The NFL essentially banished Hardy in 2016, following off-the-field legal trouble involving domestic abuse and drug possession.
A former All-Pro defensive lineman, Hardy will make his professional MMA debut this week, against Austen Lane (2-0) on the DWTNCS. The winner of the heavyweight bout is not guaranteed a UFC contract, but will at least be considered.
When asked to respond to those who believe a man with his past doesn’t belong in the UFC, Hardy defiantly encouraged them to give him a chance.
“Get to know me first. Meet me. That would be a good start,” Hardy said. “Give me the opportunity you would give anybody else. Look forward to watching me on TV and come out and enjoy the event, whether it’s to see me get beat up or see me excel. Then make an opinion — and I’ll respect it.”
In 2014, Hardy was accused by his former girlfriend of throwing her against a wall, choking her and threatening her life. He was convicted of domestic violence charges later that year, but appealed in 2015. The charges were ultimately expunged from his record.
During an interview with ESPN in 2016, Hardy claimed he’d never hit a woman in his life. He referred to himself as a “pretty non-violent, peaceful guy” during an interview with reporters on Monday, shortly after making weight for his bout against Lane.
“There’s a whole lot of levels of understanding, when you don’t know a person — when you don’t know any of the facts,” Hardy said.
“You’ll find that 99.9 percent of the time people are talking bad about me, they’ve never met me. Never been anywhere near me, in any instance when I was on the field, signing autographs or doing one of the millions of things I do for my fans. I just think if you give me a chance, you’ll find out.”
One of those who gave Hardy a chance is Din Thomas, a well-known coach out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, where Hardy trains.
Thomas told ESPN he didn’t want to work with Hardy at first, but was impressed with his humility.
“I didn’t do a lot of research in the past and I refuse to, because I want to treat him based on how he treats me,” Thomas said. “What stood out the most about him, honestly, was his humility. He was like a small child not wanting to step on anyone’s toes. He was starstruck by some of the guys, at first.
“I’m very vocal about domestic violence and bullying and I was kind of like, ‘I’ll never work with him.’ But when it came down to it and the opportunity came, I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give him a shot because here’s this guy who is trying to turn himself around.”
UFC president Dana White offered a similar statement about Hardy last weekend, saying he’s “cleaned himself up” in recent years. Hardy has not fought professionally, but has an amateur record of 3-0.
The majority of the UFC’s fan base isn’t likely to get behind him any time soon, but that doesn’t seem to be ruining Hardy’s mood ahead of DWTNCS.
“I’m here because Dana White is an angel that gave me the opportunity to come and put my best foot forward,” Hardy said. “I honestly couldn’t begin to explain it, I can only express my appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to be here and show what kind of athlete I am and what I have developed into.”