Dan Hardy joins PFL Europe to stop ‘madness’ of fighters ‘getting left behind’

The Professional Fighters League (PFL) has just made its latest significant signing.

The mixed martial arts promotion announced on Wednesday that Dan Hardy – former UFC title challenger, commentator and analyst – has joined the PFL as its director of operations in Europe.

But what exactly does the role entail, and why was it the right move for Hardy?

The Independent spoke to the Briton about his decision to join the ever-expanding PFL – and what it means for the 40-year-old’s hopes of an in-ring return after 13 years away...

Dan, could you talk about what the new role involves, and why it was a good fit for you?

“Initially I’d signed an agreement to work commentary and analysis on the shows, and as PFL Europe launched, they needed someone to scout talent and attract it to the roster. I’m very familiar with this region, and I’m watching events all day, every day. There’s a wealth of European talent just floating around, waiting for a good opportunity. I feel like I’ve got an eye for those people. I’ve been working in gyms for years and years, and you can recognise when someone’s got ‘it’.

“And I love MMA. It’s about helping MMA grow – it always has been, it always will be. I’ve seen fighters with lots of potential who become disenfranchised and on the verge of leaving MMA, because opportunities just haven’t presented themselves. My role is about making sure fighters know where they stand, have everything they need, have someone they can call – someone who’s walked the walk. In this position, I can make sure everybody is looked after and prepared, so all they have to do is step in the cage and do their job.”

You mention how you ‘walked the walk’. How helpful is it to have an ex-fighter in a position like this?

Hardy challenged Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title in 2010 (Getty Images)
Hardy challenged Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title in 2010 (Getty Images)

“I think it’s essential. It’s something that other promotions don’t do well enough, in my opinion: bring their fighters onto staff as they come towards the end of their career. Every time I’ve been to a promotion, I’ve seen the same problem backstage: Everybody working for the promotion feels like their job is the most important, and sometimes the fighters get left behind. It’s absolute madness.

“There’s a sense, a feeling [that ex-fighters have]. My wife’s in training camp; I can look her in the eyes and know when the session’s over, or when we need to go over a few things.

“And these fighters have seen me getting punched in the face and knocked out cold. I always feel appreciative of my UFC career, because I had the rollercoaster; I experienced a bit of everything, I can relate to whichever path these fighters are on.”

During your in-ring career, did you ever see a future in which you would end up in an administrative role?

“I didn’t really, to be honest. I was well into my commentary career before I realised there were other jobs in the sport that I could do quite well.

“But even back when I was the Taekwondo kid from Nottingham, in my head I was just always going to do martial arts in any way that I could, to help it grow and to keep passing on information. Whether that was as a Taekwondo teacher or what, I didn’t know, but the options were so limited.

“As I became a fighter, the options seemed to grow – refereeing, judging, commentating, and now this.”

Are there any challenges you foresee in your new role, or elements that you find somewhat daunting?

Hardy is arguably the most well-respected analyst in MMA (Lee Hamilton-Cooper)
Hardy is arguably the most well-respected analyst in MMA (Lee Hamilton-Cooper)

“The challenge in MMA is always the political element – the issues with managements and other promotions. I’m not interested in any of that ultimately.

“I don’t want to be trying to recruit fighters from places where they don’t want to be recruited from, all I want to do is offer a path, if fighters choose to step over. The political, contractual element, where fighters are still bound to a promotion and the promotion won’t release them, even though they can't keep them busy... they’re the things that I’ll have a team around me to help with.

“That’s my frustration: seeing promoters cling on to fighters, when they can’t offer them any upwards trajectory. What I would like is for promoters to understand that if they act as conduits for fighter progression, it’ll bring more fighters to their promotion.”

Does this mark the end of your intentions to return to the ring?

“You know, it’s hard for me to admit that a chapter is closing. I feel like if the right opportunity was put in front of me, I would always consider it.

“With the pay-per-view shows that the PFL are doing, there’s scope for me to be able to step onto one of those. I’ve had conversations with [PFL fighter and ex-UFC champion] Anthony Pettis about us potentially fighting one day, that would be very exciting. Jake Paul [who is set to make his MMA debut in PFL this year] may need an opponent...

“Ultimately, though, I don’t want to make selfish decisions anymore. That was my fight career; you have to be selfish. Right now, when my wife’s competing professionally, she gets 100 percent of my attention. This job is going to take 100 percent of my attention. If that means I have to sideline my own desire to fight, I will, but I won’t draw a line under it and say it’s never gonna happen again; I just won’t prioritise myself over the other people in my life, or the sport that I love and the job I’ll be doing to support it.”

The first PFL Europe event will take place at the Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle on Saturday 25 March.