Saturday, March 25 marks a watershed moment for the Professional Fighters League, with the inaugural event of their European league, PFL Europe.
The first show of a four-event 2023 calendar kicks off at the Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle, England, and marks the start of the promotion’s international expansion as they create international leagues across the globe to produce regional champions who will graduate to the global PFL league and a shot at the $1 million PFL World Championships.
The venture has seen a host of European talent signed to the PFL Europe roster, but the biggest signing the organization has made has come outside of the PFL SmartCage, with the introduction of UK MMA legend, former UFC welterweight title challenger and respected fight analyst Dan Hardy as the promotion’s Director of Fighter Operations for PFL Europe.
Before the start of the inaugural PFL Europe season, Fighters Only’s Simon Head sat down with Hardy to get the lowdown on his new role, his plans for PFL Europe, and his hopes for the future.
First of all, tell us about the new gig with the PFL. It sounds like you’re going to be a man of many hats for them!
Yeah, I have a whole wardrobe full of hats now! Initially, I signed a deal in November as a talent agreement. So I’ll be doing analysis for PFL Europe and PFL global, all the events, I’m gonna have a special desk set up with my telestrator and I’m going to properly John Madden the hell out of it. So that was the initial deal.
Then they approached me in January about taking on the Director of Fighter Ops for Europe. Of course, PFL Europe has got their first event, March 25, in Newcastle, so that’s kind of like the beginning of my role. But I’ll also be working on the broadcast on that one.
Tell us more about the Director of Fighter Operations role, in particular
My job as Director of Fighter Operations is basically kind of everything to do with the fighters, from the moment that they decide they want to join the PFL, to the moment where they fight for a world title. I’m just going to be with them all the way through.
I’m scouting talent, I’m going to help build the talent, I’m going to help support them through their careers, a bit of media training, those kinds of things. Advice on training, advice on nutrition, whatever I can do to connect them with the right people to make their life easier, and make their performances better. That’s what I’ll be doing. So, everything from onboarding to wellbeing.
And I understand you’ll be heavily involved on the matchmaking side, too.
Absolutely. The thing is, I know these talents better than anybody else, because I will have scouted them and signed them. You know what I’m like, when I get into a career, I’m obsessive about it. So I’ll know everything about these guys. And it will be a fun process to kind of match them. I’ll be matching everybody fairly and accordingly, based on what tests I feel like they need as fighters, and I’ll always be direct and honest with them about what I think they need to work on and improve on to keep moving forward. It’s a really good opportunity for me to help the European scene, stabilize, create some good opportunities with a big pot of money at the end of it, and then the potential to move on to the global championships.
You see loads of prospects coming up, and they’ve all got talent in various areas of the game. But where’s the biggest shortfall where you can really help them make that jump from regional prospect level to the international stage?
I think it’s a case-by-case basis. I think sometimes people need support in the structuring of their training. I think sometimes they need support in everything that goes with the training as far as their S&C, their nutrition, sometimes it’s about their weight management, what weight class they should be fighting. Sometimes it’s about where they train and who they train with, and maybe if they need to travel to train I can connect them with other gyms that can help them out. It’s going to be a case-by-case basis.
Sometimes it might be a technical thing, like especially if I’ve signed someone that I had high hopes for but has not been successful, they might come to me and say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, what happened? Can you help me out?’ and I’ll be able to give them some technical pointers as well as basically anything that the fighters need that I can help kind of keep them moving forward.
And, every single fighter is going to have different problems, and I’ve been through the majority of them before myself. If not me, then one of my teammates has in the past. So fortunately, through training with the Rough House boys, and the experience I’ve got across the board, it’s going to really help me with these young fighters, because I know what they’re going through.
On paper, this looks like an absolute dream gig for you. You’ve been in and around the sport forever. But, during that in-between phase in your career since leaving the UFC, was there always a plan to move into this sort of role, or was it just something that presented itself that was just too good to turn down? How did all of this map into your career arc, if you like?
That’s an interesting one, I’ve not really reflected on that yet. After I got fired, I was kind of floating around for a couple of months, not exactly sure what to do. You know, we were at home training and building Lego and just kind of hanging out. I needed that rest, for a start. I needed a couple of months just to kind of kind of decompress.
Then I was very content. We were doing the YouTube channel, I’ve got the gym set up, I’ve just opened a new gym, HW1 Fitness. So there’s been projects going on, but I’ve been kind of kicking it a little bit and enjoying some downtime, working with “V” and just watching old fights. We’ve been going back and watching the old Pride catalog and just just kind of living life a little bit, really.
I knew that something was going to present itself. I’d had conversations with a lot of organizations about doing various different types of work, from commentating to creating content for them outside of the shows, and I took a few of those jobs – the ONE Championship stuff, and I worked with Glory a little bit – and stayed present in the scene. So it’s an easy thing to do.
But I kind of felt like something was going to present itself, and something similar to what the PFL eventually offered me in November, the talent contract. But when this one (Director of Fighter Operations) came onto my table, I just thought to myself, “This is where I can really make a difference.”
Being on the broadcast is great, because I can help people watch and understand, you know? Like my breakdown shows – I had a great conversation with a woman outside the hotel last night who said, ”You explain it in a way that I can understand, which means I enjoy the sport more.” That, to me, is really what it’s all about. So, doing the breakdown shows, doing the analysis on my channel, and then being able to commentate on live events and being able to put things into context, when people don’t understand it, it’s a really important job to me.
I’m doing it through EMMAA (English Mixed Martial Arts Association), as well. I was on the board of directors that set that up. We had a team of 17 fighters go to the recent IMMAF World Championships, and we’re talking about doing events over here now for amateurs, which the PFL will be supporting. So I’m in a position to kind of pull the scene together a little bit, which is awesome.
When you’re effectively a freelancer, there’s always the nagging worry over how long gigs will last for, how do you get stability, etc. Now you’ve been approached and signed to a major role by a big global promotion, who have basically said, “You’re our guy.” What does that mean to you?
It means a lot. In particular, there’s a guy called George Greenberg, who is the producer of the events. I’ve worked with him before briefly on Fox Sports, as well. I’ve had a couple of conversations with him and he was very, very forthright in what he wanted me to bring to the PFL. But he was also very complimentary in the fact that he knows I’m capable of doing it.
He keeps saying to me, “There are more gears to go for you yet.” He expects me to develop into a much better broadcaster than I already am. And with that kind of confidence behind me, it makes me really want to try. I keep mentioning wanting to be a bit like John Madden for the PFL. We all know who John Madden is, and I love to listen to his analysis of the old NFL games. I was a 1980s Raiders fan and I used to love listening to Madden. There’s a lot to be added to mixed martial arts, and we’re still a growing sport. The PFL are bringing in the league, which is a new entity in the sport, and to be able to communicate to a fanbase that’s going to love a league, that understands a league, I think it will appeal to a younger audience, as well. Also, the level of the amateurs that are about to turn pro is so high, and I’m just connecting the dots and bringing it all together.
The PFL have got confidence that I can do that – that I can not only communicate to the fans in a way they can understand, but also communicate to the fighters. So I simply have to do this job. I couldn’t have turned it down for any amount of money. It was the right fit for me and, with the PFL having confidence in me, it’s definitely lifted my spirits.
Finally, what does success look like for Dan Hardy in two, three, four years’ time? What’s the medium- to long-term plan for you in terms of PFL Europe?
The fact that we’ve already got Brendan Loughnane, who’s already won the featherweight world championship, he’s already walked that path, so European fighters can already see that it’s possible. And through all the adversity that he went through, as well, from not getting signed to the UFC when he should have been, and the criticism of his decision-making, he’s shown himself to be a world-class athlete right now, and he’s got the money and the belt to prove it. So he’s already done that for the European fighters.
For me, what I want to do is bring stability to the region. We’re going to do four shows this year. Potentially, we’re going to do another four shows next year. I’m going to push for a couple more though. I also want to build in a link with the amateurs and the pros, as well. So we’ll be finding the cream of the crop of the amateurs and bringing them to the forefront, supported by the PFL.
In the next four or five years, I would really like to see 10-12 shows in Europe, as well as the other regions we set up, like the Middle East, South America, and Australasia. We’re moving into all of these regions to do the same things we’re doing in Europe. So for me, Europe’s the first bastion of the PFL’s international leagues, and I just want to make sure it’s a success. Eight to 12 shows a year in Europe, stacked with European talent, as well as good connections with the amateurs coming through, making their pro debuts. And then of course, we’ll have European Champions moving through to the World Championships, and they’ll be very successful, as Brendan has already been.
I think having a European championship and a belt associated with it is a great idea. It will bring stability and recognition to that position. And I want to make sure every weight class has got the opportunity. That’s something else the PFL is going to grow. Add more weight classes, as well as some maybe above or below where the regular weight classes are right now. There’s a load of changes to be made, but I’m in a good place to do it now. The PFL is a powerhouse. They’ve got my support, and I’ve got theirs.