Hardy stays committed to improving his fighting skills; White shoots down Masvidal-McGregor

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

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Greg Hardy convinced he’ll prove himself

It was impossible to know what to make of Greg Hardy when he made his UFC debut on Jan. 19, 2019, in Brooklyn against Allen Crowder. The former NFL All-Pro defensive lineman was the kind of athlete that rarely ventures into mixed martial arts.

But a good time in the 40 or the ability to shed a blocker to make a tackle doesn’t mean much when they close the Octagon door and the bell sounds.

The lure, though, of an NFL athlete in the Octagon was such that Hardy’s debut was among the most anticipated in UFC history.

Unfortunately, we knew as little about Hardy coming out of the fight with Crowder as we knew going in. Hardy was disqualified for landing an illegal blow and was struggling with his conditioning when the fight ended.

His last fight, a short-notice bout in Russia against Alexander Volkov in which he dropped a unanimous decision, not only tied a UFC record for most fights (five) in a calendar year, it was an indication of how the company brass viewed Hardy.

Even though it was short notice, the UFC would never have put a newcomer who it had hopes for into a position to fight an elite and experienced heavyweight like Volkov if it didn’t believe he was capable.

And when Yahoo Sports asked UFC president Dana White if, as Hardy prepared for his Saturday bout in the main card opener of UFC 249 against Yorgan De Castro, Hardy was ahead, behind or right where he thought he’d be after a year, White was upbeat.

“Greg Hardy has absolutely proven himself, no question,” White said.

Greg Hardy has compiled a professional MMA record of 5-2 with one no contest. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Greg Hardy has compiled a professional MMA record of 5-2 with one no contest. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Hardy fought five times in 2019, losing to Crowder and Volkov, defeating Juan Adams and Dmitry Smolyakov and got a no-contest against Ben Sosoli.

Hardy now shares the record for most UFC bouts in a calendar year with Chris Leben (2006), Roger Huerta (2007), Donald Cerrone (2011), Daron Cruickshank (2014), Neil Magny (both 2014 and 2015), Uriah Hall (2015), Ross Pearson (2016) and Thiago Santos (2018).

I asked Hardy the same question I asked White, and asked him about his first year. His answer was fascinating.

“That’s a complicated question for me,” he said. “I had a plan. I have goals. I’ve always set marks for myself so I can make sure I’m on task and making the most of all of my time. But at the same time, in my mind, I always think that I’m behind. I always think I could be doing more utilizing my time.

“As far as skill-wise, I’m definitely ahead of where I thought I was going to be, but I think I need more. Going to Russia to fight Volkov, Ben Sosoli before that, are tough, hard-head, skilled people. I felt my skill level should have been more but it’s definitely way farther than I thought it was going to be.”

Give Hardy credit because it’s not easy to change careers midstream like he has done. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders each played in the NFL and in Major League Baseball, but they played both sports all of their lives. Hardy was a football player all of his life and hadn’t fought.

He debuted in the UFC at 30 years old with just three amateur fights and three pro fights to his credit. He’s camped out in a dorm room at the American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, so that he could expedite his learning, and he’s willing to live on “Fight Island” if he can get a lot of fights there.

It’s a commitment to being as good as he can be that is impressive. His fight with De Castro has been delayed twice, so he’s making his 2020 debut in May and it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to get as many fights this year as he did last year.

But even if he fights four times in 2020, we should have a much clearer indication of where Hardy sits in the pecking order of elite UFC heavyweights, if he even belongs at all. He is convinced, though, that he’ll prove himself.

“To learn on the go against one of the most dangerous men on the planet [Volkov] elevated my level so much,” Hardy said. “It made me calm. It made me aware and opened up the door a lot for learning.”

Jorge Masvidal hasn't fought since winning the BMF title in November. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jorge Masvidal hasn't fought since winning the BMF title in November. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Don’t expect Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal

White appeared on the “Menace and the Man” podcast co-hosted by ex-UFC fighter Dennis Bermudez and was asked if the plan for Jorge Masvidal was still to challenge Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title.

White said, “The Usman fight is the fight that makes sense. It’s the fight that needs to happen if Masvidal wants a title shot.”

When he was then asked if Masvidal could fight Conor McGregor on Fight Island, he said, “Very good point. That’s a possibility, too.”

But when Yahoo Sports reached out to White to confirm if he was trying to make McGregor-Masvidal, he said, “That’s a possibility,” and, “Wow, that would be fun [but] doesn’t mean I’m doing it.”

UFC 251 in Perth postponed

The UFC on Tuesday announced that UFC 251 would not be held in Perth, Australia, on June 6, as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a tweet, the UFC announced:

“Due to current state and national restrictions on public gatherings and travel, UFC 251 originally scheduled for Perth, Western Australia on Sunday, June 7 (Saturday, June 6 in North America) has been postponed. UFC looks forward to returning to Perth in the near future with a PPV event in partnership with tourism Western Australia.”

No announcement has been made on a new venue. Given that Nevada will go into what Gov. Steve Sisolak calls “Phase 1” of its reopening plan on or before May 15, there of course is a possibility that the event could be held at the UFC’s Apex facility in Las Vegas.

The state hasn’t OK’d fights at Apex at this point, but once it does, expect UFC to put on its shows there until there is finally an event in which fans are permitted or Fight Island is up and rolling.

Nunes-Spencer on June 6?

ESPN is reporting that the featherweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and top challenger Felicia Spencer will now be on June 6. There has been no other confirmation, but it’s good that Nunes will finally be defending that belt.

Once she defends the featherweight crown, she can get back to business at bantamweight where the best potential opponents exist.

Gaethje says: Tony, yes; Khabib, no

BT Sport landed a fascinating quote from Justin Gaethje, who fights Tony Ferguson on Saturday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, for the interim lightweight title.

Gaethje accepted the UFC 249 bout on short notice, originally when it was going to be on April 18, after champion Khabib Nurmagomedov had gone home to Russia and then couldn’t travel because of the pandemic.

Had it been Ferguson who pulled out instead, Gaethje told BT Sport he would not have accepted.

“I don’t think I would have taken the fight against Khabib on short notice,” Gaethje said. “Matchup-wise, I think I have a much better chance of touching Tony’s chin than Khabib’s in the first two, three rounds. In order to get taken down once or twice by Khabib, and work up, and still be able to fight, I really do need at least 10 weeks. You know I’ve been training my whole life but there’s certain lactic acid that builds up that you really have to account for.”

More UFC 249 coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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