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NEW YORK (AP) — Former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy says he is “haunted” by his high-profile domestic violence past and wants to prove he has changed as he makes his debut in UFC, a promotion that hasn’t hesitated to embrace fighters with legal or drug problems.
His co-headline spot in a heavyweight bout Saturday night comes at a key moment for the MMA giant, its first show in its $1.5 billion contract with ESPN.
While still playing football, Hardy was convicted in July 2014 of assaulting and threatening a woman who contended the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder threw her in a bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. He appealed, and prosecutors in North Carolina eventually dismissed domestic violence charges in February 2015, saying the accuser in the case couldn’t be found. The court heard the woman had reached a civil settlement with Hardy.
“I do revisit the past at night,” Hardy said Thursday. “I’m haunted and I am a broken man. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to build myself back up.”
Hardy played 12 more football games in 2015 under a $13.1 million deal with the Cowboys before turning to professional fighting, where his rise has been rapid. The 30-year-old breezed through six fights — none lasting past the first round — and won a contract through a UFC reality show.
His debut comes one month after UFC allowed Jon Jones to compete following a positive drug test, moving an entire fight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles because Nevada regulators wouldn’t license the troubled superstar. It’s also several months after Dana White, UFC’s president, condemned Conor McGregor for his criminal act of throwing a wheeled cart at a bus full of fighters, then turned around and used the video footage to hype up an October megafight between McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, a bout that itself ended in a melee.
Hardy’s ascent came under heightened scrutiny from fans when he was placed on the same card as flyweight Rachael Ostovich, who is fighting Paige VanZant. Honolulu police arrested Ostovich’s husband, Arnold Berdon, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and is accused of punching his wife in the head, face and ribs, fracturing her eye socket.
White has defended having the two intertwined fighters on the same card and said he had Ostovich’s approval to book Hardy.
“From the minute I called her, there was never a situation,” White said. “She didn’t know who Hardy was. She didn’t know anything about it. She said, ‘his situation isn’t my situation. They’re completely different. I don’t even know the guy and I’ll have no problem with any of this.’”
Ostovich said in New York that she talked to Hardy this week to “squash whatever might be happening.”
“Let’s work together and use this to help other people from both sides,” she said. “It wasn’t bothering me. It was just something that was on my mind and on my heart that I wanted to go in and meet with him.”
Hardy said he appreciated the chat.
“She’s a phenomenal person,” he said. “It shows greatness that she went through what she went through and came here to kick butt.”
Hardy had 15 sacks for the Carolina Panthers in 2013 when he was picked for the Pro Bowl. He was arrested on a cocaine possession charge in a Dallas suburb in 2016.
“I’ve grown in every way possible and the people around me have helped me do that,” Hardy said. “Everything’s changed as far as the sport, the venues and myself. Please keep watching and find out for yourself.”
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