05/24/2012 06:11 EDT | Updated 07/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy puts critics behind him, looks ahead after testing UFC times

Expect Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy to be smiling in the cage Saturday night at UFC 146.

The colourful English welterweight with the mohawk is known for his enthusiastic response to ring announcer Bruce Buffer's fight introduction. As Buffer yells into the microphone, Hardy gets close and mouths along, with a demented grin on his face.

He seems as excited to just be there as the fans in the stands watching.

The 30-year-old Hardy will do it all over again Saturday against Duane (Bang) Ludwig at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. But for the first time in a few fights, he will mean it.

His submission loss to Chris (Lights Out) Lytle last August was his fourth straight defeat. Feeling battered by fickle fans, Hardy was falling out of love with his sport and it showed.

He says he just has to watch the Lytle bout and the previous loss to Anthony (Rumble) Johnson to see it.

"I can watch those fights and I have no real connection with the person that I'm watching . . . I don't feel like I was 100 per cent myself at that point," Hardy told The Canadian Press.

He had grown tired of "everything that comes with the sport."

Now based in Las Vegas and training with former heavyweight champion Frank Mir's team, Hardy says he has rediscovered his love for martial arts — and his self-belief.

"I'm stepping into the cage for the first time in a long time with a 100 per cent confidence that I'm going to leave with the win," he said. "And that brings a whole new level of excitement to being there, because you don't have that level of anxiety and that feeling of risk when you're in there."

It's been two and a half years since Hardy's last victory. Losses to Lytle, Johnson, Carlos Condit and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre took their toll.

The disrespect that accompanied that slide rubbed salt into the wound.

Hardy (23-10 with one no contest) calls it the most testing time of his life.

"When you become accustomed to winning, when you become accustomed to success, and then you stop feeding that success, you don't feel like yourself anymore," he explained.

"And you kind of lose little bits of yourself as you go along. ... It's been real tough, but it's been necessary. I've needed to go through this to get to this place to appreciate the work that I've put in and to know how much I've done to earn my place in the UFC and to earn this next victory."

Hardy stepped back after the Lytle loss, to survey his personal landscape. He says he should have done it after Condit, but felt pressured to get back in action and get a win.

Instead things got worse.

At least the losing streak helped put things in perspective.

Going into his title fight with GSP at UFC 111 in March 2010, everybody wanted to be his friend.

"I had sponsors coming out of everywhere and everybody's a fan. It was kind of a bit of a roller-coaster ride. And then all of a sudden I realized that maybe some things don't go your way, you drop a few fights and then everybody disappears into the cracks.

"You're kind of left with yourself and the people that have always been there. So I'm realistic about the sport now. I know who to keep at a distance now, that's one thing I've learned from it."

Hardy won his first four UFC fights, dispatching Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, and Marcus (The Irish Hand Grenade) Davis before defeating Mike (Quick) Swick at UFC 105 in November 2009 to earn a shot at St-Pierre.

His trash-talking prior to the Davis fight at UFC 99 in June 2009 elevated what should have been a routine 170-pound bout to co-main event status. Next fight out, Hardy found himself facing Swick for the right to fight St-Pierre.

"After four fights I found myself fighting for the title, which arguably was too soon but I was not going to turn it down."

Four weeks after the death of his grandfather, the bereaved Brit took a beating but earned kudos for escaping submissions and surviving five rounds with St-Pierre.

"If nothing else the fans learned I might not be the best wrestler in the world, I might not be the best grappler in the world and I might get caught with the odd punch here and there. But I'll always show up and I'll always come to fight and I'll leave it all in there," Hardy said.

"Now I've just got to go back to being a little more savvy about it and use the skills that I've been working on since I was six years old to start winning instead of just getting in there and enjoying the fight."

He has also had to learn to handle the price of being in the public eye.

"People, they see you on TV and they feel they've got a little bit of ownership over your life. You've become a commodity. And to a certain extent you can be traded amongst fans — sometimes they like you sometimes they don't. Sponsors are the same.

"There's just a lot of junk, a lot of nonsense that comes with it. For me it kind of takes a lot of fun out of it, because for me that's not what it's about. It's about getting into the gym and being a better athlete, being a better martial artist and then getting in the cage and testing it."

Hardy says he is finally past worrying about the critics. Haters, be damned.

"These people don't matter to me anymore and I don't know why they did in the first place. They don't really have any bearing on my life and I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'm happy with the effort that I'm putting in. I know I'm giving it everything I've got and the people that are around me every day that are seeing it are also seeing that I'm putting everything in."

A happy, and hopefully winning, Hardy is good for the sport. The tattooed Englishman is one of the more thoughtful cage-fighters around.

Colourful in the cage, he is just as interesting outside it.

The man who once trained with Chinese monks likes music, reading, writing and art. His post-fighting plans include going to university.

If he sees a perceived injustice, he will go to bat for it, be it by raising funds or awareness.

Thanks to his profession and social media — he has more than 135,000 followers on Twitter and a website — Hardy knows he is in a position to voice his opinions and beliefs.

In May, he received an animal welfare activism award from a pet orphanage in Dallas for his work in rescuing and fostering cats.

He has also taken aim at UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes for his love for recreational hunting.

"Don't like the guy, don't like his beliefs on how animals should be treated," Hardy said of the former welterweight champion. "He tweeted a picture of himself standing next to a bear that he'd killed the other day."

"He was fantastic in the cage but it doesn't mean to say he's going to make great choices in other areas in his life," he added "I just don't agree with what he does and I don't mind saying it."

Hardy insists his beef with Hughes is no publicity ploy. He says he's not about to challenge a 38-year-old.

"But certainly if he wants to fight, I would by all means put a beating on him. Because someone's going to get some payback for these animals that he keeps shooting."

His immediate problem is the 33-year-old Ludwig (29-12).

"First and foremost, he's tough and durable," Hardy said. "He is a fighter. There are a lot of guys in the UFC that are great athletes and they're very good martial artists but the fighter aspect I don't connect to everybody in the sport. ... He comes to fight, he's ready every time.

"He doesn't mind taking a shot to give a shot and he works hard. When the time come to throw down, he's prepared to do whatever it takes and I respect that. I've been a fan of his for a long time."

Hardy will be making one more change Saturday.

He has temporarily retired his trademark entrance song — "England Belongs to Me'' by Cock Sparrer (he recorded a special version of the song with the band itself).

"This fight has a different feel to it," he explained.

While Hardy was not prepared to divulge the replacement tune, he did say it will be "a war song, something special."