Greg Hardy’s off-field misconduct, most notably a 2014 domestic violence case, ended his NFL career. After he served a suspension in 2015, the Cowboys signed him, were heavily criticized for it, and decided they didn’t want him back after the season. No other NFL team has wanted him since then.
But there’s another sports league that does want Hardy: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. And ESPN wants to televise Hardy’s debut in the Octagon.
The plan is for Hardy to have his first official UFC fight on the first fight card of ESPN’s new deal with the UFC, according to ESPN.com.
It’s easy to see why UFC and ESPN want that: This is a big deal for both parties. For the UFC, the deal with ESPN brings a measure of credibility, which the organization has sought from its founding 25 years ago. For ESPN, the Hardy fight will be airing exclusively on its streaming ESPN+ platform, which the company badly wants to promote. Hardy is a recognizable name, and there will be plenty of fans watching in the hopes of seeing him knock someone out — and perhaps more fans watching in the hopes of seeing him get knocked out.
But there’s something about “Greg Hardy cage fight” that just screams, “Lowest common denominator.” It also doesn’t help that the UFC has repeatedly tried to downplay the seriousness of Hardy’s past actions. UFC President Dana White falsely claimed that Hardy was “never charged with anything,” which simply isn’t true: Hardy was arrested and charged after his ex-girlfriend accused him of grabbing her, choking her, throwing her down and threatening to kill her, on May 13, 2014. Two months later, a judge found him guilty of assault and communicating threats. Under North Carolina law, Hardy had the right to a second trial in front of a jury, and before that jury trial he and his ex-girlfriend settled a civil lawsuit, at which point she declined to testify against him in the criminal case. As a result, prosecutors dropped the charges. That’s a far cry from “never charged with anything.”
Hardy’s past hasn’t kept the UFC from wanting him. He has twice fought on a program called “Dana White’s Contender Series,” which airs on the UFC’s streaming platform, although those are not considered official UFC fights. The UFC has also shown care in developing Hardy as a mixed martial arts fighter, helping him get favorable matchups. So far Hardy has had three amateur MMA fights and three pro fights, and he’s won all six by first-round knockout.
Hardy’s next opponent, Allen Crowder, has had one official UFC fight, and he lost that one by first-round knockout. So the UFC is again giving Hardy a fight he should win, and should win with a highlight-reel knockout that will probably get replayed over and over again on SportsCenter, with reminders to the viewers that the way to watch Hardy fight is to subscribe to ESPN+.
This is ultimately about making money, and the UFC and ESPN think they’ll make money by doing something no NFL team is willing to do: Partnering with Greg Hardy.