Good Things Happen To Bad People – The People vs The Prince of War
If promoting is all about telling a story then it is necessary that Greg Hardy’s story be told completely by the UFC. Will they ever really acknowledge his past in a way that suggests they are willing to own the story, or will it remain a game of silent hot potato with ESPN doing most of the dirty work? It would seem as if they are intentionally leaning away from the controversy and letting the self fulfilling revenge vacuum work itself out in a social arena already clamoring with the volatility of recreational outrage. However with past incidents they have unreluctantly leaned into and promoted the controversy, most iconically in Brooklyn at UFC 223.
The ufc is quietly gambling on and thus far profiting from Hardy’s controversial story without really having to explain it because when the human element gets too dark, they may let the cloud loom large and unspoken over the narrative on its own accord. It’s all out there already. They don’t have to say it, they don’t have to acknowledge it, but we all know what the score is here because ESPN says it for them. We all understand the dynamic and it’s polarizing yet undeniable allure. That medievalist urge to see the bad man get punished. To see a Juan Adams put on the mask, trot into the city center and become a macabre instrument of justice.
Ironically among the knee jerk reactions of fury towards Hardy benefiting financially from a UFC contract we also find the contradictory impulse to witness the spectacle of softcore public execution. Even within the contemporary media addicted hive mind we still find the eternal flame of mob rule flickering within its cob webbed peripheries. The mob mentality always sets in rather quickly, and this is when a viewer can find themselves through the moral looking glass.
Now Hardy is by no means the first or the last fighter to encounter domestic violence convictions, but Hardy is unique in that his violent crimes preempted, and one could even argue they facilitated, his foray into combat sports. While there is a trend of American Football players making the transition to MMA, Hardy is the first to make the transition after compromising his football career due to the nature of his crimes. While typically in the past we have seen already established career fighters survive their crimes and achieve forgiveness and redemption in the public eye and amongst colleagues, however it is a bit more dubious in the case of Hardy.
When a character flaw is rebranded as an asset, it feels like Hardy and his camp are inherently encouraging the nature of a convicted violent criminal. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth when the discipline aspect of martial arts is downplayed especially under these circumstances. You would typically expect a person in his position to highlight the rehabilitation narrative of his development as a martial artist saving from his previous folly.
Is the UFC wrong here for signing and fast tracking the Hardy brand? No. In bad taste? Perhaps, but what does the viewership numbers suggest? With an ESPN audience already immersed and well informed of Hardy’s controversy and subsequent exit from the NFL’s media platform it seemed an obvious strategy for the UFC to continue the second act of the Hardy soap opera in the Octagon considering the newly christened ESPN broadcast contract. And if it is indeed a no brainer as the interest and numbers might suggest, then what does this say about the viewership and their valuing of the narrative. Or more importantly what does it say about the nature of the outrage. Is it completely generated from within the mma community, whether casual or hardcore, or is it outside noise echoing in from beyond the sphere of combat sport?
Although some do threaten not to watch certain fighters or cards, admittedly most fans still tune in and as far as fair weather casuals are concerned this is exactly what they signed up for when the big celebrity UFC stars aren’t shining that weekend. Seemingly we could assume the promotion, the fighter and the fans all are intrigued by Hardy competing, even if they don’t agree with him as a person and just want to see him lose. So therefore is it unprofessional for Big Dan Miragliotta to react in the manner he did when raising Hardy’s hand? Does it make it more acceptable because his opinion is the popular one or perhaps even the correct one? Is Hardy wrong to celebrate at all or is it merely as insensitive and tone deaf as his booking on a card with domestic violence victim Rachel Ostovich? Perhaps the elephant in the room will finally be freed if Hardy is battered and finished in a bout. At what point, if ever, does society forgive or move on from the controversy?
It’s hard to say if it will always define him, but more importantly it’s highly unlikely for Hardy to find redemption through octagon victories while continuing to embrace the heel persona and reputation. Eventually it will become ineffective as a defense mechanism against the public shaming and likewise at some point fans will likely exhaust their capacity for character vitriol and shift their criticisms to the performances. But will time and success be enough to heal the pariah stature and actually rewrite the narrative? It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that at some point in the near future the public will have to re-examine their feelings in accordance with an evolving narrative.
It’s difficult to imagine Hardy as a figure to ever be embraced or loved, but what about indifference? To some degree success in the court of public opinion begins to resemble a begrudging acceptance or benign dismissal. MMA does have the unique ability to allow you to come around on someone. It has room for fighters to grow as humans and our perception of them with it. It allows for an individual’s many facets to slowly gift us the bigger picture of their subconscious nature. It allows for self reflection through understanding others.
For example, when I first encountered Mike Platinum Perry, I tuned in to see him get beat up because I was disliked the Dragon Ball Z haircut, the cocky Florida Man aura and the cha-chi Platinum persona, but somewhere along the way after consistent compelling octagon performances and candid, humble interviews, he actually became quite endearing and charming. It took time and a willingness to listen, but eventually my perception of Perry completely reversed and I find myself supporting him. The reason for tuning in doesn’t always stay the same from fight to fight, but the initial emphasis is always on at least generating attention. For better or worse it’s the old any press is good press mantra. But after initiated it is up to the fighter to mold his perception in his preferred image.
Hardy has a much more arduous path that goes far beyond harmless personality foibles, Super Sayan haircuts and being from Flint, MI. So if he intends to use his martial arts journey as a road to redemption, he should be honest and humble, yet also wary of the lords of karma. Embracing the heel persona within a promotion is one thing, but living it and embodying it is something else entirely. And this is where Hardy tends to muddy the waters a bit. The impression he gave in his post fight celebration against Juan Adams can make it seem unclear if he is progressing as a human being or if he still feels like he is getting away with something when licking the blood off of his glove. But outside of the octagon we see a much different Greg Hardy so perhaps his enthusiasm is merely premature and has lapped the pace of his narrative.
His dedication in training is beyond question as he relocated and lives in the dorms at American Top Team and trains full time. During interviews we see an eager student who understands they are starting over and cannot rely upon past accomplishments in the NFL to justify a UFC contract and gracious that his fame has opened the door for him. He hasn’t found himself entangled in outside distractions since his MMA career began and despite his disqualification for an accidental illegal knee in the Allen Crowder bout he has continued to win by first round knockouts.
He appears to be taking MMA seriously and is getting fantastic results, also due in part to the UFC’s matchmaking. As opposed to rushing him along like other fighters new to the promotion who have also been on their martial arts journey much longer, the UFC is instead aware that he is only in the initial phase of his development and are booking him accordingly. Say what you will about fast tracking his brand into Co-Main event slots, but he has had opponents of appropriate skill levels.
With a current record of 5-1 it will be interesting to see if his matchmaking continues to be a slow burn, but if his success continues and he nears that 10 fight territory it will surely be time to challenge him with ranked opponents. He appears to possess a natural aptitude for MMA and as his skill sets catch up to his power it is going to force a lot of hard questions.
It’s not hard to understand how viewers may interpret his celebrations and octagon interviews as remorseless gestures that he has once again avoided any justice, imagined or real. If his journey is indeed aimed at redemption then it surely must come from within. The boos and insults echoing through the arena identify themselves as an incarnation of the victim of Hardy’s crime and therefore his relationship with those boos must also act accordingly. But only if the court of public opinion is of concern to Hardy.
In all likelihood a desperate need to prove doubters wrong and confirm one’s self belief overshadows any potential for capitulating to the mercy of understanding. The UFC has built up momentum in a prospect whose story is well established and they will only benefit regardless of the trajectory of Hardy’s career or mental health and his goals therein.
Love or Hate, Hardy offers a fascinating opportunity for revisiting an inventory of prize fighting’s moral and ethical spectrum. Not just for promotions and competitors, but for viewers as well. To determine where we all stand, to determine where our levels of comfortability lay and to also realize that our boundaries of comfortability do not necessarily determine the borders of good and bad business or right and wrong action. Undoubtedly the division between combat sports as entertainment and an act of crime as entertainment remains well defined.
But at the end of the day this is cage fighting and it is unique to all other sport in that way. While the St-Pierres of the world put an emphasis on discipline and honor within the perspective of a cage fight as a sporting contest free from any emotional investment beyond personal measurements of success and failure, whereas the Black Beasts and Diaz Brothers of the world put an emphasis on brutality and subjugation within the perspective of a cage fight as an ass whooping contest anchored in the emotional turmoil of kill or be killed.
It is in this long journey to the middle where the murky waters meet and it leaves something for everybody to consume. It also provides the necessary breathing room for a conversation on this strange, strange fringe of the human experience.
So as we say in combat sports, we win or we learn. And Saturday night we learned that sometimes the bad guys win. And just because the bad guy won, it doesn’t always mean that you lose.