By: Jesse Donathan
UFC Fight Night 150 airs Saturday night at the BB&T Center Saturday, April 27, 2019 on ESPN+. The main event will feature submission grappling ace and perennial middleweight contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza versus Jack Hermansson. But once again, it’s the co-main event that is getting everyone’s attention. The controversial former NFL star Greg Hardy is set to face “The Lifeguard” Dmitrii Smoliakov of Russia in a heavyweight showdown.
Prize fighters today are the modern equivalent to the ancient Roman gladiators. An easy conclusion to come to considering the mixed martial art promotion once utilized a UFC gladiator in its opening volley. While the sports entertainment industry does a wonderful job of turning otherwise rough men into heroes through carefully crafted match ups and marketing, if these individuals plied their trade anywhere else but the ring or cage, they would be facing felony assault charges.
“Most gladiators were prisoners of war, slaves bought for the purpose, or criminals condemned to serve in the schools,” according to a University of Chicago essay titled “The Roman Gladiator.” Role models they were not, though their exploits then and now can easily turn ordinary men into larger than life super heroes.
Mixed martial arts fans have long hypothesized what the sport of MMA would look like with “A-level athletes” competing against the world’s best mixed martial artists. Top of the food chain individuals. The professional athletes of the NBA and NFL. The Lebron James’s, Bob Probert’s and Brian Urlacher’s of the world. Enter former NFL standout Greg Hardy, who is by most people’s definition an exceptional athlete. Unfortunately for him, he is also an exceptional athlete with quite a bit of baggage. In an April 17, 2018 article for Sherdog.com, “Opinion: Greg Hardy Need Not Apply,” author Ben Duffy pulled no punches with his thoughts on former NFL player Greg Hardy’s place in mixed martial arts:
“So nobody can accuse me of being vague here, I will say this as plainly as I can: Hardy should not be fighting professionally at all, and the decision makers at the UFC should be ashamed of themselves for even entertaining the possibility of signing him.”
Duffy would go on to cite Hardy’s July 2014 conviction for domestic violence, in which Hardy was summarily sentenced to 18 months’ worth of probation. Hardy’s attorneys appealed the conviction, the charges dropped all together when the victim failed to appear before the court. “Hardy was, in the legal sense at least, in the clear,” the author would go on to write.
Also cited as reasons for Duffy’s belief Hardy does not belong in mixed martial arts is the All-Pro lineman’s 2016 arrest for cocaine, Hardy’s poorly thought out behavior on social media which not surprisingly caught the attention of all the wrong people as well Hardy’s alleged poor behavior in the locker room.
“Mixed martial arts are thinly regulated violence,” writes Duffy. Going on to describe some of the ingredients that go into making the fight culture, Duffy would go on to remark that mixed martial arts, “will always attract its share of misfits, miscreants and antisocial head cases – the exact type of people who might find violence for pay an attractive proposition.”
It’s easy to confuse these athletes with super heroes, their acts of athletic achievement celebrated the globe over no matter the sport, transcending cultures. But it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll and getting punched in the face isn’t exactly an award most people are standing in line to receive.
If Greg Hardy wants to fight, let the man fight. I believe Greg Hardy deserves a second chance and if history is any indicator, he will get the benefit of the doubt because he is a compelling athlete with a lot left to offer. Hardy can redeem himself; he can turn this ship around and still become the great athlete that he was destined to be before some dreadfully bad decisions threw a wrench in his spokes.
Getting punched in the mouth for money isn’t a reward reserved for only the best among us. Fighting isn’t for everyone, taking a trip behind the woodshed isn’t my idea of paradise. “This is the hurt business. And in the hurt business people get hurt,” to quote legendary mixed martial arts referee Big John McCarthy.
Greg Hardy isn’t campaigning for Attorney General of Minnesota here, he is vying for a spot on the stretcher. And I get it, Greg Hardy has a history of abuse, by some peoples accounts he is not a very nice guy. But I am having a rather hard time accepting the notion that because of these facts he doesn’t deserve to be a tomato can and punching bag in the ring or cage.
On the contrary, that is exactly where Greg Hardy belongs no matter how you want to slice it. Greg Hardy is allegedly guilty of assaulting those who could not defend themselves? Great, stick him in the cage with those who can defend themselves then.
While it’s easy to watch inspirational fighter highlights on YouTube and come away dreaming to be like Kazushi Sakuraba, its another story altogether to be in that ring or cage with another trained killer. Its one thing to dream, its another to have to deal with “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva. Getting taken behind the woodshed is not a fortunate turn of events, catching a beat down may look easy on television but it’s hardly a winning proposition in the game of life.
Before there was a Greg Hardy, there was Mike Tyson. A special athlete with a checkered past, convicted of a heinous crime against women and shunned by the combat sport community. Like Hardy’s plight with the NFL, so too was Tyson exiled from boxing. And through it all, “Iron” Mike Tyson found a way to persevere. To overcome. To quote a new age proverb, “the one who doesn’t fall, doesn’t stand up.” There is an ebb and flow to life. When the tide comes in, everything is great. But when it recedes, the barren wasteland left in its wake can be a depressive sight to behold.
In a March 27, 1992 article for the New York Times, “Tyson Gets 6-Year Prison Term for Rape Conviction in Indiana,” author E.R. Shipp wrote:
“Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion who was convicted of rape last month, was sentenced to 10 years in prison today. But the judge suspended the last four years, meaning he will spend no more than six years behind bars.”
“The sentence he received today seemed designed to provide punishment and offer him a chance to turn his life around,” Shipp wrote. Today, approaching thirty years since Tyson was convicted and sentenced to prison “Iron” Mike has did precisely that, turned his life around. A true boxing and cultural icon, Tyson is seen regularly on television and social media, even enjoying his own cartoon “Mike Tyson’s Mysteries” on the Adult Swim network.
Today, Mike Tyson is a legend and a hero. Which should leave Greg Hardy with some hope that if “Iron” Mike Tyson can turn that ship around, then maybe he can too? In this sport, you’re either a can or a can crusher. And regardless if Hardy deserves to be in the UFC or not, I think it is going to be interesting to find out exactly what the former NFL standout has left to offer. I’m all for giving Greg Hardy a second chance, lets see if he can make the most of it.