Dan Hardy has a new tattoo on his leg. It’s a portrait of a young Bruce Lee standing at the ready, muscles taut, face calm, eyes fixed intently on some unseen opponent.
“He dedicated his whole day to training,” Hardy says. “He was constantly finding new ways to better himself and improve himself.”
Hardy, a veteran UFC fighter, is doing the same today. “I’m spending all day just going from one place of exercise to another. So today I was at Sky Zone doing backflips on the trampolines, and then I went straight off to CrossFit to do some power lifting and kettlebells, and now I’m going to do some yoga, so my whole day’s full. ... I was walking out of Whole Foods yesterday doing flies with the shopping bags,” he laughs.
The only thing the 31-year-old Brit hasn’t been doing lately is fighting.
His last fight was September 29, 2012, a win by unanimous decision over fellow welterweight Amir Sadollah. Hardy was scheduled to fight Matt Brown on April 7, 2013, in California, but during the pre-fight medical exam, the EKG, a measure of electrical activity in the heart, came back abnormal. Hardy shrugged it off and went in for more tests. He broke the hospital’s treadmill stress test record; his resting heart rate clocked in at 42.
“That’s why I was thinking, ‘Oh they’ll clear me to fight and it’ll be no problem,’ but ... still no.”
Hardy was pulled from the fight card, sidelined.
“That kind of took me by surprise,” he says quietly, sitting in the lobby at Bikram Yoga Westside. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Hardy was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a genetic condition that the Mayo Clinic defines as “the presence of an extra, abnormal electrical pathway in the heart that leads to periods of a very fast heartbeat. In most cases, the episodes of fast heartbeats aren’t life-threatening, but serious heart problems can occur,” the Mayo Clinic says.
Just like that, Hardy’s career hit the pause button. A UFC official says the organization has “worked closely with Dan to help him get the best possible medical treatment and advice for his condition.” But, the UFC official adds, “There is no timetable for his return to the octagon.”
Today, it’s been more than a year since Hardy’s last fight, the longest he’s gone without fighting since his first taekwondo match at age 7 and forever for a fighter who only gets paid when he fights. Stuck in a strange limbo, Hardy lives cheaply in Las Vegas, maintained by sponsors like Xyience and training hard for who knows what. He’s looking into opportunities in TV, and he’s started producing a new line of fitness videos labeled #hardyswolfcam that cover topics like muay Thai shadowboxing and conditioning. His Twitter feed is littered with pictures of #yardyoga, the fighter’s lean, tattooed body stretched into powerful poses in his own backyard.
“I’m so much more physically able now than I was before, which is crazy because now I’m potentially moving toward the end of my career, and I’ve really just figured out how my body works properly,” Hardy says.
The time off has allowed old injuries to heal and helped him get stronger, lighter, more flexible. “If and when I get cleared to fight again, my whole game is going to be completely different because I feel so much better physically.”
The questions of if and when Hardy will get to fight for the UFC again are still hanging in the air, but the how is not. Hardy could have an ablation, a catheter-based procedure that feeds wires into the heart and cauterizes the tissue to block the electrical charge from passing through, essentially curing him of Wolff-Parkinson-White.
“It’s the easiest thing for everybody apart from me,” Hardy says. “My issue is that I’ve never had any kind of symptoms or problems, so it’s not something I feel needs fixing.”
And that is his final decision: He won’t have the ablation done. “That’s just not me. It’s a done deal. But if I can prove to the UFC and to everybody else that there’s no reason I can’t fight, then … ” he trails off, “I don’t see why they would stop me.”
The next yoga class is trickling into Bikram Yoga Westside, students laying out mats in the heated classroom and stretching lightly, chatting.
Hardy will join them soon, pushing through harder and harder poses, molding his body into a beautiful tool designed to do something he’s no longer allowed to do.
“Worst-case scenario, if I don’t get cleared to fight, I’ll go to Thailand and do Thai boxing. I will fight again,” Hardy says smiling. “My heart has been in my body and survived so many extreme training sessions and situations that it won’t fail me. I don’t feel like it would. But if you start poking at it …”