The difference between Greg Hardy’s first UFC win and his disqualification loss is “night and day,” according to his coach.
Billy Padden, who works as a boxing coach at American Top Team in south Florida, said Hardy let the bright lights of the UFC get to him when he made his promotional debut at UFC Brooklyn in January. Hardy landed an illegal knee in his heavyweight bout against Allen Crowder and was disqualified as a result of it.
“We all knew Greg was better than what he showed when he fought Allen Crowder,” Padden told Bloody Elbow. “The UFC got to him. I could tell he was acting different when he was in the cage.
“We had a nice talk after he came back from that, and I said, ‘Listen, the weigh-in doesn’t matter, the pre-fight staredown doesn’t matter, the sh-t talking doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is when that buzzer sounds.’”
Hardy returned to the cage last weekend in the co-main event of UFC Fort Lauderdale. Things were much different heading in the second time around, Padden said, and that ultimately led to Hardy scoring a first-round knockout of Dmitrii Smolyakov for his first Octagon win.
“He didn’t get caught up in the hype,” Padden said. “He was able to focus. When that buzzer sounded, he was ready to fight. We worked him so hard in camp. He was prepared to go three rounds.”
Hardy, a former NFL player for the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, has been rushed into the spotlight due to his name. Hardy began training MMA only in 2016 and made his amateur debut in 2017. After three straight wins, he turned pro last year and fought twice on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. One more win punched his ticket to the UFC. Hardy is 4-1 as a pro and was signed to the UFC with much less experience than most newcomers.
Padden said Hardy’s rise has happened quicker than he and his other coaches wanted it to, but now that he’s in the big leagues and is in co-headliner spots, there’s no looking back.
“We tried to slow this thing down. We didn’t want this to happen,” Padden said of Hardy being the co-main event in his first two UFC bouts. “He doesn’t want to be the co-main event. It takes guys 10 years to get to this level, to the UFC. He knows this happened quickly; we know this happened quickly.
“Management teams are not always on the same page as the trainers. The management people felt he was ready; we have to respect their decision. Greg felt he was ready. I’m gonna train him to the best of my ability no matter who they put in front of him.”
It’s still early in Hardy’s MMA career, so there is no rush to get him to the top of the heavyweight division right away, Padden said. But when the time is right, Padden believes Hardy is good enough to fight for the UFC heavyweight title and become champion.
“There’s no ceiling,” Padden said of Hardy’s potential. “I’ve had some professional boxers come in and spar him, and he hangs right with them. We want to fight the best — not now, not next fight, but within a couple years. Within a year I think he’ll be in the top 10.
“I just believe he has everything you need (to win the belt). He’s starting to prove it now with the way he came back and almost recreated himself for this fight. ... If he stays the course, I absolutely believe he could be heavyweight champion.”
In 2014, Hardy was convicted on domestic violence charges against his ex-girlfriend, but he appealed and the case was dropped when the victim did not show up in court to testify.
Previously, the victim had testified that Hardy threw her in the bathroom and put his hands on her throat and threatened to kill her. Hardy denied those accusations.
Padden, who was a probation officer for 10 years and a court investigator for 10 years in Philadelphia, said he believes Hardy had no malice during the alleged incident.
“I watch Greg Hardy hit grown men and make them limp as a noodle in seconds,” Padden said. “If he had any malice the night of this alleged incident, the woman would be dead.”
Padden said he is “used to giving people second chances” and that “everybody deserves a second chance.”
“The Greg Hardy I know is one of the best living guys I’ve met down here,” Padden said.
“Every time I’m walking him to the ring, I hear, ‘You woman beater,’ I hear nasty things said to him. I don’t think he deserves it.”
Because he’s on a public stage, Hardy will face backlash throughout his entire MMA career — and it’ll likely increase if he continues to find more and more success in the cage. Padden said he has talked to Hardy before about how he should approach it.
“I said, ‘Greg, you can’t have an emotional reaction to everything people say or you will burn,’” Padden said. “You wear it like a loose garment, and that’s what he’s doing. Everybody has a right to their opinion. You have freedom of speech, freedom of choice. We don’t want to take that away from you, nor do we begrudge you or hate you for feeling that way. We’re just gonna let it hang loose and not try to react emotionally to everything that’s said.”