This Sunday night (August 14, 2011), two of the UFC's most entertaining welterweights will throw down in the main event of UFC on Versus 5 as veteran Chris "Lights Out" Lytle takes on former UFC title challenger Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy.
Chris Lytle is the king of the bonus, having fully taken advantage of the system the UFC enacted several years ago to encourage exciting fights. He was on a roll before having his four fight win streak snapped by Brian Ebersole this past February and he's looking for someone to meet him in the center of the cage and trade.
Dan Hardy is in absolute desperate need of a victory. After getting a quick push to a title shot at UFC 111, he's since lost three straight in the promotion, with none of the performances having been very impressive. He's changed things up with his camp and is hoping he can get back on track to save his job.
Will Lytle put Hardy's "Lights Out" on the main stage one last time? Can "The Outlaw" raise his game with his back against the wall? Despite four consecutive losses combined, will these men earn their main event status with one of 2011's most entertaining fights?
Let's find out.
Record: 30-18-5 overall, 9-10 in the UFC
How he got here: Chris Lytle is a true veteran. He got a big push early in his career, fighting in the Japanese promotion Pancrase in just his second professional fight and competing there off an on for about four years. Lytle somehow managed to accrue five draws in his first two years of competition, also losing his UFC debut against Ben Earwood at UFC 28 during that time.
Lytle took up professional boxing as well, going 13-1-1 over the course of three years from 2002-2005. In that time, he made his return to the UFC and evened out his record at 2-2 in the promotion, scoring back to back submissions at UFC 47 and UFC 49.
After dropping consecutive fights to Karo Parisyan and Joe Riggs, he was offered a shot at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season four "The Comeback" and made it all the way to the finals before losing his title shot opportunity to Matt Serra (and we all know how that ended up). He followed up that loss with a decision loss to former welterweight champion Matt Hughes.
Since then, "Lights Out" has gone 7-4 in the UFC, including an impressive four fight win streak that had him in Dana White's proverbial "mix" before he was halted by Brian Ebersole at UFC 127. Lytle may not have a great UFC record, but in the last four years with the promotion, he's accumulated five "Fight of the Night" bonuses, two "Submission of the Night" bonuses and one "Knockout of the Night."
Lytle is expected to put on another show against fellow brawler Dan Hardy.
How he gets it done:
What makes Chris Lytle so prone to the big bonuses are two things: his solid aggressive striking style and his fantastic Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Lytle has been willing to take big risks in both departments to increase the excitement level of his fights, and it's paid off big time. He's won more bonuses than any fighter by a landslide.
If all the pre-fight hype with Hardy is true, don't expect the Indiana fighter to take this fight to the ground and grind out a victory over Hardy unless Hardy forces him to. Lytle is one of those guys that will stand and bang even if it's not the best gameplan just because he wants to put on a show for the fans.
Lytle is a strong and at times technical striker, but he's certainly not afraid to eat a shot while handing one out either. The striking in this fight should be pretty even.
If "Lights Out" truly wants to earn a victory, the smartest decision would be to take Hardy down and work his stellar submission game, but something tells me he'd prefer to stand and trade, maybe pull off something similar to what Carlos Condit did at UFC 120 with a perfectly placed hook.
Dan Hardy: 23-9 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-3 in the UFC
Record: 23-9 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-3 in the UFC
How he got here: Dan Hardy got his start in England, building his reputation in the Cage Warriors promotion. Other than a brief stop in the US and Japan, he primarily competed in the UK, building up a record of 19-6 with one No Contest before making his UFC debut against tough Japanese fighter Akhiro Gono.
He fought the gritty Japanese wrestler to a split decision victory and finally made his big impact with a fantastic first round knockout of Rory Markham at UFC 95 in barely a minute. The victory earned him the right to call out a veteran like Marcus Davis, who accepted his challenge and gave him an extremely tough fight at UFC 99, where Hardy again came away with a split decision victory.
With the UFC's marketing push behind him and in need of a British star, they threw "The Outlaw" into a number one contender match against Mike Swick at UFC 105 in England. Hardy would put on the best performance of his career, soundly hammering Swick over the course of three rounds and cutting the American pretty badly on the top of his head to earn a title shot against Georges St. Pierre.
That's where it all went wrong.
Hardy would get completely exposed against St. Pierre, his lack of defensive wrestling or takedown defense forcing him to be put on his back repeatedly over the course of five rounds by the champ. He gutted through two close submission attempts, but it was a dominant decision loss to the champ.
In his comeback fight, again in England, Hardy would get knocked out cold by former WEC champion Carlos Condit when both men landed hooks simultaneously, stunning the UK crowd.
Hardy tried to get back on track against Anthony Johnson, a fighter coming off a long layoff and a loss to Josh Koscheck, but he would be thwarted again, getting dropped by a head kick in the first round and then completely dominated by wrestling for the remainder of the fight. The only reason he was even allowed to keep his job after three straight losses was his marketability to the UK audience.
Hoping not to get wrestled to the canvas again, Hardy called out Chris Lytle after his last loss and the veteran gladly accepted. Needless to say, Hardy desperately needs a win against "Lights Out" on Sunday night.
How he gets it done: Dan Hardy is a bit of a one-trick pony. His wrestling is still very weak, and he doesn't have much to offer from his back other than a bit of rubber guard and a Kimura.
His true strength is standing.
Despite that, he's not exactly the most powerful striker either, having scored just one knockout in his entire three year UFC stint.
What Hardy really loves to do is play head games with his opponent before a fight and force them to get emotional in the cage, perhaps making a mistake that he can take advantage of. It worked against Marcus Davis, who was absolutely infuriated by his pre-fight trash talk and came out way too overaggressive.
Look for Hardy to come forward aggressively against Lytle, trying to land his big left hand on the veteran by any means possible. Both men are pretty durable and neither has that one punch knockout power so this is likely going to be that three round brawl type of fight that "The Outlaw" loves.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight will be what changes Hardy has made to his game ever since moving out to Las Vegas and working with Roy Nelson. He admitted to himself that he'd gotten too comfortable with his training at the Rough House gym in England. Roy Nelson is a strong grappler and has a strong network of friends that might be able to help Hardy round out his game a bit more.
Should that matter against Lytle? Probably not since there won't likely be a lot of ground fighting or clinch work in this fight, but it's a huge factor for the future of Hardy's career. Perhaps they've taught him a few tricks he can try against the veteran come Sunday night.
Bottom Line: Despite having four consecutive losses combined as they enter this main event, the UFC chose Hardy and Lytle to headline this free show for a reason: they're almost 100% guaranteed to deliver an exciting stand-up war that will have the fans screaming for more. Lytle is the type of fighter that will throw caution to the wind and just scrap with Hardy for the sake of trying to win that "Fight of the Night" bonus and Hardy is a guy that will gladly oblige him. This may not be the most relevant fight, but it should be fun regardless.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Versus 5? Tell us in the comments below!