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Greg Hardy opens UFC 272’s main card: Why?

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This Saturday, UFC 272’s main event is stacked with big-name fighters and a lot of highly compelling matchups.

Kevin Holland looks to redeem a momentum-killing losing streak against a wily veteran in Alex Oliveira, Bryce Mitchell takes a gigantic step up in competition with the always-dangerous Edson Barboza, and Rafael Dos Anjos will face off against Renato Moicano in a last-minute matchup after Dos Anjos’ original opponent pulled out at the eleventh hour with a positive COVID test. All of this is before the main event, that sees the well-documented rivalry between the consensus second-best welterweight on the planet, Colby Covington, and perhaps the second biggest draw in the sport today, Jorge Masvidal, come to an explosive conclusion. All of these matchups have the star power and the competitiveness to justify a main card slot on any pay-per-view event.

Apart from the opener.

UFC 272’s main card kicks off with a fight between two unranked heavyweights, the only matchup on the main card that contains a fighter without a ranking. It sees Sergey Spivak, most recently seen in a losing effort against talented British prospect Tom Aspinall, across the Octagon from Greg Hardy, whose name might be recognizable for a couple of reasons.

It is perhaps most likely you recognize him from his long-standing tenure in the NFL. If football is not your thing, then maybe it is his viral appearance on the wrong end of a vicious knockout courtesy of shoey king and #3 ranked heavyweight Tai Tuivasa. It could be from a highly-amusing misunderstanding that made headlines where Hardy had a unanimous decision victory over Ben Sosoli overturned to a No Content, when he was allegedly (and bizarrely) spontaneously permitted by commission officials to use an inhaler between the second and third rounds, nullifying the entire bout.

It might be for his arrest, conviction, and subsequent dropping of domestic abuse charges against an ex-girlfriend, leading to the near-universal condemnation and vilification of Hardy’s continued place on the UFC roster.

In mid-2014, Hardy was arrested for assault and communicating threats. Hardy was alleged to have assaulted an ex-girlfriend, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and making threats against her life. Hardy was convicted of these charges, receiving a hefty probation period and a two month suspended sentence. Eventually, after Hardy appealed the decision and requested a jury trial, his alleged victim failed to appear in court. The charges were dropped, a civil settlement was apparently reached, and Hardy left a free man.

Since this incident, Hardy has established himself as one of the more discussed heavyweights in the UFC, despite not ever holding a ranking. The wider MMA community seemingly only relishes Hardy’s continued appearances when he is the subject of mockery, or on the receiving end of a beatdown.

Put simply, Greg Hardy is not a particularly talented or technical fighter. While his patience improves from fight to fight, and he seems to understand that power is useless if you never land a shot, he seems far too happy to go into the fire and swing with other power punchers despite a suspect chin and objectively poor cardio, even for a heavyweight. His head is almost always firmly planted on the centerline, and both his shot setup and selection are only slightly better than what you might see at a drunken midnight barfight.

To summarize, he is a heavy puncher lacking in cardio and technique, with a penchant for leaving his chin on a silver platter for his opponent to happily crack. In other words, he is a run of the mill heavyweight fighter.

So why then, with all of this entirely justifiable controversy and vilification surrounding Hardy’s presence within the UFC, coupled with a lack of positive results in competition, is he still being booked for main card slots, especially on a card like UFC 272, while an exciting matchup between Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan sits on the undercard, or even early prelim fights like the one between Brian Kelleher vs Umar Nurmagomedov are all but guaranteed to be superior in competitiveness, excitement and athletic prowess?

In every media meeting, fighter interview and career retrospective, the comments from the viewing public are almost entirely negative, often viciously so. But there are a lot of comments. There are also a lot of views that accompany those comments, obviously.

Therein lies the answer. Greg Hardy receives main card slots because people want to see him get knocked out, supposedly in some form of delayed karmic justice for his dark and abhorrent past actions. He is not being placed on higher slots because of any athletic achievement, any groundswell of support, or any respect from the UFC itself earned through years of hard work.

And you can all but guarantee that the average fan who quotes Conor McGregor’s famous one-liners at the bar and showed everyone who would let them Jorge Masvidal’s transcendent flying knee knockout on YouTube for a month after the fact, would much sooner be swayed to buy the pay-per-view in hopes of seeing a domestic abuser violently separated from consciousness, than watch a technical and close contest between two world-class athletes they have never heard of before.

Earlier this week, fellow main card fighter Bryce Mitchell appeared on The MMA Hour, a popular MMA talk show hosted by Ariel Helwani, and implied that school shootings are either faked or orchestrated by the government in order to justify legislation to tighten gun control with the eventual aim of disarming the American population. Outside of some admittedly hilarious jabs at Mitchell on Twitter, and comments on the interview marvelling at his unabashed lunacy, nobody questions the UFC’s decision to platform Mitchell now or ever.

Colby Covington, who headlines the entire card, has made virtually objectively racist remarks about his opponents in the past. He maintains his position that Brazil is a ‘dump’ filled with ‘filthy animals’, asked Kamaru Usman (a first-generation black Nigerian immigrant) if his ‘tribe’ had sent him any ‘smoke signals’ in support before their title fight, and even cursory Google searches can uncover even more unsavory and obnoxious lines from Covington to opponents both past and present.

A small portion of Covington’s viewers want exactly the same for him as almost all of Hardy’s viewers want: To see him get knocked out in as explosive and conclusive a fashion as possible.

Covington has weaponized the “MAGA” movement, thinly-veiled racism and arguably the wider American political divide, by turning all of these highly-contentious issues into a carefully crafted persona designed to draw as many people to his fights as possible. While Hardy’s transgressions are almost objectively more insidious and decidedly less calculated, the principle remains the same.

Sometimes fans don’t want to see them do well. Sometimes, they just like to see something close to justice. If they can’t have that, they want something that feels just as cathartic.

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