Say what you will about Greg Hardy the man, Greg Hardy the fighter just made the statement of his young MMA career.
Hardy, the former NFL All-Pro defensive end, probably punched his ticket to the UFC with an emphatic KO victory over fellow ex-NFL player Austen Lane on Tuesday night at Dana White’s Contender Series 9.
The event took place at The Ultimate Fighter Gym and streamed live on UFC Fight Pass.
“I’m ready for the big show,” Hardy said after his win. “I love the opportunity. I train at the best gym in the world, and I have full confidence and faith that those guys are there to get me ready for whatever comes next.”
What comes next will be up to UFC President Dana White, who awarded Hardy a contract afterward, though he hinted it could be a developmental deal.
Hardy (1-0), who trains with American Top Team, came out throwing heavy hands early, but Lane (4-1) responded, leading to a brief exchange between the two big men. An eye poke by Hardy just 25 seconds in forced a brief stoppage.
When they returned to action, Lane landed a solid two-punch combination that Hardy ate well. Moments later, the fight was over when Hardy landed a huge right hook across the chin that dropped Lane to one knee. He bounced back up only to eat a left that put him down for good, forcing the referee to stop the fight at the 57-second mark of Round 1.
It was Hardy’s first MMA fight as a professional. He’d had just three amateur bouts since November, with none of them exiting the first round.
White reacted to Hardy’s knockout on the Contender Series by letting an “Oh (expletive)!” and jumping out of his seat.
Hardy landing a spot on the Contender Series was met with controversy given his checkered past. He was convicted for assaulting his ex-girlfriend in July 2014, only to have the charges dropped after the alleged victim refused to testify in his appeal.
White is well aware of Hardy’s past, but the UFC boss believes the NFL veteran deserves a chance to rebuild his life.
“The reality is, if this guy stays clean for the next 10 years, goes on to win a world title, becomes one of the greatest mixed martial artists to ever live, he’s always going to be looked at – he’s always going to hear it,” White told MMAjunkie.
“That’s always going to be in the story that’s written about him. Other opponents he fights are going to call him a woman beater. That’s going follow him for the rest of his life. You don’t shed that. That stays with you forever, and he’s done all the things right so far.
“The guy paid his dues. He hit rock bottom. He built himself back up, and the guy’s out there just trying to make a life and a living.”
Although he’s taking a risk in providing Hardy with a platform, White said Hardy will remain under the microscope, and even the smallest of errors will be noticed.
“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 said. “I mean, everybody’s going to jump on him. You talk to the people in his camp, they love the guy. Men and women. They think he’s a great guy and a guy who (was) probably doing drugs, drinking and made a big mistake.”
Going forward, it doesn’t appear Hardy will make his official UFC debut anytime soon. He has just one pro fight, after all, and White said he wants to see Hardy gain some more experience before taking on the UFC heavyweight division, which includes some of the most experienced fighters in the sport.
White has a tentative plan in mind for Hardy’s developmental stage, though, but it remains to be seen exactly how it will play out.
“The way I see it is, what I would love to do, in a perfect world, this is not what I’m doing, but in a perfect world this is what I would like to do,” White said. “If he can turn around and come back, I would like to have him fight on the last episode of the Contender Series. Then I would like to put him on a bunch of ‘Looking For A Fight’ cards, get him some experience and then we’ll decide when we think he’s ready for the UFC.
“If you see him, you see that he has power. He’s a big heavyweight. He needs to work more. He needs to get some more fights. We’ve done deals where, for example, Cyborg was under contract with the UFC but fought in Invicta. Alexa Grasso was under contract with the UFC. Mackenzie Dern was under contract with the UFC and fought in other places. I have a few ideas of what to do with this guy and let him develop. He’s with a great team already, he’s training with great guys. They say he’s a hard worker. They say all positive things about him out of that gym. We’ll try to build him up and see what he can do.”
Contributing: Mike Bohn and John Morgan