Dan Hardy
Hardy: People still need to be educated on MMA. Rick Trelease

Dan Hardy has been on the front line of UFC's inexorable rise in popularity. He is also on the frontline in its battle to dismiss any remaining naysayers who suggest MMA doesn't have a place in mainstream sport.

Hardy's career inside the Octagon was halted four years ago after he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition – although he has explained to IBTimes UK a return could soon beckon having sought his own medical clearance.

Since he has been out of competition, the Nottingham-born fighter has become a lead analyst for the promotion, dispatched by UFC president Dana White to become the face of the promotion on this side of the Atlantic.

Over the last two to three years, the rise of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey as the faces of the promotion and the $4bn takeover last summer have helped UFC morph into the household name it is now. Mixed martial arts has seen its profile grow so much it is now firmly part of the mainstream; an accepted and respected force that stands alongside boxing in the universe of combat sport. But from inside the world of MMA, Hardy feels there is still some resistance from some willing to accept its arrival. In order to bridge that gap, education on the sport must continue.

"If you don't have knowledge or training of MMA it can look reckless," Hardy explained to IBTimes UK. "There are reasons for it looking reckless and reasons for the sport not looking as polished and refined as something as established as boxing. Now, with the sport moving into the mainstream as quickly as it has we need people who have the knowledge of the sport who can help communicate with people to bring that knowledge and education forward so the sport can be appreciated the way it should be."

Boxing and MMA are perfectly capable of operating and thriving alongside each other, but debates over popularity are inevitable. While boxing still trumps UFC in terms of television numbers, the growing influence of the MMA giant cannot be ignored, with Manny Pacquiao the only currently active boxer to earn more than McGregor in 2016, according to Forbes.

Hardy feels the resistance comes from the old guard of the boxing community in the UK, with his recent Twitter spat with boxing pundit Steve Bunce highlighting the clashes that still take place on a regular basis.

Bunce's comments frustrated Hardy, who explained: "To step into my world and start commenting on something he really knows nothing about, and to be so flippant and casual with his comments as well, is rather offensive."

According to Hardy, there is one prevailing reason for this resistance: fear.

"I've seen it across the world, particularly in the US and particularly in New York when we were battling for acceptance and legislation over there. It's obvious, particularly with these old boxing guys, the guys that have been invested in the sport of boxing for a long time, are seeing the sport of boxing falling apart, seeing the politics within it ripping it apart, and then watching MMA effectively take its place."

Fans of both the sports are tired with the debate. They were five years ago. Hardy is himself a boxing fan and takes the opportunity to watch Gennady Golovkin and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez when he needs some downtime from trawling through UFC tapes.

But he feels it's time for those who still won't acknowledge his sport to get a firm reality check of the directions the two are moving.

"There is so much to appreciate about boxing and it is a shame the business world is pulling the sport apart. That is one thing we have managed to avoid so far in MMA. I think these boxing pundits and the people making these comments are afraid, afraid their sport is losing momentum and ours is gathering.

"I hope at one point in the future we get to the stage where there isn't that competition and the comparison. No one is comparing badminton to table tennis, they are different sports. It is a shame that ignorance is fuelling some of these crazy articles. It discredits the sport and the athletes and no one is more deserving of credit than the people invested in the sport of MMA."

Part Reptile by Dan Hardy is published by Headline, priced £20.00