UFC on ESPN+ 1: Will we ever grow comfortable watching Greg Hardy fight?

A giddy Greg Hardy (3-0), steps to the stage in a private room of the Downtown Marriott on 85 West Street in New York City. Unable to shelter his excitement, Hardy cracks a smile as he faces off with opponent Allen Crowder (9-3), the co-main event of the first-ever UFC on ESPN + card – the first of a five-year, $1.5 billion deal between the two corporate conglomerates – which will be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

As videos of the scene surfaced on social media, fans have since pushed back on Hardy’s fashion choice – he was wearing Uggs – and his domestic violence history, which will follow him for the rest of his life. (You can Google the photos, but we won’t encourage that.)

The 6-foot-4 former NFL sack artist who was found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 2014, and sentenced to 18 months’ probation and a 10-game suspension, is now a mixed martial artist employed by the UFC. (Charges against him dropped when the victim failed to appear in court to testify.)

Shortly after this video was taken, as the scrum continued, Hardy shared a recurring message he has aimed to put forth during fight week.

“I believe the past has to stay in the past in order for people to move forward,” he said.

Currently, Hardy – who weighed in at 264 pounds on Friday, one below the heavyweight limit – goes to therapy in an attempt to distance himself mentally and get in a better place from those actions.

“From day one, once I realized that I am who I am, these are my problems and, these are things that I need to fix as a human being, just in general. I’ve kept that positive attitude to look forward and make sure that I’m going to therapy and containing myself and surrounding myself with what I need to get better. So it’s been a continual process,” he said.

He was later asked how does he deal with no matter what he accomplishes moving forward, his past will always be brought to the forefront.

Hardy smirked and offered, “Uh, I mean, the same way you deal with it, boss man,” in response to the reporter, as the two locked eyes. “The same way everybody else is going to have to deal with it in their lives. It never goes away. Yesterday doesn’t change. So it’s just one step, one foot in front of the other, moving forward, thinking positive.”

Being on the same card as domestic violence survivor Rachel Ostovich – who is fighting Paige VanZant shortly beforehand – drew some negative mainstream pushback as well.

Ostovich, who elected to remain on the card in spite of her incident, made it a point to seek out Hardy and have a conversation.

“We talked, she’s a wonderful person, we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do, man,” Hardy offered, electing not to divulge into details. “It was just an experience. It’s one of those things where you’ve gotta honestly be there to get the full of it all … I’m glad that I can be a part of this journey and finally be able to take away from the distraction and add to the gloriousness of this fight and her opportunity.”

Ostovich has since also spoken about the discussion with Hardy.

And because of Hardy’s past, the aforementioned Crowder will be anointed as a hero if he were to win. Crowder was listed as a +400 underdog to Hardy, a -550 favorite, this morning on First Take.

Crowder is cognizant of it all, as it pertains to Hardy: Domestic violence, the NFL career, his own underdog standing and fair-weather fans in his corner. Nicknamed the “Pretty Boy”, he might as well be, “The Babyface.”

“I’m not God, I can’t judge this dude, you know what I mean?” Crowder replied, following a long sigh, when asked about his opponent, exclusively. “Unfortunately, he made a terrible mistake. But he’s got to live with that, and he’s going to have to deal with that for the rest of his life.

“A lot of people want me to beat him for the stuff that’s he’s done in his past,” he added. “I can’t judge a man for what he’d done, I can only do what I can do. So, when it comes down to it, I wanna get this win for me and if people crown me as their hero, then I’ll be it.”

Crowder, who hasn’t fought since being knocked out in December of 2017, says he wanted this fight after watching Hardy record multiple first-round knockouts on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer. He also predicted a second-round knockout over the former Dallas Cowboy and Carolina Panther.

“I was really excited (when I heard about the fight). I wanted to come up here, and fight in Brooklyn. I had been looking at this card previously, then when they called me and told me … and I said, ‘Man, that’s perfect. Everything I asked for, they gave it to me,’” he said.

As Crowder attempts to become the hero many desire, his opponent also possesses serious, uncomforting knockout power, living up to his new moniker, the “Prince of War.”

Hardy’s three knockouts have all come within 57 seconds, with the most recent taking place in September on an Xtreme Fight Night card.

“One of the positives about being the Prince of War is you get to war every day, man,” said Hardy, reveling in his nickname. “And there’s no glamour in war, except for the victory. I think that’s where I get my satisfaction and I think that’s where I get all my moments from … I’m anxious, more so than anything. I’m excited for the war. It’s a beautiful thing. I can’t wait to divulge into it.”

As UFC President Dana White continues to say Hardy’s ‘done his time’, he may be right, but between Hardy’s past, his nickname – an acronym for ‘POW’, no less – and his brutal knockout power, some may never be able to stomach watching him compete.

And that’s OK, too.

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