As Dan Hardy watched from cageside at UFC Fight Night 87 in Rotterdam last May, he could see how frustrated Chris Wade had become.
Wade, a former state wrestling champion at Islip High School, was battling through what became just the second loss of his career, and his first since entering the UFC in 2014. In a grueling three-round fight, Wade fell to Rustam Khabilov via unanimous decision, but it’s a result Hardy thinks Wade will recover from.
“Coming off a loss to Khabilov, it’s not a massive embarrassment,” said Hardy, a former UFC welterweight title contender and current analyst at Fox Sports. “I was at that fight, I watched it and I could see the frustration in his face at times in the fight, whereas before that he was on a roll.”
Wade (11-2, 4-1 UFC) hopes to get rolling once again at UFC Fight Night 94 on Saturday in Hidalgo, Texas. He’ll face Islam Makhachev (12-1, 1-1 UFC) hoping to regain the form that impressed Hardy earlier In Wade’s career.
“He won six fights in a row, looked great, came into the UFC and won his first fight with a nice guillotine in the first round,” Hardy said. “I think that started a momentum that just kind of slowed a little in the Khabilov fight.”
At 28, Wade has plenty of time and all the tools he needs to steady his career and make noise in the UFC’s crowded lightweight division, Hardy said.
“We’re seeing fighters flourish later on in their career now, experience has become a massive factor in these fights, and I think he has good experience,” Hardy said. “He’s got a good team behind him as well at Long Island MMA and I think he’s the right size for his weight class as well, which is another benefit. He’s not undersized and he’s not going to be outmuscled by anybody.”
A win over Makachev certainly would help right now.
Like Khabilov, Makhachev is a Russian fighter with a strong Sambo wrestling base. Hardy believes some Americans with grappling backgrounds have trouble with Russian fighters because they’re simply not used to that style of wrestling. While that matchup caused Wade problems in the Netherlands, Hardy believes that experience will only give Wade confidence this time around in Texas.
“It’s going to be a big benefit coming off the Khabilov fight and going into the Makhachev fight because it was effectively kind of an eye-opener for him,” Hardy said. “There were some things that didn’t work out too well for him and he had the time to adjust. He’s been able to go back to the gym, watch that fight over and over and assess the things that went wrong for him.”
One thing that went right for Wade last time was his stand-up game. Wade was able to land the biggest blow of the fight with a massive head kick on Khabilov early in the second round but couldn’t finish his opponent. Opening up like that will be key to turning things around, Hardy said.
“I would expect in this fight for him to try and use his striking a bit more, I think instead of trying to engage the wrestling game, I think he could use his wrestling skills to just keep the fight on the feet and at least set up a good boxing range early on and then maybe set up the takedown later in the fight.”