Greg Hardy, the former NFL player whose promising career fizzled after charges of domestic violence and continued behavioral issues, was awarded a contract by the UFC on Tuesday, following his professional debut in mixed martial arts. Squaring off against another former NFL player, Austen Lane, Hardy scored a 57-second knockout and said afterward he was “super excited” about the opportunity to join the combat-sports giant.
The 29-year-old former defensive end last played in the NFL in 2015, and after pivoting to MMA the following year, he went 3-0 as an amateur, all by first-round knockout. He continued that trend in his first professional fight, part of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
Hardy (1-0) quickly sent Lane (4-1), a former defensive end and 2010 Jacksonville Jaguars draft pick, to a knee with a hard right hook. After Lane got back up, he was immediately met with a left hook that ended the heavyweight fight.
White, the UFC president who runs the series as a separate promotion that seeks out up-and-coming MMA talent, made offers Tuesday to Hardy and another winner that evening by first-round knockout, Alonzo Menifield. The latter, a light heavyweight who had fought last year in the first season of White’s series, ran his record to 7-0 by dispatching Dashawn Boatwright (3-1) in just eight seconds.
“This means everything,” Hardy said (via MMA Fighting). “It’s awesome. I don’t really have the words, I’m just super excited. I’m just really glad I got the opportunity, man.
“Austen came out fighting hard like I thought he would, and it was just a great fight. I got lucky and came in and did what I was supposed to do, and it worked out.”
On Monday, Hardy had called White “an angel,” saying, “I honestly couldn’t begin to explain why, I can only express my appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to be here and show what kind of athlete I am, and show what I have developed into.”
White has received some scrutiny for his interest in bringing Hardy aboard, particularly after his company released a statement in May, following the domestic violence arrest of UFC fighter Nick Diaz, in which it said that it “does not tolerate domestic violence and requires all athletes to adhere to the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy.” At a news conference after Saturday’s UFC 225 event, White said of Hardy, “I guess he had a real bad drug and alcohol problem. Started getting into MMA, cleaned himself up.
“If you talk to anybody he trains with, male or female, they say that he’s a very good guy, he’s very humble. Everybody deserves a second chance,” White continued. “And the guy was never charged with anything, he was never sentenced or anything like that. So, we’re going to give him a shot.”
Hardy was sentenced in 2014 by a North Carolina judge to 18 months’ probation, with a 60-day jail sentence suspended, after he was found guilty of assaulting a female and communicating threats. A member of the Carolina Panthers at the time, the 2013 Pro Bowler had been accused by an ex-girlfriend of using physical force against her after they had a night of drinking, and of putting his hands around her neck and threatening to kill her.
Hardy denied assaulting the woman and claimed that she suffered bruises while hurling herself into a bathtub in his apartment after he said he wouldn’t sleep with her, and that she threatened to kill herself if she left his building. He appealed and asked for a jury trial, and the case against him was dismissed in February 2015 after the woman failed to appear in court, with prosecutors suggesting that Hardy had privately reached a financial settlement with her.
Hardy’s charges were expunged later that year, which was quickly followed by the emergence of evidence from his domestic violence case, including photos of the woman’s bruises. Meanwhile, reeling from accusations of domestic abuse toward Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL had rendered Hardy inactive for most of the 2014 season by placing him on the commissioner’s exempt list, and then the league suspended him for 10 games in the 2015 season, a ban subsequently reduced to four.
Hardy was released by the Panthers in 2015 but was quickly picked up by the Dallas Cowboys, which brought the team criticism, including from the mayor of Dallas. As that season progressed, the Cowboys were reported to have developed concerns about Hardy’s off-field partying and lateness for meetings, as well as about his run-ins with teammates, and the team declined to re-sign him for the following season.
That effectively ended Hardy’s NFL career, with the likely final straw a September 2016 arrest for cocaine possession. The troubled past has led some to question why White and the UFC would want to get involved with him, but Hardy said Monday that he felt misunderstood by his critics.
“You’ll find that 99.9 percent of the time people are talking bad about me, they’ve never met me,” Hardy said. “Never been anywhere near me, in any instance when I was on the field, signing autographs or doing one of the millions of things I do for my fans, or even people who are not my fans.”
“I just think if you give me a chance, you’ll find out,” he added, “and if not, honestly, I accept your opinion, and just keep watching — it’s gonna get entertaining.”
White indicated Tuesday that Hardy would not make an immediate move to the UFC, but would first get some more seasoning in MMA fights with other promotions.
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