Davis-Hardy: Can fight match hype?

COLOGNE, Germany – Dan Hardy is 2-0 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and, while a promising prospect, has much to prove in the major leagues of mixed martial arts.

Hardy speaks, though, as if his resume is comparable to UFC legends such as Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.

The Briton has been magnificent in drawing attention to his welterweight fight with Marcus Davis on Saturday at UFC 99 in Lanxess Arena, a bout that otherwise may have been overshadowed by the main event between superstars Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva and the UFC return of heavyweight Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.

Hardy may have been playing showman when he called Davis a liar, a coward and “a plastic Paddy” in hyping his fight. He also encouraged fans in an Internet forum to photoshop a picture of Davis. Many of them did, portraying Davis in numerous unflattering ways. Hardy laughed it off as fun and as a way to drive interest in his bout.

Davis, though, took every word of what Hardy said very seriously.

Davis is a guy who walks around with a chip on his shoulder when he’s perfectly relaxed and in a sunny mood. Angered by what he considered personal insults, attacks on his character and questions about his manhood, Davis has been seething and barely able to contain his anger.

The UFC opted not to have Davis and Hardy appear at the prefight news conference on Thursday, not wanting to add the hostility that a joint appearance between them could bring on a day when officials expected plenty of volatility already.

“He’s just talked way too much,” Davis said angrily.

There has been mini-hysteria in the German media, with some offering the ridiculous

notion that the UFC sanctioned fight-to-the-death matches.

UFC officials have gone to great lengths to portray the fighters as gentlemen and sportsmen who have respect for the game and for each other. Then along comes the Davis-Hardy feud, ripping the veneer off that facade in a seemingly never-ending war of words.

Davis has been a regular on the UFC’s cards in Europe. He’s proud of his Irish heritage, uses the nickname “The Irish Hand Grenade” and got emotional after his win over Chris Lytle at UFC 93 in Dublin in January when talking about its impact.

Davis has fought in the United Kingdom in each of his past six outings. He’s knocked out Jason Tan in Belfast, Northern Ireland; submitted Paul Taylor in London; stopped Jess Liaudin in Newcastle, England; lost a decision to Mike Swick in London; choked out Paul Kelly in Birmingham, England; and defeated Lytle in Dublin.

After each fight, Davis – who wears a kilt to the cage – has spoken of his love for Ireland. Hardy, though, scoffed at the notion that Davis is sincere, saying that he’s simply preyed upon inexperienced fighters.

“It’s all just a gimmick,” Hardy said. “Davis is only Irish when it suits him. Wearing a kilt and carrying a tricolor doesn’t make you some kind of a Celtic warrior. I just don’t like the way Marcus comes over to my country and beats my countrymen to boost his record.

“He avoids fighting tough competition in the (United States) but comes over here and fights guys that have only just signed with the UFC.”

Not unexpectedly, Davis (16-4) didn’t take too kindly to Hardy’s jabs. He also didn’t appreciate when Hardy made fun of his nickname and, at various times, referred to him as the “Irish Handbag” and the “Irish Hand Soap.”

But Davis said he won’t be a wild man in the cage, despite his anger, and that he’ll stick to his game plan.

It’s an important fight for both men. Davis is on the fringe of the top 10, while a win over someone with Davis’ reputation would go a long way toward legitimizing Hardy in the UFC.

Hardy started the taunting to land the fight in the first place. He just never let up once he got it. But Davis said one of the reasons he’s sought out as an opponent is because other fighters know the significance of a win over him.

“Well, to be honest with you, I think it’s because you know I’m looked at as kind of like the gatekeeper, I think, for the top 10,” Davis said. “That’s at least the feedback that I get from other people – is that if you make it past me, you’re up there in the top 10. But I’m kind of like that line you’ve got to cross.”

Hardy’s at the line, but to cross it, he’s going to have to get by one very angry and inspired Irishman. Rarely has a fight been as personal to Davis as Saturday’s will be.

“Anyone can talk,” Davis said. “But the good thing about what we do is that we can actually get in (the cage) and actually do something about it. I’m not going to disrespect his ability to fight, because he can fight, but I think he’s going to be in for a little surprise.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jun 12, 2009