At some point, performance has to outweigh marketability
The two combined to deliver the Fight of the Night on a card that was laced with exciting moments, a back-and-forth brawl where both men were rocked a time or two and the audience was rapt by the action. He is wildly popular and easily marketed, a British Rock'em Sock'em Robot who puts butts in seats and almost always entertains.
That doesn't mean I agree with it though.
I'm not going to prattle on about what's fair and what isn't; anyone who wants to talk about fairness doesn't live in the real world. Life isn't fair; accept it now.
What I will say is that opting to retain Hardy's services despite a four-fight losing streak that has shown the holes and limitations of his abilities in the cage sends the wrong message to the rest of the roster. It also rewards a single redeemable performance in a string of consecutive losses that stretches back two years.
Sunday's knuckle-chucking contest with Lytle was certainly entertaining; an old fashioned fist fight with two willing participants. Had this only been his third loss or another in a line of somewhat close, hugely entertaining scraps, I could see giving Hardy a stay of execution.
But it wasn't.
This was the first "good loss" of the bunch; the only bout where Hardy showed anything of substance. He was dominated by Georges St-Pierre, but everyone is, so you can probably give him a pass for that one. However, he was beaten at his own game in the Carlos Condit fight, the purported knockout artist left wondering what happened, his left not as quick or powerful as his opponent's.
The Anthony Johnson fight was atrocious and backed the UFC into a corner. It showed that Hardy getting dominated on the ground by GSP wasn't entirely about St-Pierre's otherworldly wrestling and ground control; Hardy's lack of defense had something to do with it as well. He couldn't get out from under Johnson. Rationalize it all you want, citing Johnson's huge frame and the fact that he could easily compete in the middleweight division; at the end of the day, Hardy had nothing to offer.
In a division loaded with good-to-great wrestlers, the only hope of Hardy bringing his losing streak to an end was finding him someone who would bang it out with him. Lytle made perfect sense. Unfortunately, he too proved to be too much for Hardy, outworking the Brit through the opening two rounds before putting him away late in the third.
It was a perfect storm of everything that is missing from Hardy's arsenal at this point in time. He was out-boxed by a man eight years his senior, his supposed power not enough to put Lytle on the canvas once. He was hesitant to pull the trigger, and reluctant to snap out a leg kick in fear of being taken down. Worst of all, he made a tactical mistake, offer a sloppy takedown attempt and putting neck on a silver platter, giving Lytle the opening he needed to finish the fight.
Entertaining as it was, there was nothing in the fight that showed Hardy is on the verge of righting the ship. That makes the decision to retain him on the roster one that has nothing to with competitiveness and the sport itself, and that sends a bad message to the everyone else in the company.
"Losing is okay, so long as you're exciting and can put butts in seats." That's what this decision says to me. Like I said, the business and entertainment side of it makes perfect sense to me, but it ignores the sporting side of the equation entirely.
The fact of the matter is that Hardy is not competitive right now.
He had a meteoric rise to the top on the strength of some good wins against opponents who were tailor-made for his style, but now he's crashing back down to earth just as fast. His greatest strength in the cage isn't good enough to offset his biggest weakness; it's not even good enough to win him a fight when his opponent plays to into said strength.
How far down the depth chart do you go to find an opponent for Hardy the next time out? And what does a win over a hand-picked challenger who will surely be a favorable stylistic partner really mean in the grand scheme of things?
Would a single victory over a low-end opponent erase a four-fight losing streak and allow Hardy to start again?
All of those questions need to be answered, and unfortunately, I can't see any of the answers being strongly tied to sport and competition.
The thing with approaching this from a business standpoint is that while Hardy generally does pretty good business, there is no way to put him on the pay-per-view portion of a broadcast at this point in time. Doing so would be a slap in the face to every fighter competing before him, an unspoken admission than the dollars you generate means more than your actual performance in the cage.
That may very well be the case, but it's not really something that needs to be put on display. The sport component of this sports/entertainment hybrid has to remain close to its counterpart. Otherwise winning loses all value and the decisions that are already made somewhat arbitrarily looks like picking football teams at recess to the rest of the world.
At some point, the fact that Hardy is good for business has to be set aside. If the UFC can't do that after four consecutive losses, you have to wonder if they ever will?
As always, this article reflects the author's opinion and does not reflect the opinions of HeavyMMA.com.