Is The UFC Playing With Fire By Supporting Greg Hardy?

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Controversial former NFL standout Greg Hardy sent a seismic wave throughout the mixed martial arts world on an otherwise normal Tuesday.

The explosive athlete needed just 57 seconds to brutally KO fellow former NFL player Austen Lane (watch it here) in his professional debut on last night’s (Tues., June 12, 2018) season premiere of the second season of ‘Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series,’ improving his overall MMA record to 4-0 (three amateur bouts and his one pro win) with four first-round knockouts against mostly unknown competition.

It’s become obvious Hardy has rare size, strength, and athletic ability as a hulking 6′ 5″, 260-pound former defensive end, and that could translate into a rapid rise up the barren UFC heavyweight rankings relatively soon. You need only watch UFC President Dana White’s reaction to his explosive knockout to see that the world’s leading promotion believes they’ve caught lightning in a bottle with Hardy, and it looks like they have.

Fighting out of Florida’s American Top Team, Hardy has scored all of his knockouts in a total of three minutes and 19 seconds of cage time, so initial observations would seem that even though he’s a relative novice in MMA, the future is indeed bright for the polarizing 29-year-old knockout hitter in terms of the probability he makes a name for himself in fighting.

However, there are always going to be the past instances muddying his future in the sport. There was the 2014 arrest in an alleged domestic violence assault where Hardy supposedly threw an ex on a bed full of assault rifles, among other rumored horrible things, and also a 2015 arrest for cocaine possession. For a promotion that has been highly criticized for their supposedly lax stance on domestic violence among their athletes, Hardy’s signing is a clear risk, one that also comes with a clear path to a monstrous if the former Carolina Panther and Dallas Cowboy can keep his nose clean so to say.

The UFC is understandably focused on the latter in an era where they desperately need bankable stars. Discussing his controversial new star in a post-fight interview (via MMA Mania) last night, White stated that Hardy was beloved by many in his camp and simply made a mistake while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, but also that there would be “no mercy” for him if he messed up again:

“You talk to the people in his camp, they love the guy, men and women,” White said. “They think he’s a great guy and a guy who (was) probably doing drugs, drinking and made a big mistake. He’s the type of athlete, and he’s the type of guy that, if he does anything wrong, there will be no mercy for him.”

White seemed to claim there will be a zero-tolerance policy for Hardy after signing him to UFC contract, but he also focused on the belief that his new rising talent hit rock bottom and paid his dues, so he should be given the chance to turn his life around, which he believes he is doing:

“This guy has paid his dues, and like I said, he hit rock bottom,” White said. “You can point the finger at a guy all you want, but you can’t look down at a guy for trying to turn his life around and trying to be a better person. And I believe that’s what he’s doing.”

It’s not shocking to hear White suggest Hardy is a “great guy” who simply messed up, which is fair enough on the surface. True, he wouldn’t care about his redemption story if he couldn’t knock a man’s lights out like he can, yet just like any human being who has made a vast mistake – and we’ve all been there, just maybe not in these exact circumstances – he deserves a second chance to prove he can make lasting change.

Indeed he does deserve that. Either way, White and the UFC know they have something, and it looks like they believe it’s not any small potential. While his arrests will always follow him, the controversy he brings will always put Hardy at the forefront of MMA headlines. Here we are, talking about him as the biggest topic of the day just a few days removed from the biggest pay-per-view event of the year so far. Without a UFC event this weekend, it’s an otherwise slow week, sure, but the focus of MMA is largely on Hardy today regardless.

In that sense, it’s worked.

A potential feel-good comeback story from a massively talented athlete who can knock men out with one big punch has arrived, right at the time the UFC could use just that. Hardy insists he’s ready for the big show, and we’re probably going to find out sooner than later.

Problem is, he has to stay clean and out of jail in order to make the promotion look like it was a good idea to forego his previous trouble and sign him, so in that sense, the UFC is playing with fire by supporting and promoting Hardy. The past issues will always follow the troubled former NFL star, and while fans will grow tired of hearing about them, they’re also relevant concerns that could lead to a sticky scenario for the UFC if he does indeed break the law again. True to form, they’re a Las Vegas company and the gamble is worth it to them, at least as of right now.

Whether it pays off in spades or burns them remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though – the MMA world will be watching with open eyes whichever path the story follows.