After a calamitous disqualification loss in his UFC debut, Greg Hardy will get another shot in the octagon on April 27 when he faces Dmitrii Smoliakov at UFC on ESPN 3 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Despite the controversies and notoriety that have surrounded him, Hardy managed to rattle off three KO/TKO finishes in his first three professional appearances and ostensibly had the upper hand in his last bout against Allen Crowder—before forgetting the cardinal rule of kneeing a downed opponent. He’ll look to get his redemption story back on track and improve to 4-1 overall in his next outing.
To help facilitate that, the UFC has provided the former NFL defensive end with what many fans and pundits believe to be a softball opponent. Dmitrii “The Lifeguard” Smoliakov has been re-signed to the UFC following a dismal 0-2 run with the promotion that saw him fall to Luis Henrique by submission and Cyril Asker by first-round TKO. With a career total of 19 significant strikes landed in the octagon, Smoliakov will no doubt be a heavy underdog going into the fight against Hardy, as very few people expect the bout to be anything close to competitive.
Hardy, however, is not the only one seeking redemption in the UFC.
Outside the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion Smoliakov is not only unbeaten, but he’s also never let a fight go beyond the first round. His nine stoppage wins are split evenly between TKO and submission, with his latest victory coming this past January when he submitted Evgeniy Bova at Aslan Challenge in his hometown of Kaliningrad, Russia. On paper “The Lifeguard” seems to be the type of heavyweight prospect the UFC would love to have in its ranks.
A deeper look into Smoliakov’s professional fighting career, however, paints a less flattering picture. With a combined curriculum vitae of 31-36, the majority of the 36-year-old Russian’s opponents do not possess a winning record. Combined with the fact that all of Smoliakov’s wins outside the UFC have come at small regional promotions in Russia and Ukraine, there is some bewilderment as to why his nickname is not “The Can Crusher”.
Nevertheless, eight straight first-round finishes in a division that could desperately use more talent was enough for a UFC call-up—and back-to-back stoppage losses against lower level competition was enough for a release.
But Hardy’s error is a chance at vindication for Smoliakov. A win over the former Pro Bowler would certainly be the biggest of his career, and with the added attention the fight will receive due to Hardy’s notoriety, a victory could separate the Russian from the nameless pool of up and coming UFC prospects. In his fight against Hardy, “The Lifeguard” has the chance to live up to his nickname by saving his spot on the UFC roster.
Which man will be able to leave the cage with a feeling of job security come April 27 is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure—one fighter’s comeback story ends at UFC on ESPN 3.