For those who watched this past weekend’s UFC Fight Night card from Sao Paulo, Brazil, first off, my sincere condolences, it was not a good card. However, one thing that happened during the event was that UFC commentator Michael Bisping provided a perfect intro to this column. During one of the fights he called during the ESPN+ streaming event, Bisping referenced “our president, Dana White.”
That seemingly innocuous statement should have served as a reminder to everyone watching the event that the UFC pays the commentators who call its fights. As such, any expectation that they will be fair, honest and forthcoming should go straight out the window. Don’t believe that? Well, let’s hit the rewind button and go back to November 9. Specifically, let’s revisit the fight between Alexander Volkov and Greg Hardy.
Greg Hardy is the ex-NFL player whom no NFL owner would offer a contract after he was found guilty in a bench trial of assaulting a woman and communicating threats in 2014. Hardy’s record was later expunged after he requested a jury trial and the prosecution could not locate his ex-partner, who survived the assault. Just in case the assault wasn’t enough, Hardy, was also arrested on a felony drug charge in 2016 for possession of less than one gram of cocaine.
With no options on the football front, Hardy moved to MMA. The UFC, showing the same amount of self-awareness as Hardy has since he was run out of pro football, signed the NFL pariah.
And so with seven pro fights to his name, Hardy was booked as a late replacement against Alexander Volkov, who entered the contest as the No. 7 ranked fighter in the official UFC heavyweight rankings.
The three commentators during Hardy’s fight against Volkov — John Gooden, ex-UFC fighter Dan Hardy and current UFC competitor Paul Felder — either didn’t remember Hardy’s past, were instructed not to say anything about it, or just knew the UFC wouldn’t want anything negative said about Hardy during the broadcast. The only thing the trio mentioned about Hardy’s pre-MMA career was that he had played in the NFL.
That was a problem.
As Hardy walked to the octagon, Gooden pointed out the highlights of Hardy’s 2019 run.
”After a busy 2019 schedule that has been highlighted by stoppages of Dmitry Smolyakov and Juan Adams and three rounds with Ben Sosoli...,” said Gooden.
The first two, okay. The third? Sure, Hardy went three rounds with Sosoli, but that fight was ruled a no contest after Hardy used an inhaler between the second and third rounds. Also, since when is going three rounds a career highlight? Especially in a fight where Hardy was a -320 favorite.
Things got a bit more cringey when Felder said of Hardy, “Since he’s come into the UFC, he’s really tried to transform his image and be more respectful. Be a humble student of the game.”
I would ask anyone to point to one example of Hardy trying to rehabilitate his image. Also, good luck on that quest. Hardy has yet to acknowledge or apologize for the assault he was found guilty of.
Gooden might have been trying to sneak a reference to Hardy’s history into the broadcast when he said that Hardy was “well known to fans in the U.S.” However, that reference was far too vague — if it was indeed Gooden’s attempt at a winking acknowledgment.
The three commentators also praised Hardy’s development between fights. But is that true? Has Hardy developed? Yes, he’s more patient than he was in his first few outings, but he’s still just a striker. He has not shown any development anywhere else.
When the fight came to an end, Felder said the bout was “not a lost cause for Hardy.” Because he went three rounds with Volkov? Sure, I guess. But anyone who watched that fight could tell Volkov’s interest in facing Hardy was minimal. Volkov picked his opponent apart from the outside and lit him up with kicks throughout the contest. Volkov’s main goal, it seemed, was to get through the fight without putting himself in danger and without sustaining an injury. He did that.
Throughout the fight it felt as if the UFC commentating team was straining to sell Hardy as a future challenger for the heavyweight crown. Gooden even mentioned Hardy as the potential future of the heavyweight division. At this point, Hardy has nothing more than a puncher’s chance to beat anyone ranked in the top 20.
It’ll be interesting to see what talking points the UFC hands the commentary team for Hardy’s next fight. Surely the three rounds he went against a disinterested top 10 opponent will get some play, as will the fiction that he has progressed quickly as a mixed martial artist. The UFC might even attempt to spin Hardy’s fight against Volkov as competitive, which it wasn’t. Hardy never threatened or hurt Volkov. Instead, he showed that he could be controlled by someone who wants to keep him at distance. Hardy is, at best, a below-average heavyweight.
If the UFC wants to see what it truly has in Hardy, the matchmakers need to book him against a ranked opponent who is coming off a loss. Someone who will treat Hardy as more than a roadblock to a paycheck, which is what he was to Volkov.
The UFC doesn’t keep commentators on the payroll and fly them all over the world because it’s cost-efficient. It does so because it allows the promotion to control the narrative during the event. That complete control has always been one of the top priorities of the UFC since the day the Fertitta brothers purchased the three letters they later sold for more than $4 billion.
With the UFC in bed with ESPN through 2025 don’t expect things to change, but at least be cognizant of the fact that the call for any UFC fight might come with a little extra direction.