Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy's first tattoo was a small skull and crossbones, inside his bottom lip. That was three years ago and the English welterweight has inked his body steadily since.
The growth in body canvas mirrors Hardy's rapid rise in mixed martial arts.
But the fact that one of his most prominent tattoos has been airbrushed out of the UFC 111 poster -- apparently the stomach tattoo was deemed distracting -- is also proof that the 27-year-old from Nottingham, England, is still fighting for respect as he prepares to take on Georges St.-Pierre for the Canadian star's welterweight title.
St-Pierre, regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, is an 8-1 favourite to dispatch the man with the red mohawk on Saturday at the Prudential Center in New Jersey (available on pay-per-view).
Hardy, who has won all four of his UFC outings, insists he not only belongs in the cage with GSP, he's going to beat him.
"There's been a lot of talk about the fact that I'm not very deserving of a title shot and that I'm here too early," Hardy told The Canadian Press. "But they're the people that just look at UFC records and don't look past it. This fight will be my 30th fight, I think GSP is 19-2. It's not like I've not got enough experience to be in there with him, it's just that I've only had four fights in the UFC.
"I am experienced. I feel like I've timed it right and I'm ready for my shot."
Hardy has power on his side, although Rory Markham remains his only UFC knockout. The brash Brit still packs a punch, taking Mike (Quick) Swick out of his game plan last time out by wobbling him early in both the first and second rounds.
Hardy (23-6) says his striking will make the difference against the 28-year-old St-Pierre in the five-round fight.
"Twenty-five minutes is a long time to keep my hands off his chin," Hardy said in Las Vegas prior to UFC 106, in what has become his mantra for this fight. "I could always walk away with that belt and surprise everybody."
Hardy returned to the theme in a question-and-answer session with fans in Memphis before UFC 107 when asked if St-Pierre had "the balls" to stand with him.
"I don't think it's about having the balls to stand with me, I think he's too smart to do that," Hardy replied. "He knows what's coming. He knows there's a left hook with his name on it and at some point in the 25 minutes I'll land it.
"I'm expecting him to take me down and at some point I'll end up on my back and I'll fight from that position. When you're fighting GSP, you accept at some point you're going to get taken down. But GSP's got to now accept the fact that when you're fighting me, you're going to get hit in the face over and over again."
Hardy is a good talker. And he's not averse to trash-talk -- he had a field day with Marcus (The Irish Hand Grenade) Davis prior to UFC 99. But he has largely holstered his tongue in the buildup to St-Pierre.
"You can't say anything bad about Georges St-Pierre. He's just such a nice guy," Hardy lamented last November. "To the point where it's a little boring in fact, you know what I mean? Because he never says anything nasty about anybody."
Hardy has also not made public his ire at having the tattoo airbrushed out -- it's a Tibetan Buddhist prayer written in Sanskrit and it means something to him.
"It's basically just like a prayer for focus," Hardy said of the stomach ink. "It keeps me walking the path that I should be walking without veering off and distracting myself."
Still, the charismatic Hardy is relishing his time in the spotlight, savouring magazine covers and photo shoots. His enthusiasm is hard to miss -- just watch him as ring announcer Bruce Buffer announces him in the cage. Hardy, usually sporting a fang-like mouthpiece, mirrors Buffer during his introduction.
"I'm just like you guys, I'm a huge fan. . . So to actually be there and have Bruce Buffer looking at me and calling my name is awesome," Hardy told the pre-fight audience in Memphis. "It's just real exciting to be there."
Getting there has taken plenty of hard work. Hardy, who notes it has been a decade since he took a drink, has travelled around the world in a bid to hone his fighting skills. And he resisted the UFC's wooing until he thought he was ready.
Hardy, a self-described "fat kid at school," has come a long way since taking up taekwondo at age six, in part fuelled by his affection for "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
His parents were 17 when they had him, with his father passing up a shot at pro soccer -- he had trials with Arsenal, Aston Villa and Notts County -- to hold down a job and support the family (Dan has a sister four years younger) in Nottingham. His dad went on to become an engineer while his mother started a pre-school.
"It was very basic," Hardy said of his childhood. "We didn't have a lot of money but we kind of got by. It was just good times, real simple, real straightforward."
Hardy's martial arts beginnings were a little rockier. He recalls being knocked out in his first competition when he was seven -- "that scared the hell out of me for a couple of years."
He did better when he returned to the sport but began losing interest at 13, as other activities came to the forefront.
Hardy got back into it when his grandfather decided to take up taekwondo aged 60. The two trained together for five years before his grandfather decided to pack it in at 65. By that time, Hardy was winning national competitions and was so flexible that he would get in trouble while playing soccer because he would try to kick high balls rather than head them.
Outside of school, his first job was packing bags at supermarket. "That sucked."
He went on to work in a retail shop for snowboarding equipment and the stock room of a shoe store before landing a job at a gym in a leisure centre.
Hardy studied art at the University of Nottingham, leading one British MMA writer later to dub him the "Picasso of Pain," but school was jostling with mixed martial arts and music for his attention.
He was in a punk band and then became lead singer in a Rage Against the Machine cover band, named Raging Against the Machine.
"I was always the guy that didn't mind getting on stage and screaming into a microphone," he explained.
The band had some success and Hardy soon faced a decision -- staying in Nottingham to focus on music or train martial arts full time, travelling in search of the training he needed to grow to the next level.
Martial arts won out.
"It was a difficult decision because I enjoyed the band stuff," said Hardy. "But again, same with university, I can come back to all that stuff when I'm retired. I can't do this for the rest of my life, I want to make sure I'm down and out of the sport (of MMA) at 35. Anything past that, I've got many more options."
In 2002, Hardy left the comfort zone of Nottingham and went to the other side of the world to study martial arts at a temple in northern China.
He had seen a documentary on the Discovery Channel about Chinese kids training at a temple. After finding out it didn't accept non-Chinese, he turned to the Internet to find one that did.
"I was really into my kung fu movies, (like) 'The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.' And I thought I just want to go out and experience it."
He spent two months there, spending 12 hours a day training in kung fu. But while he did everything from tai chi to weapons training, Hardy looked forward to the boxing sessions that ended the day.
"It was during those two months that I kind of realized that although I enjoyed the traditional martial arts, it was the competition that I enjoyed the most."
The original plan was to spend two months there and then return for three years. Instead, after the two months were up, he looked for other places to train, with the U.S. beckoning.
But China played a key part in his development as a fighter and a person. It was the first time he had travelled alone.
"It was quite a distance to travel and it was quite overwhelming at the time, but that gave me the confidence to kind of say to myself 'You know I can do whatever I like,' and that was when I started to travel over (to the U.S.)."
The adventure was on.
"The most important thing was just going places and meeting people and then I can go back to Nottingham with a story," Hardy explained.
He went to American Top Team in Florida first, then Team Quest in Oregon and then to California. Friend and fellow fighter Paul Daley had trained with jiu-jitsu guru Eddie Bravo in Los Angeles a year earlier and Hardy wanted to check him out.
On his second visit to California, he met his current girlfriend Elizabeth, a graphic designer with more ink on her skin than Hardy, and the U.S. quickly became a second home.
Today, Hardy owns a place in Nottingham and has an apartment in Los Angeles (he had lived with his parents prior to getting that flat), splitting his time between the two.
Life is good.
The man who couldn't afford a car until he was 22 now has several, including a beloved 1971 Chevy Nova named Daphne.
The former singer also returned to the studio recently, invited by punk band Cock Sparrer to help record a new version of "England Belongs to Me," which Hardy walks out to at each UFC fight.
Prior to his last outing, the win over Swick in November that earned him the title shot, the UFC sweetened his contract.
Hardy, with help from his father, has taken over control of his own career and now has his own management firm. He also is the de-facto leader, along with Daley, of a British fight team called Rough House, whose other UFC fighters include Ross (The Real Deal) Pearson, Andre Winner and Nick Osipczak.
It's a far cry from June 2004, when Hardy lost to Lee Doski via second-round submission at Extreme Brawl 7 in England's Bracknell Sport and Leisure Centre. Hardy recalled making 100 pounds that night.
Next time out was August 2004, when he took on Paul (Hands of Stone) Jenkins on the Portsmouth Pier for Full Contact Fight Night 2.
Hardy remembers looking back at the end of the second round and seeing his cornerman brawling with someone in the front row after taking exception to a complaint he was blocking the spectator's view.
Hardy won a majority decision over Jenkins, who came into the fight with a 25-17-3 record.
"That was kind a turning point, because he was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time," Hardy said. "People realized I might be a force."
Hardy fought nine times in 2005, and five times each in 2006 and 2007 when he turned down an offer from the UFC because he didn't think he was ready.
Eighteen months later the time was right -- Hardy had won eight of his last nine fights, with the lone blemish a disqualification due to an accidental low kick at a tournament in Japan -- and he celebrated his debut in the Octagon with a decision over veteran Akihiro Gono in October 2008 at UFC 89 in Birmingham, England.
Wins over Markham, Davis and Swick followed, earning Hardy a shot at St-Pierre and the title.
It many be a long shot to some. But not Hardy.
"For the most part, people are counting me out entirely. Which is a silly thing to do, especially in a sport like mixed martial arts, because as we know, anything can happen. But I'm very confident that this fight's mine.
"Every time I get an email, I read a forum and they're counting me out, it just makes me more excited that I'm going to be proving them wrong."