Fans often bring up Michael Jordan’s baseball statistics as a way of mocking him. In 1993 at the peak of his powers as the greatest NBA player of his time (and, perhaps, of all-time), Jordan retired and signed with the Chicago White Sox organization.
Placed in Double-A Birmingham, Jordan batted .202 with three homers, 51 RBIs, 30 steals (in 48 attempts) and a .556 OPS. He also struck out 114 times in 497 plate appearances.
Instead of disparaging Jordan, though, those statistics proved what a great athlete he was in his prime. Despite not having played baseball since he was a teenager, the then-31-year-old Jordan was respectable.
Being a great athlete, though, is no guarantee of success in another professional sport.
Greg Hardy is a prime example of that. Hardy, the former NFL All-Pro defensive end who was essentially forced out of the league after a conviction on domestic violence charges that was overturned on appeal when the victim failed to show to court, is pursuing the UFC heavyweight title.
He won a UFC spot after a pair of knockouts on “Dana White’s Contender Series.”
Putting aside the legal, ethical and moral considerations, there hasn’t been much of a discussion about whether Hardy belongs in the UFC purely from a competitive standpoint. The narrative is always that he’s this elite athlete who has the ability to morph into some sensational sort of fighter the likes of which the world hasn’t yet seen.
But after Hardy’s competitive unanimous decision loss to Alexander Volkov on Saturday in Moscow, it’s a good time to look at where Hardy stands in the UFC.
Hardy is 5-2 with a no-contest in his eight MMA bouts, two of which were on DWCS and the other five of which were in the UFC.
When Hardy debuted with the UFC in January, he told Yahoo Sports his goal was to become the greatest heavyweight of all-time. That’s a high bar for anyone to clear, let alone a guy who didn’t take up MMA until he was nearly 30.
We’ve heard that Hardy is fast, explosive and powerful and he’ll knock anyone out he hits cleanly on the chin. Of course, much of that is hyperbole that can easily be disregarded, but the UFC signed Hardy not because of his NFL background but because at least Dana White, if not others, believed he could become a champion and a star.
We can probably learn more from his loss to Volkov, who entered their bout ranked No. 7 at heavyweight, than from any of his other fights combined.
Volkov, who moved up a spot to sixth in the rankings after beating Hardy, knocked out former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum in the fourth round in 2018 in London, and knocked out Stefan Struve in 2017. He has a decision win over Roy Nelson in the UFC and submitted Blagoy Ivanov when they were in Bellator in 2014.
He is a quality heavyweight and at 31 is, like Hardy, in his athletic prime.
What is notable is that while Volkov clearly won all three rounds of the fight, he never hurt Hardy or threatened him with a submission. So, Hardy wasn’t overmatched; he wasn’t nearly as good as Volkov, but it’s not as if he was out of place.
We didn’t see any of the power, speed, quickness and explosion we were led to believe were hallmarks of Hardy’s game. While Volkov didn’t rock him, it’s important to note that neither did Hardy threaten Volkov. He didn’t seem especially fast or quick, and we didn’t see that crushing shot that could have turned the fight around.
Hardy’s case seems similar to that of Ed “Too Tall” Jones, a 6-foot-9-inch defensive end, who was the first overall pick in the 1974 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Jones played five seasons for the Cowboys before retiring to attempt a career as a boxer, which he had always said was his favorite sport.
Jones went 6-0 with five knockouts, but after missing the 1979 NFL season, he left his favorite sport and returned to the NFL, where he became a three-time Pro Bowler.
Jones, who was also a college basketball player, was clearly an elite athlete, but it didn’t make him an elite boxer. He faced a series of overmatched opponents, but was smart enough to understand it and returned to football when it was clear he wasn’t a championship-level boxer.
Because it’s been 40 years since Jones boxed, his story is often forgotten, but it’s applicable in Hardy’s case. Jones had all the physical skills that made Hardy an elite defensive end, but they didn’t translate into being a fighter.
Hardy proved against Volkov that he belongs in the UFC. He was competitive with an elite opponent and was not overmatched in any way. While some have alleged that he was gifted his spot because of his notoriety as an NFL player, he’s since earned it. But there is a huge difference between being good enough to fill a spot on the roster and to be good enough to win a championship.
And that’s where my hesitation comes with Hardy.
I haven’t been expecting him to look great, necessarily; I have been expecting to see this explosion, the athleticism and the power we have all been led to believe is lurking somewhere within.
Until Volkov, he’s been matched more than favorably and he hasn’t shown those traits in those fights. You would expect that while experience would cause him problems, his physical traits would be on display.
He’s going to be given every opportunity to prove it is in there and waiting to be unlocked. That’s an area where his NFL past clearly benefits him in the UFC.
I’m not sure, though, that we’re looking at anything more than a decent, mid-level heavyweight.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s far from the MMA equivalent of all-pro.
He’s beyond the practice squad body at this point, but it seems unlikely he’s ever going to be an impact performer in MMA.
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