Greg Hardy’s UFC debut ended even worse than most expected it to. In a result comically too on-the-nose, the controversial fighter earned a disqualification for being too violent—kneeing opponent Allen Crowder in the head while on the ground.
If Dana White has a grand plan for Hardy, this is not how it’s supposed to go.
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Hardy earned his UFC shot with a 3-0 professional MMA record with all wins ending by knockouts within the first minute. The 6-foot-4 heavyweight brings an imposing frame and intimidating punching power making it easy to see why Dana fell in love with the exciting prospect.
However, what may have interested White more was his already established name. Hardy was drafted into the NFL in 2010, playing six seasons and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013. A ferocious defender with a high motor, Hardy was one of the NFL’s rising stars until being dropped by the Cowboys in 2015.
For White, using Hardy’s crossover appeal was perfect timing as the UFC was kicking off its five-year deal with ESPN at UFC Fight Night 143. By giving Hardy a co-main spot, casual ESPN viewers would see a name they recognize, potentially tuning in and opening a whole new audience for the UFC.
A great marketing move by one of the best promoters—however sports fans are more familiar with Hardy’s legal troubles than his football play.
In 2014, Hardy was arrested for the assault of his ex-girlfriend. Initially placed on an 18-month suspension, charges were eventually dropped after the victim failed to testify in court. Hardy and the NFL were thrust into a publicity mess. By the end of 2015, Hardy’s charges were expunged, he was out of the NFL, and the court of public opinion gave no forgiveness.
A fact Dana White quickly became familiar with once he announced Hardy’s UFC debut would be on the same card as fellow UFC fighter and domestic abuse victim Rachael Ostovich. Met with significant backlash, Dana assured everyone that Ostovich was fine with the situation and the matchup would remain.
In the sport of fighting, any publicity is good publicity—if the knockout artist put on a good show against Allen Crowder, everything would work out.
Hardy began the fight showing off his power with a flurry of punches. However, Crowder was able to survive the early onslaught and once the one-minute mark had passed, Hardy was in new territory—and it showed.
As the fighters traded blows, Hardy’s fatigue was visible as his punching power quickly diminished. After successfully defending a takedown, Hardy took control of Crowder’s head connecting with a hard knee. The fight was immediately called as Crowder’s knee was clearly on the ground. Hardy was disqualified suffering his first professional MMA loss.
The Brooklyn crowd rained down boos and chants of insults as Hardy was escorted out of the octagon. For fans of the UFC, it was inevitable that White would enter the post-fight press conference berating Hardy’s mistake, and consider cutting him from the UFC’s roster.
Dana White—always full of surprises—had the opposite opinion than the rest of the MMA community.
“One thing that I did learn about Hardy tonight: he can fight,” White said during the post-fight press conference. “Not only can he punch hard, but he can take a big punch… he got out of trouble on the ground several times and he learned a lot tonight.”
While Dana has a point in that Hardy displayed takedown defense and a chin we had yet to see, Crowder is no top-level fighter. Had the disqualification not occurred, Hardy was in trouble as the endurance was simply not there and Crowder looked content to drag a gassed Hardy into the third round.
To the surprise of many, White and the UFC are not yet ready to give up the Greg Hardy experiment.
“He’ll get another fight,” said Dana White. “He made a really big rookie mistake and it cost him an L tonight, so it ruined his perfect record.”
Hardy is an elite athlete only a couple years into his MMA career—and there is always room for a hard-hitting heavyweight who can put up highlight reel knockouts—but the moment may have already passed for UFC fans.
To the casual fan, Hardy is a domestic abuser whose violence exceeded even the rules of fighting. To hardcore fans, he is a fighter whose past controversy propelled him to an undeserved co-main bout, who then squandered the opportunity with the worst mistake a fighter can make.
It’s hard to imagine anyone becoming a supporter of Greg Hardy’s UFC career, even if he does continue to learn and grow as a fighter.
Dana White will most likely relegate him back down to the preliminary card to see if his prospect can salvage his latest marketing gimmick, but MMA would be better to move on from Greg Hardy.
Jay is an MMA fan who loves to torture himself by staying up late to catch fights.