, he won one and lost one," Hardy said. "So he's got a lot of experience in there with the guy and any mistakes he made in the second fight he can relay to me, so I don't make any of those mistakes myself.
"I think he looks at me and sees that I'm in the exact same situation he was the first time (he fought St. Pierre). No one gave him a snowflake's chance in hell, but he had a lot of belief in himself. He's a great guy and the sport needs more people like him. He's very generous with his knowledge and his time. He's helping me out a lot. I just think he sees the opportunity I've got and he wants to help me out with it."
St. Pierre said he wasn't shocked when he heard Serra was helping Hardy prepare for him.
"I'm not really surprised," St. Pierre said. "I heard he (Hardy) was coming to Jersey and I think it makes sense for him, but it doesn't make a difference to me. I don't focus on what Dan Hardy does. I focus on what I do."
Despite showing little concern about Hardy teaming up with the last man to beat him, St. Pierre said he can't afford to take his opponent lightly. He approaches every fight as if it's the toughest of his career.
"A lot of people underestimate Dan Hardy and that's a big mistake," St. Pierre said. "That's a mistake that I'm not going to make. Dan Hardy is the most dangerous guy that I've fought so far. He is very well-rounded and he's a very smart fighter. He talks like he wants to go in there and make it a brawl, but he's very technical in the way he fights.
"The worst thing I can do for this fight is underestimate him."
Though Hardy has won all four of his UFC bouts so far, he has spent little time on the ground -- where St. Pierre is arguably at his best.
A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt who learned under Eddie Bravo, Hardy sees this fight as the perfect opportunity to put his grappling to the test.
"Georges is the kind of guy who's going to push me in areas I need to be pushed," Hardy said. "I want to explore what else I can do in the sport because I'm willing to stand and trade punches with everybody, but no one's really been able to force me into the ground game yet. I'm hoping Georges is that guy because I have a lot more to show.
"I'm just confident and excited; it's a great opportunity. I've got nothing to lose. I'm in a situation where I can just have fun, be myself and make a fight out of it."