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Ex-NFL player Greg Hardy: MMA has made me ‘better as a person’

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The amateur heavyweight, who fights at LFA 33 on Friday night, discusses the criticism he has faced throughout his journey into the world of mixed martial arts.

Former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy announced in late 2016 that he would be making a transition to mixed martial arts. Following in the footsteps of other former football players such as Shawn Jordan, Matt Mitrione, and Brendan Schaub, Hardy’s decision was met with a great amount of criticism.

That’s because Hardy, a former player for the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, was arrested in May 2014 on alleged domestic violence charges. He was found guilty that summer, but after appealing the decision, his 18-month probation sentence was dropped because the alleged victim failed to appear in court to testify.

The Panthers cut ties with Hardy in March 2015. He signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys later that month, but wasn’t re-signed after the season.

For Hardy, who made his MMA debut last November and is now 2-0 as an amateur heavyweight, the jump to MMA has been a way to get his life back on track.

“It was exactly what it was supposed to be for me,” Hardy told BloodyElbow.com. “It was a time for me to rebuild my life, organize everything, put together a plan, and the plan worked: walk into a sport, put everything into it, learn, be humble, and come out on the other side.

“I’m better as a person, I’m doing better holistically as a human being. Personally, I’m feeling better, and it’s going great. I’m enjoying myself, and I’m happy to be here.”

When Hardy announced his intentions to transition to MMA, some didn’t think he would be dedicated to the sport. Others didn’t think he deserved to compete because of his past controversies.

Hardy thinks he has proved a lot of people wrong in the past year, especially when he stepped into the cage for the first time on Nov. 4 and won his debut in under a minute. But he also thinks there are still many doubters out there.

“I want to answer all those people with hard work; I want to answer all the naysayers with dedication and continuing to be here and continuing to put forth the effort,” Hardy said.

“It’s me putting in my time, putting in my dues, learning, and showing that I’m committed to this and I’m really about it, that this is not a scam, this is not a joke, this is not a publicity stunt.”

Hardy trains at one of the best MMA gyms in the world, American Top Team (ATT) in Coconut Creek, Florida.

More than a year later after his MMA move, Hardy is living in the gym’s dorms, despite being rather wealthy from his football career. That’s just one thing from this MMA experience that has humbled him.

“Just to wrap your head around being a small man in a big world is a humbling effect,” Hardy said. “To come here to ATT with all the people you get to see on TV, all the champions, all the world-class fighters, you get humbled really fast. That happened to me, and I had to deal with a lot of emotions.”

Hardy said he is “beyond happy” at ATT. How couldn’t he be? He has access to some of the most elite coaches and training partners there.

Hardy said he works with many people at ATT. But to name a few, his main boxing coach is Billy Padden, and he said striking coach Roger Krahl has also been a big influence on him. As for training partners, Hardy has trained a lot with former UFC light heavyweight Daniel Jolly, as well as UFC heavyweight Aleksei Oleinik. He also recently sparred with former champ Andrei Arlovski, who meets Stefan Struve at UFC 222 in March.

Because of the major size difference, Hardy doesn’t get work in with Marc Diakiese, of course, but said that the UFC lightweight has been a big help when learning MMA “lingo.”

“Just to have a place take me in and treat me with humanity and talk to me like an individual that is trying to be better and trying to live, it was really refreshing, and I appreciated that,” Hardy said. “We got two, three fighters [on] every UFC card now — there’s no way you could ever say that this is the wrong place to be for the fight game. My plan here is to climb every day.”

Hardy, who meets Ryan Chester at LFA 33 on Friday night in his third amateur bout, admitted that MMA training was “more brutal” than expected.

“These are some of the most mentally strong human beings on the planet. And when you’re watching it, I don’t think people get that message. It’s harsh,” Hardy said. “I’ve been through a lot with football — I’ve pushed my body to the limit — but this is, I think, the hardest I’ve had to work.”

Though Hardy, 29, feels like he proved some doubters wrong throughout his first two fights, he is more concerned with satisfying himself during his MMA journey — not other people.

“That’s been more personal,” he said. “Just getting it all together. I took a giant fall. I took a big hit as far as a personal reputation can take — from a loved person to a really hated person.

“It started off, honestly, a place for me to get better. My person, my reputation took a beating. ... It took a toll on me. I’m here to enjoy myself and make people more proud — [not] to prove anything.”