Two nine-fight UFC veteran welterweights will square off this Saturday afternoon (Sept. 22, 2012) as former title challenger Dan Hardy takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season seven winner Amir Sadollah in the co-main event of UFC on FUEL TV 5 in Nottingham, England.
Hardy finally ended his horrific four-fight losing streak in his last bout, earning a first round knockout victory in impressive fashion against Duane Ludwig at UFC 146 in Las Vegas. He's hoping to build off that performance and there's no better way to do that than in front of his home country.
Amir Sadollah has not looked like the same improving fighter in his last two bouts, which were both pretty ugly performances in winnable fights. He came away with a win against Jorge Lopez this past May but there won't be anyone clamoring for a rematch after an ugly clinchfest. He's going to need to step up his game if he wants to beat Hardy in his backyard.
Will Hardy continue his comeback trail against Sadollah? Can Sadollah rise to the occasion of a high profile fight and score perhaps the biggest win of his career? What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:
Record: 24-10 (1 No Contest) overall, 5-4 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. He tried to get back on track against Anthony Johnson but he would be thwarted again, getting dropped by a head kick and then completely dominated by wrestling for the remainder of the fight.
Hoping not to get wrestled to the canvas again, Hardy called out Chris Lytle but after getting beat on the feet, he dove into a guillotine during a takedown attempt and was submitted in the third round. The UFC kept him employed and he finally got back on the winning track in his last bout, knocking Duane Ludwig out cold in the first round of the UFC 146 preliminary card.
Now he's hoping to build up some momentum against a TUF winner in Sadollah.
How he gets it done: Hardy needs to channel the fighter that came in with everything on the line against Duane Ludwig and bring it back against Sadollah. He's fighting in front of his countrymen and needs to put on another big time performance.
He'll likely have a speed and power advantage as well as technique from a distance when he steps into the Octagon against Sadollah so he has to make good use of that. If Hardy can avoid clinch situations and stay in the pocket without letting Sadollah work his leg kicks or muay thai strikes on the inside, he'll be able to tee off on the TUF season seven winner.
If Hardy can get a flow going in the striking department, it won't be long before he finds a home for his patented left hand. It won't take too many solid connections from the left before he'll have Sadollah seeing stars.
Record: 6-3 overall, 6-3 in the UFC
How he got here: Despite not having had a professional fight, Amir Sadollah and his 4-0 amateur record made it onto season seven of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). He blitzed through the competition using his surprisingly well-rounded skill-set of striking and submissions off his back, defeating the likes of Matt Brown, Gerald Harris and C.B. Dollaway. He would face Dollaway for a second time in the show's finale after the Jesse Taylor fiasco, defeating him with an arm bar again.
After having his first real UFC fight cancelled twice due to injury, Sadollah finally made his return over a year later after dropping down to the welterweight division. Unfortunately, Johny Hendricks was his return fight and the former Oklahoma State national champion wrestler blasted him with punches, earning a technical knockout (TKO) in just 29 seconds.
The TUF season seven winner would bounce back strong, showcasing solid Muay Thai skills against re-signed UFC veteran Phil Baroni and taking a unanimous decision. It would be more of the same against journeyman Brad Blackburn in his next bout before Sadollah squared off against his toughest foe yet, the South Korean Dong Hyun Kim.
Kim would utilize superior wrestling and judo, repeatedly taking Sadollah down and keeping him there for three consecutive rounds to earn a unanimous decision.
The TUF champion rebounded nicely with a decision victory over Peter Sobatta at UFC 122 and then blasting DaMarques Johnson with vicious elbows to the face, but he again had his momentum halted by Duane Ludwig, losing a lopsided decision.
His last fight was a very ugly affair against Jorge Lopez but Sadollah somehow managed to survive with a controversial victory. He's hoping a high profile bout can get him to raise his game to that of his competition in Dan Hardy.
How he gets it done: Sadollah is not very quick, but there are definitely advantages he has in this fight. With Hardy primarily using his boxing in bouts, Sadollah can take control with leg kicks on the outside and his improving Muay Thai attack on the inside. It's all about spacing.
If Sadollah can keep Hardy from getting comfortable on the feet, he'll have a shot. Disrupting "The Outlaw's" flow is a priority. If Hardy starts to get things going, Sadollah needs to immediately back off and kick away or close the distance with a clinch while throwing some knees and elbows. He can't allow Hardy to gauge proper distance or he'll be in serious trouble.
If Sadollah can somehow get the fight to the ground, that would be a huge bonus, but he does not have very good takedowns. Trips from the clinch are his best option if he can get inside.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this bout is speed. Amir Sadollah has looked a bit slow and plodding in recent performances and he's not going to be able to get away with that against Dan Hardy on the feet. If he allows Hardy to outpace him, he's going to get completely picked apart. Everything from his tempo, his footwork and his handspeed is going to need to be bumped up a notch if he wants to have any chance at all.
Bottom Line: This fight is going to be 100 times more entertaining than Sadollah's last bout against Jorge Lopez. Expect some high octane action from start to finish as Hardy is going to put the pressure on Sadollah and likely not give him an opportunity to stand back and catch his breath. If Sadollah tries to be workmanlike, Hardy is going to hurt him badly. There's not going to be an opportunity to slow the fight down. A knockout is very probable.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 5? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!