As a former NFL player, Greg Hardy is used to short, explosive movements. A few seconds to change the course of an outcome. Things haven’t changed so much for him since he moved to mixed martial arts. Most of his fights have been sprints to the finish, dynamic bursts of fast-twitch muscle that have met with little resistance from over-matched foes. Last night was no different. All it took was 45 seconds for Hardy to dispatch Juan Adams in what was supposed to be his most competitive matchup to date. On most sports books, the two had gone off at equal odds.
It was anything but a close fight. Hardy shucked off a takedown attempt and then hit Adams 30-something straight times before referee Dan Miragliotta had seen enough. Hardy followed up his emphatic victory by licking the blood on his gloves and informing the San Antonio crowd that whatever you think about him, he’s here in the UFC to stay. “Whatever you think” of him comes as a verbal rejoinder because the man comes with a lot of baggage, so much that despite playing a year for the beloved, in-state Dallas Cowboys, Hardy can’t return to Texas without swimming through a sea of boos.
Hardy gets a lot of that directed his way—criticism, indignation, outright disgust—the result of a much publicized 2014 domestic violence case that led to a conviction that was later expunged on appeal. In the eyes of the law, Hardy is an innocent man. In the court of public opinion, he is guilty as sin. And when that public tunes in and sees Hardy fighting in the UFC, the hope of many is vengeance by proxy. They want to see Hardy get his clock cleaned. It hasn’t happened yet.
After last night’s win, Hardy will be forced to swim in deeper waters. That’s good news for Hardy’s supporters who want him to advance and test his unquestionable athleticism against more serious competition, but it’s also good news for his detractors. The shallowness of the heavyweight division means there is not a lot of room between Hardy and seriously skilled and experienced heavyweights like Walt Harris, who actually one-upped Hardy last night with a 12-second knockout, or Tai Tuivasa.
Hardy is going to have to face down those monsters even if we don’t know if he’s quite ready for them. Experience-wise, he couldn’t possibly be. He’s been fighting as a professional for only 13 months. A skill-for-skill comparison would be preposterous. His game is built on overwhelming power and physicality. That advantage is meaningful, but its significance lessens as it is offset by the the sharpness and savvy of veteran opponents. Moreover, how will Hardy respond when he faces his first big power puncher? Or when he runs into a technique he has never drilled?
In his match against Allen Crowder, we have already seen that he is susceptible to fatigue and frustration when things began to back up on him. Crowder stood up to Hardy’s power, then began taunting him as the former football star began to visibly fade. In a moment when Crowder was clearly a downed opponent, Hardy smashed him with a blatant illegal knee that led to a disqualification.
With all due respect to Crowder, he is not an elite heavyweight. Neither was Dmitrii Smoliakov nor Adams. But with every win, Hardy moves closer to them. This is what Hardy says he wants, of course, yet his frenetic career pace—six pro fights in 13 minutes—may actually work against his development. The early part of a career is when the biggest leaps are made, yet Hardy is going to have spend large portions of that time preparing for specific opponents rather than augmenting his overall skill set.
If you’re a future Hardy opponent, that fact should thrill you. For better or worse, he is a name, yet a very green one, likely with plenty to exploit. It may not be Francis Ngannou who gets to club away at his deficiencies, but maybe it’ll be Ben Rothwell or Blagoy Ivanov, or some other hellaciously tough MMA lifer who doesn’t care about Hardy or his NFL reputation and just sees another big scalp to add to his collection.
If you’re not a Hardy fan, it should thrill you, too. Hardy is quickly moving toward a collision course with opponents he is not yet equipped to deal with. If karmic justice and retribution are your thing, the studs of the division will soon be barreling in his direction, equipped with all the tools to deliver.