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01st Sep 2015

UFC fighter Dan Hardy faces his toughest test yet – a 5,000-mile sail across the Atlantic

It's Hardy vs Mother Nature...

Ben Kenyon

Dan Hardy has overcome many challenges in his fighting career.

The Nottingham native tore through the welterweight division with crushing victories against Mike Swick and Marcus Davis to win himself a shot at the title.

He may have lost to legendary champion George St Pierre in the five-round shut-out – but he won legions of loyal fans for his tenacity.

Times have been even tougher since – he lost four fights in a row, but just as he was finding a return to form he found himself permanently sidelined by a rare heart condition.

Doctors diagnosed him with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome in 2012, which is the presence of an extra, abnormal electrical pathway in the heart, causing periods of very fast heartbeat. He hasn’t fought since.

But Hardy now faces a more frightening opponent  – not in the Octagon, but in the Atlantic Ocean.

With just one month’s training, Hardy is competing in the Clipper Round the World race on the 5,000-mile London to Rio de Janeiro leg.

Stormy seas and sleepless nights await the UFC favourite on the month-long race that will test him to his mental and physical limit.

He talked to JOE about his most epic adventure and the chance to go ‘full pirate’.

Dan Hardy poses for photographs as part of the Clipper Round the World Race.

Why are you taking on this extreme challenge?

That’s it exactly for the challenge. It is something most people won’t ever get the opportunity to do. The journey alone is going to be amazing but being in a fleet of 12 boats racing – the whole thing really appeals to me. I like the idea of working in shifts and being challenged to work in a team and living in harsh conditions too. The boat is constantly at a 45-degree angle, it’s cold and wet all the time.

How did they sell this to you?

The obviously thought ‘UFC fighters are crazy so we’ll go and find one that will have a go at this.’ They put it on the table, explained what it was and how serious and what I would need to do in order to compete which was four weeks of training.

What’s the hardest part of preparing for something like this?

There are a lot of things. One thing is sleeping in shifts. I love going to sleep but I’m not great at waking up – particularly when I’m being woken up by a stranger. Knowing I’ve got to get up, work a few hours and then go to sleep again for a few hours, that’s a challenge. You never settle, you’re never sure what day it is, you never get proper sleep because you’re only sleeping for a few hours at a time.

The diet is a challenge because I’m used to having good quality food all the time and eating what I want when I want. On the boat we have set meals and I have a few protein bars with me, but the meals are very basic and the food quality isn’t great, as you can imagine as we’re at sea for a month.

The living quarters are cramped. It’s a 70ft boat and we’ve got 24 people on board and there’s only 18 bunks, so you don’t even get your own bed. You’re always sharing with people. When you’re sleeping they’re on shift, and vice versa.

It’s just cramped. We’re at 45 degrees all the time when we’re going at speeds and everywhere you go is an obstacle course – you have to clamber over everything to get to stuff.

It’s going to be 30 days of madness by the sounds of it?

Yes it is – and I’m not even the crazy one. There’s people on board who are going around the world and are on board for 11 months. But I think I might get the bug and end up doing around the world at some point.

How fit do you have to be?

We have a lot of people on board, without wanting to sound big-headed, who aren’t as physically conditioned as me.

It’s really about your mental state, how much you can push yourselves and how much you can endure. You work to your physical capabilities, so if you’re not able to get up to the front of the boat and pull a sail down in bad weather you stay in the snake pit and deal with the ropes, or you helm – there’s different roles for different people.

I’m effectively the hired muscle of the boat, I do all the hard work. They send me climbing up the mast and all that kind of stuff. The fun stuff. The things I’m here for, like a pirate.

Are you looking forward to the mental and physical challenges?

Yes, without a doubt. It’s what it’s all about for me. I’m not much for working in teams or doing the other jobs on board, like the ‘mother watch’ suppling all the meals and drinks for everybody over 24 hours. I’m not there for that, I’m no good at it. I signed up for the hard work, the sailing, getting covered in sea water and battered by waves.

What are you hoping to achieve from it?

I’m not sure where it will it go, but I would like to go around the world. What an amazing experience that would be and a life-changing one too.

My experience in China was only two months but it felt like another life, I feel like this is going to be the same. A week of training skipping back and forth to France feels like a month because you’re waking up three times a day.

It has been three years since your last fight in the UFC, do you miss the actual competitiveness of it?

I do yes, but this has given me a similar rush, particularly as the race starts when all the boats are lined up, the adrenaline rush of that is very similar.

The preparation as well; I’m not organised unless I’m in training, that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself over the years. I’ve unpacked and re-packed my bag over 15 times in the week. I’ve got check lists to make sure I’ve got everything I need and nothing extra. There’s a single-mindedness about it that’s very similar to a training camp.