A little more than a year after Greg Hardy revealed his intentions to pursue a mixed martial arts career, the troubled former NFL star will make his amateur debut.
On Saturday, Hardy is expected to face Joe Hawkins in a heavyweight bout at Rise of a Warrior 21 at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Ft. Pierce, Fla. Hardy has been training at the renowned American Top Team Camp as he prepares to make his first MMA foray.
“I’m crazy excited, I’ve been training for a about a year now. I got to be at one of the best places in the world for what I’m trying to do and I got to learn from some of the best in the world,” Hardy told TMZ Sports. “And to finally be able to just go out there and have my opening day feels great.”
During his tenure in the NFL, Hardy was one of the top pass rushers in football, earning second-team all pro honors in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers after finishing with 15 sacks. However, in July 2014 Hardy was found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and missed the majority of the season after being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. He was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, but charges from the case were later dropped, and Hardy’s record was expunged.
Hardy was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2015 season as well, but that was later reduced to four games by an arbitrator, and Hardy finished the campaign with the Dallas Cowboys, although he remained a controversial figure throughout the season. He went unsigned as a free agent the following offseason, opening the door for him to transition to an MMA career.
Hardy is aware of his lack of combat sports experience, so he expects to rely on his physical tools to help him succeed in his new venture.
“I’m honestly thinking I’m going to have to bring another level of athletic ability to compete with these guys that have been learning for years and years and years…I’ve been focused on one skillset my whole life, so I’m going to have to bring a different dynamic just to be in the ring,” Hardy said.
In the long run, Hardy won’t be content to compete at a regional level. Backed by one of the top camps in the world, he expects to eventually reach the level of many of his peers.
“If American Top Team allows me to stay here and honors me with a place in this building, I want to be the champion of everything that I can be,” Hardy said. “The world champion, the best heavyweight fighter in the world. Honestly, I definitely would like to be in the UFC and be able to obtain UFC gold, get the belt and have the opportunity to walk around with that.”