Jan. 19 will be a big night for both UFC and ESPN, with the network airing the first card of its new five-year, $300 million deal with the mixed martial arts company. But the event — to be aired by the network’s ESPN+ streaming service, already is shaping up to be controversial for both entities, as the card is scheduled to feature both a woman who allegedly is the victim of domestic violence and a man who allegedly committed domestic violence.
In one bout, flyweight Paige VanZant will take on Rachael Ostovich, who suffered a fractured orbital bone during an alleged attack last month by her husband, MMA professional Arnold Berdon. Ostovich’s management originally called off the fight because of the injury she suffered in the incident, but her manager told ESPN in late November that Ostovich had been cleared to remain in the fight after seeking a second opinion. Berdon has been charged with second-degree assault by police in Honolulu.
Another bout on the card, announced Tuesday night via UFC President Dana White in a report by ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, will feature former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy, who is attempting a new career in mixed martial arts after his football career was derailed in part by a 2014 domestic violence allegation. In six fights as a heavyweight — three amateur, three professional — Hardy has scored six first-round knockouts, a debut impressive enough to attract the attention of UFC, which signed him to a developmental deal after his pro debut in June. He will be making his UFC promotional debut at the January event, dubbed UFC Fight Night.
White defended UFC’s decision in a TSN interview that came out Thursday, saying Ostovich told him she had no problem with Hardy being on the card.
“He’s gonna be tied to [the domestic violence allegations] for the rest of his career, the rest of his life,” White said. “This is a guy who’s spent the last five years rehabilitating himself from drugs, alcohol, anger management, you name it. Rebuilding his life. He hit rock bottom, he lost his job. He’s building a family now; he has a son and a daughter. He’s trying to put that behind him.
"I called Rachael Ostovich and talked to her and walked her through this situation, and her take on it was: ‘His story isn’t my story, everybody’s story is different and I believe in second chances. I have no problem fighting on the same card with this guy,’ " White said. “He didn’t do anything to Rachael Ostovich, so she was totally cool with it. So obviously, having her support was a key factor in making that decision. ...
“Rachael Ostovich doesn’t have an issue with it, and that’s all that matters to me.”
In July 2014, a District Court judge in North Carolina found Hardy guilty of assault and communicating threats, both misdemeanors, over an incident two months earlier involving his former girlfriend. In North Carolina, however, defendants found guilty of misdemeanors in bench trials can have their cases retried in front of a jury. Prosecutors then dropped the charges against Hardy when his ex-girlfriend failed to show up to testify against him in the subsequent jury trial, and the charges were expunged from his record in November 2015.
One day after the charges were expunged, however, Deadspin published photos of the injuries suffered by the woman and recounted the night in question based on police reports and court records. After a night of partying, the woman alleged that Hardy threw her into a bathtub and then onto a futon that was covered with guns before choking her.
Hardy played just one game for the Panthers in 2014; he spent most of the season on the commissioner’s exempt list. The next year, Roger Goodell suspended him for 10 games under the league’s personal conduct policy, a punishment that was later reduced to four games by an arbitrator. He spent the 2015 season, his last in the NFL, with the Dallas Cowboys, who declined to re-sign him after that, citing his bad influence on other teammates.
White has claimed to have taken a hard line with fighters who commit domestic violence.
“We have a record, a track record of getting rid of many people that have done bad things,” he said in 2014 when asked his opinion about the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice after video surfaced of the Ravens running back punching his wife in an Atlantic City hotel elevator.
“We’ve been human beings in letting these guys, other guys make up for what they’ve done and come back. There’s one thing that you never bounce back from and that’s putting your hands on a woman. Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
But UFC’s stance on domestic violence has been just as inconsistent as the NFL’s, and perhaps more so. In 2014, for instance, the company released featherweight Will Chope from his contract after reports surfaced that he had received a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force in 2009 because of multiple domestic violence incidents involving his ex-wife (such a discharge would have shown up on even a cursory background check). But higher-profile fighters such as lightweight Abel Trujillo (who twice has pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges against the mother of his child) and light heavyweight Anthony Johnson (who was convicted on a domestic violence charge in 2010) have been allowed to continue fighting on the circuit.
A 2015 investigation by HBO’s “Real Sports” found that MMA fighters in general had been arrested for domestic violence at more than twice the average national rate.
White defended his company’s backing of Hardy in comments made ahead of UFC 225 in June, though part of his reasoning was factually incorrect (Hardy was indeed charged).
“I guess he had a real bad drug and alcohol problem,” he said. “Started to get into MMA. Cleaned himself up. If you talk to anybody he trains with, male or female, they say that he’s a very good guy. He’s very humble. Everybody deserves a second chance. And the guy was never charged with anything, he was never sentenced or anything like that. We’re going to give him a shot.”
For what it’s worth, Hardy’s opponent told TMZ that this is all motivation for him.
“I definitely want to win this fight for [Ostovich]. I’m very against men beating women,” Crowder said. “And I’m definitely not a woman, so he’s gonna have a lot harder time with me then he did the last person.
“I’m gonna get that win for her.”
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