Greg Hardy, who washed out of the NFL two years ago after a domestic-violence incident, has reinvented himself as a mixed martial arts fighter and, in his first fight Saturday, he scored a knockout in 32 seconds.
With a crowd of only around 500 people looking on, the KO by the former Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys defensive end occurred in the Rise of a Warrior 21 bout against Joe Hawkins, who was also making his MMA debut, in Fort Pierce, Fla. ESPN reported that Hardy landed an overhand right, then an outside leg kick and another right.
“I’m ecstatic. I’ve been humbled a lot in the last two years,” Hardy told ESPN. “I’m just super excited to be able to compete. I’m just super excited to be back in the area. I’m super excited to be back to the Greg Hardy everyone knows and remembers and give back to my fans.”
Hardy, now 29, was a stellar if volatile defensive end for the Panthers, but his career nose-dived after he missed most of the 2014 season because of an alleged assault incident involving an ex-girlfriend and a bed covered with guns. Initially suspended 10 games, his sentence was reduced as the NFL grappled with how to punish players during its domestic violence crisis of 2014. Hardy was found guilty by a North Carolina judge and, following procedure in that state, asked for a jury trial. The case was dismissed when the alleged victim did not appear.
The Panthers let Hardy walk after that season and he signed with the Cowboys in 2015. He never returned to his previous form, though, and was a near-constant distraction. When he was activated after his four-game suspension, he immediately grabbed headlines with an odd interview in which he speculated about the attractiveness of the wives of quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Blake Bortles. He continued to talk about guns, an uncomfortable topic given the assault charge.
“I hope I come out guns blazin’. I’m full of excitement and full of juice,” Hardy said. “I’m ready to go. I have what they call fresh legs. I’m really excited to get out there on that grass or turf and see what they can do.”
When he missed team meetings, became a sideline irritant and reportedly partied while not producing, the Cowboys chose not to re-sign him. No other team publicly considered him and he was arrested on a cocaine possession charge in a Dallas suburb a year ago.
On Saturday, he said he hasn’t ruled out a return to the NFL, although he’s focused on MMA and the UFC.
“I’d be a fool to turn away from what I loved doing for so long,” Hardy said. “But it’s a habit of an athlete, a player and a baller to put his whole heart and soul into what I’m doing. So the UFC has got my heart and soul. That’s where I’m going in my mind and my heart. Everything that I do is focused on this MMA career, so I’m coming.”
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