Meet the crew: UFC’s Dan Hardy on facing his toughest opponent yet

12 August 2015

When former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Dan Hardy first arrived for his Clipper Race training in Gosport a couple of months ago he had never been on a yacht before, let alone sailed one. Just a few short months later and he has now completed all four levels of crew training and is officially ‘ocean ready’.

We caught up with Dan to find out how he is shaping up ahead of meeting perhaps his most formidable opponent yet – Mother Nature.

Name: Dan Hardy
Age: 33
Occupation: Former UFC fighter turned ambassador/commentator.
Legs: 1 – the Tradewinds from London to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Team: GREAT Britain

What have you enjoyed most about the training?
It has been a lot of fun in a lot of ways. It has been nice to be a beginner at something again. I was a teenager when I was new to martial arts so to be thrown back in at the deep end here in so many ways has been a big learning curve. There is so much learn when you get into sailing. It’s mind blowing really.

I love being out on the sea and I love being a part of a team. There are still things I am learning, and I will keep learning for years to come but there are certain things I feel very strong at. One thing I have loved most about Level 4 training was the Le Mans race starts. I like immediate results. When we’ve got all the boats lined up, the ten second countdown coming over the radios, and I’m the one sweating up the sails so I’m sprinting to get the sails up, I love it. GREAT Britain smashed it on that this week. We were the first out on every start.

What about the experience has challenged you most?
The sleep has been a challenge. I am used to managing my own sleep schedule. I’m not used to being told what to do. I like to get a good 8 or 10 hours sleep and wake up ready to go training so to be woken up at 5am, 12pm and 6pm is really weird. You’re never sure what day it is.

The other thing is the food. I’ve been in charge of my own diet for so long and I’m very stringent with myself. When we’re on the boat someone else takes care of the meal plan and it's tough because everyone has very different likes, dislikes and personal requirements but I’m trying to get a lot more involved with that. I think I have a certain level of expertise that could be helpful. I may not be any good at cooking per se but I can certainly help with the meal ideas.

I’ve also never really played team sports before so I’ve never had to rely on someone else to put in as much effort as me and I find it difficult when I see people dragging their feet a bit or coming on deck late when we really need to get rest.

Fighters spend a long time researching their opponents. How do you prepare for taking on Mother Nature?
We research our opponents to find their strengths and weaknesses; to see what we need to do to and not only find ways to beat them, but to see how they can beat us. A good portion of our training is dedicated to your own protection in the fight; working your conditioning so you don't get tired; or your guard and head movement to avoid getting hit.

Preparing to take on Mother Nature is much the same, only we are not trying to conquer Mother Nature. That would be foolish. Instead we are attempting to defeat ourselves and survive within it, overcoming fear and fatigue. There is a similarity there as well. Controlling emotions and pushing yourself to survive and to achieve your goals, be it winning the fight or arriving at our destination in one piece.

What about your UFC experience do you think will help you on the race?
My confidence in my physical and mental strength in the face of adversity. Knowing that I don't break under pressure, and that I am durable and determined. On a physical note, my balance and spacial awareness.

I noticed during level four of training that reaction time saved me on a few occasions. Flogging ropes, rogue shackles and halyards, and the occasional wave to the face were all hazards I avoided a good percentage of the time! I'm also quite good at self-talk. In uncomfortable situations when your brain is screaming at you to give up and run away, I'm good at shouting over that voice and stirring up a bit of fury to get me through it.

Do you have any plans to keep sailing once you have finished your Clipper Race leg?
This is something that will always be a part of me now I think. I’ve always loved the sea, pirates, and just about anything nautical. I’ve got a Clipper ship tattoo on my arm, and an anchor, which has an entirely different meaning now that I’ve dragged one off the seabed a couple of times during training this week.

I’d like to think one day that I will have my own boat. I’m enjoying this and I can certainly see myself doing another leg perhaps in this race or in the next one. You learn so much about yourself in times like this. When you put yourself under pressure in uncomfortable circumstances you either dig deep or you crumble and I’ve been able to dig really deep. There have been certain times this week when I’ve felt like calling it a day and jumping overboard, but I haven’t, so it’s given me confidence in myself. Sometimes you need that reassurance that you’ve got that strength within you.

What do your UFC colleagues think of it all?
Everyone at the UFC thinks I’m mad which is kind of funny really as I’m sure the sailors will think the same thing about the fighters. The challenges are entirely different. In one instance you know who you are fighting against and you know the boundaries within which you compete. It’s a relatively safe environment in my opinion. You are fighting for a certain amount of rounds and you have a referee there. It’s a relatively short period of time too. 15 or 20 minute fights always felt like a long time but when you compare that to four or five weeks at sea it is much less of a big deal.

A one on one fight against someone you’re quite fairly matched against is entirely different to being part of a team battling an element. In the Clipper Race you’re fighting nature and you’re trying to live and function within nature whilst trying to get from one point to the other as quickly as possible. It’s an entirely different competition. I think a lot of the UFC fighters would get a lot out of this experience. Maybe one year we should get a UFC sponsored boat and get a full crew of fighters on there.

If you could pick any two UFC fighters to take with you on the race who would you choose?
Good question! I would choose Forrest Griffin and Frank Mir. Forrest is big enough to flake a mainsail on his own and he is absolute comedy. You just can’t break the guy – he keeps coming back. Frank is a big heavyweight, a strong guy but really peaceful, very mellow, a great guy to spend time with.

Has the experience so far been what you’ve expected?
A friend on the Garmin team, Terence Langley, said to me the other day. “I’m not sure if its sport or transport” and I totally agree with him. I like both aspects of it. I like the competition side, the race starts and the fact you are constantly looking to eek as much knot speed out of the boat as possible. But at the same time I’m also really enjoying the transport side – the journey.

Obviously I don’t want GREAT Britain to lose and I know we’ll do everything we can to win, but if we don’t come first I have friends on other boats who I will be very happy for. I’m looking forward to the journey and experience of sailing from London to Rio. It’s a really big deal as I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve jumped right into the deep end with this and am really enjoying the opportunity. That's the joy about the Clipper Race - it’s open to anyone that wants to have a go.

Want to join in Dan's footsteps and take on the Clipper Race challenge. We're now hiring for the 2017-18 race. Click here to apply.

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