Photography: Levon Biss

Fashion: Stephen Mann

Words: Steve Beale

February 2009: 26-year-old mixed martial artist Dan Hardy walks towards the Octagon to the sounds of Oi! band Cock Sparrer’s England Belongs To Me. And, at that moment, it does.

Hardy knocks out his American opponent Rory Markham, an alumni of Iowa’s notoriously gruelling and notably successful Militech Fighting System, in just over 90 seconds. With this year’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show featuring ‘Team US vs Team UK’ it’s the year of the British breakthrough fighter. Hardy’s currently ranked just outside the top ten international welterweights. If he beats Marcus ‘The Irish Hand Grenade’ Davis at UFC 99 in Germany this month, he’ll smash through. And he has a red Mohican.

You started martial arts early on, right?

“When I was six I wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I was running round at school kicking everybody and my parents thought it was best to have that channelled. So I went to tae kwon do school until I was 17. It was certainly cathartic.”

You also trained for a while at the Shaolin Temple in China, home to the famous performing monks. What was that like?

“It was in Yehe province, in a castle on a hill with no glass in the windows and rats everywhere, and sandstorms coming in from off the Mongolian desert. It was invaluable – it gave me a mental toughness that I couldn’t have got anywhere else.”

Some people struggle to understand how you can ‘enjoy’ fighting…

“It’s the achievement, the alpha male dominance. You feel like a man when you win a fight, and you want more of that feeling.”

You get a lot of props for your current entrance theme, England Belongs To Me.

“I used to have Nowhere To Run by Martha and the Vandellas. When I started out I came in to Pantera, one of my favourite bands, and it made me just want to get into the cage and rip the guy’s head off. So I got a bit more selective.”

You’ve said you ‘used to be the fat kid’. Is your nutrition regime even more hardcore than other fighters?

“Yeah, two of my team eat whatever they like and they never struggle to make weight. Me, I’ve never seen my abs. They’re under there somewhere.”

How are you approaching the Davis fight?

“Marcus has a strong ground game. I don’t see him landing a lot to be honest – he’s 5ft 8in, older than me and not particularly quick. He’s 17-1 at boxing so people automatically think he’s going to out-box people. But this is MMA and there’s a lot more factors involved with the striking game, particularly in the clinch and kicking. I don’t think he’s going to be able to take me down and I don’t think he’s going to dominate me on the ground.”

UFC President Dana White said, “The whole world’s become pussified.” Do you agree?

“Without a doubt. There’s a culture of vicitmhood. Football players diving around clutching their knees… the younger generation are growing up thinking that’s acceptable behaviour. It’s not. People need to toughen up a bit.”

And Michael Bisping told us “all MMA fighters are ex-nerds”. Were you into Warhammer?

“Oh yeah. I collected Space Marines. I’m totally hooked on the PC version, Dawn Of War. I was walking past Games Workshop in York and my girlfriend, who’s a graphic designer and had no idea what it was, thought it was amazing. I think to a certain extent MMA fighters are all reformed nerds – a lot of people start because they need confidence. I wasn’t one of the cool kids at school, I liked Games Workshop and Steve Jackson books. Now I see people from school who remember me as the Warhammer kid and I’m beating people up in the UFC! They’re always surprised.”

UFC 99 starts 8pm, June 13 on Setanta Sports 1