Greg Hardy’s professional MMA debut was not only a successful one, it also netted him a UFC contract.
The controversial ex-NFL All-Pro scored a highlight-reel, 57-second knockout over fellow former NFL player Austen Lane to open the second season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. After racking up a 3-0 amateur record with three first-round knockouts, Hardy (1-0) made sure history repeated itself to start his pro career, downing Lane (4-1) with crushing right hook, then finishing his heavyweight foe with a blistering follow-up left hand.
Afterward, UFC president Dana White announced that Hardy will be signed by the UFC, but alluded to the contract being one of the developmental variety. White hinted that Hardy could be given fights elsewhere to get him more experience before joining the UFC proper.
“This means everything,” Hardy said. “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.”
A product of American Top Team, the 29-year-old Hardy is a polarizing figure in MMA for his checkered past in the NFL. Hardy was arrested in 2014 for an alleged domestic assault committed on an ex-girlfriend that included accusations by the accuser that Hardy threatened to kill her after throwing her onto a bed covered in assault weapons. Hardy was subsequently found guilty by a Carolina judge, however the case was eventually dropped when the victim failed to appear in court to testify for Hardy’s appeal. Hardy also was arrested on cocaine possession charges in Sept. 2016.
Combined, the two incidents sunk Hardy’s once-promising NFL career.
“I’m ready for the big show,” Hardy said Tuesday after making his pro MMA debut. “I’d 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.”
The only fighter awarded a proper UFC contract in Tuesday’s action-packed season two debut was Alonzo Menifield (7-0), a light heavyweight slugger who made good on his second Contender Series appearance.
Fighting in the night’s main event, Menifield stopped fellow series alum Dashawn Boatwright (3-1) via TKO in just eight seconds. The undefeated 30-year-old stormed out and immediately countered a Boatwright head kick with a right hand over the top, downing his previously unbeaten foe. Menifield then swarmed with punches and coaxed a stoppage from referee Mark Smith to secure the fastest stoppage win in Contender Series history.
“He starts off with kicks, so I thought to step in as soon as he does it,” an elated Menifield said afterward. “And it worked.”
In the night’s co-main event, Sam Alvey protégé Chris Curtis (19-5) was unable to net a look from the UFC, but nonetheless scored what will undoubtedly be one of the best knockouts of the season with his spectacular third-round destruction of Sean Lally (8-3).
The two welterweights spent much of the opening two rounds exchanging strikes within the pocket, with Curtis generally getting the upper hand and even wobbling Lally with a stiff one-two in the second frame. But it was the finishing sequence at 1:37 of the third round that brought UFC officials cageside out of their seats, as Curtis smashed Lally with a highlight-reel back hook kick, instantly bringing the fight to a halt.
Elsewhere on the night, bantamweight up-and-comer Montel Jackson (6-0) stopped Rico Disciullo (9-2) with a third-round TKO to win a foul-laden contest and preserve his unbeaten record.
A one-time Olympic wrestling hopeful, Jackson had Disciullo in danger early in the opening round after knocking him down with strikes, but delivered a powerful elbow to the back of Disciullo’s head that forced referee Herb Dean to pause the action and take a point away from the 26-year-old. Jackson went on to commit two more fouls in the bout, a low blow later in round one and an eye poke early in the third round, the latter of which forced Dean to take a second point away from Jackson.
Regardless, it didn’t matter, as Jackson eventually smashed Disciullo with a massive knee to the head then swarmed with strikes to secure the TKO finish at 2:15 of the final round.
In the opening bout of the season, highly-touted middleweight prospect Kevin Holland (12-3) used his fluidity and creative striking to pick up a unanimous decision win over Will Santiago (9-5) via a trio of 30-27 scorecards.
Listed as a more than 10-to-1 betting favorite on some sportsbooks, Holland ate a few hard looping hooks from Santiago, and even was briefly dropped by a left hand in the third round, but otherwise coasted to a one-sided victory behind his long jab and funky combinations. Holland threw in plenty of theatrics as well, showboating and unloading a bevy of Diaz-esque open-handed slaps en route to snatching the first decision win of his career. Afterward, the 25-year-old admitted that his performance likely would not earn him a UFC contract, but asked for the chance to try again later in the season.