Greg Hardy has been a professional mixed martial artist for 13 months, yet this Saturday will mark the third time he’s stepped into the UFC Octagon.
It was just last summer that the former NFL defensive lineman made his professional debut on the opening week of Season 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series, knocking out fellow former 2010 draft pick Austen Lane in 57 seconds to register his first victory as a mixed martial artist. He earned his second win eight weeks later and a third straight knockout victory seven weeks after that.
While the time he’s taken between bouts has increased considerably since then, the 30-year-old heavyweight is still operating at a break-neck pace.
In January, he fought Allen Crowder in Brooklyn, losing by disqualification after connecting with an illegal knee while Crowder was still on the canvas. He’d return 14 weeks later to register his first UFC victory — a first-round stoppage win over Dmitrii Smoliakov, a 36-year-old veteran who was undefeated beyond the walls of the UFC — and this weekend, just 12 weeks after dispatching “The Lifeguard,” Hardy is back to face his toughest test to date when he squares off with fellow Contender Series graduate Juan Adams on the main card of Saturday’s return to the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
“If you take away my football experience, I was just sitting on the couch just like each and every one of these other fans,” said Hardy, whose ascent has been framed by some as a combination of fights against overmatched opposition and the UFC looking to grab attention by getting into business with the former defensive standout.
“I’d never been to a wrestling practice or a karate class, so just to say that I’m getting handed opponents is a joke and I don’t think that message is getting out because initially, people thought this wasn’t even possible — that there was no way I was going to be able to compete.
“Secondly, I think (the media) should start recognizing and pointing out that I’m fighting guys with way better records than me, way more experience than me,” added Hardy, whose six opponents have thus far carried a combined 31-7 record into the cage at the time they fought, including Adams, who enters this weekend’s contest with a 5-1 record. “Yes, I am one of the best athletes on the planet and I’ve been working at that for 20-some-odd years and I’ve earned that, but at the same time, I’m still a rookie in this sport.”
That has been one of the challenges throughout his crossover into the cage — the struggle to separate Greg Hardy, the former Pro Bowl player from Greg Hardy, the MMA neophyte with obvious potential who has largely kept his head down and tried to make the most of the opportunities that have been afforded to him.
Every time he readies to step into the cage, the argument is raised that if he wasn’t Greg Hardy, he wouldn’t be competing at the highest level of the sport this early and that could very well be true.
At the same time, if it were Lane who won their meeting last season on the Contender Series and received a comparable push with similar results, the only thing people would be talking about is the impressive potential he displays and how elite athletes who have reached the highest levels in other sports are often able to progress up the rankings at a much greater clip.
But it’s not Lane, it’s Hardy, and so the only thing that gets often gets brought up is his past, not what he’s presently doing and how his future could play out.
As far as Hardy is concerned, you can’t have one without the other and he’s willing to take the scorn and ridicule and slights from fans and opponents, knowing that the rate at which he’s progressing is impressive and bodes well for him enjoying a long, successful career inside the Octagon.
“It’s a two-sided coin because 100 percent there wouldn’t be any of this ridicule and back-and-forth, but at the same time, there wouldn’t be any of this leaps and bounds stuff,” acknowledged Hardy, who has shown dramatic improvements from one fight to the next throughout his transition from football player to fighter. “I’ve done my homework and looking back in history, guys don’t advance (this quickly), not only as far as opponents and getting to where I’ve gotten to, but even just as far as skill level, ability to survive at a place like American Top Team.
“It’s a win and a loss, and sometimes you’ve got to take both.”
That has been the other really interesting piece of Hardy’s transition to the UFC and the copious amounts of attention his fights have received — that the 30-year-old has maintained a low profile and gone about things in “the right way.”
You don’t see Hardy seated in the crowd at various UFC events. He’s not active on Twitter and only sporadically posts on Instagram, the vast majority of which is related to training or working on his craft.
While he’s confident in his abilities and speaks freely about the elite athleticism he brings to the cage, Hardy has also embedded himself with one of the best camps in the sport at American Top Team, where he’s quick to acknowledge that he gets schooled by the deep collection of veteran talents that pass through the South Florida all-star academy on a regular basis.
Adams Plans To Hand Hardy His First Real Defeat
The only time he really pops up in front of the camera or on a microphone is in the days leading up to his next fight, and while he has set some lofty goals for himself, it’s nothing different than what the vast majority of fighters says when asked the same questions.
“You’ve seen a lot of different courses of action being taken throughout history with different celebrities, so I wouldn’t say I have to take this course of action — I would say I chose this course of action because it is the best one,” said Hardy when asked about his low key approach. “Coming from football and understanding how that respect works, how we look at younger guys and people coming in, new guys, I felt like it was the appropriate course of action to get the respect and get the best job done, instead of making waves and playing this game that whatever his name does.”
“Whatever his name” is Adams, the man he’ll face on Saturday night in San Antonio, who has been chasing this opportunity since last summer when they were both added to the UFC roster.
Although Adams made his Octagon debut roughly a month before Hardy stepped into the cage for the first time, the former collegiate wrestler has been vocal about the frequent opportunities and prime fight card placement the heavyweight newcomer has received from the outset.
He’s publicly lobbied for the opportunity to share the cage with his fellow member of the Contender Series Class of 2018 and after suffering his first professional loss last time out, Adams’ request was granted.
But while this weekend’s encounter is clearly something personal for “The Kraken,” Hardy is approaching it as nothing more than another assignment handed down by the boss that he needs to handle.
“This is something I’ve been dealing with my whole life,” he said of people calling him out and making things personal. “People have been trying to get under my skin and play this game for a very long time and I just think people should really start to pay attention to the results.
“The fact of the matter is this is a guy that has been whining, crying about not getting fights in the UFC, not getting favoritism instead of doing what he’s supposed to do — working hard, keeping his mouth shut — so he said the wrong name, the boss said me and now he’s got to pay the price,” Hardy added. “There are repercussions and consequences for his actions and that’s all I see it as — the boss sent me, so it’s time to go handle business, shut this guy up and move on to the next guy.”
For Hardy, this whole transition to mixed martial arts has been a process — one he knew came with a series of hurdles he would need to overcome and plenty of critics and doubters who are eager to see him fail.
He knew all this and knows all this and continues to press forward, resolute in his belief that time and continued success will change things.
“The right things aren’t being highlighted, but that will come soon,” said Hardy. “For me, it’s keep showing up, keep entertaining, and keep getting wins.