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UFC signing Greg Hardy is a major mistake

Greg Hardy was convicted of domestic abuse in 2014, but the charges were dropped after he appealed and the accuser failed to appear in court to testify. AP Photo

In the early morning hours of May 13, 2014, police in Charlotte, North Carolina, responded to a 911 call and encountered a woman outside a luxury apartment building, crying and with visible signs of injury. According to a police report, the 24-year-old said her boyfriend had thrown her onto an apartment floor, tossed her into a tile bathtub and slammed her against a futon that had several semiautomatic weapons lying on it. The woman told police that the boyfriend strangled her and "told me he should kill me."

Greg Hardy was arrested that day on charges of assaulting a woman and communicating threats, and two months later, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Carolina Panthers defensive end was convicted on both counts by a Mecklenburg district judge. The NFL placed him on its exempt list, in effect ending his Panthers career. Hardy appealed his conviction, asking for a jury trial, however, and after he reportedly reached a settlement with the woman that would head off any future civil lawsuits, she could not be located in order to testify. The domestic violence charges were then dismissed and expunged from Hardy's record.

What was not expunged from the public consciousness were four dozen photographs of the woman, sealed during the trial but later published online by Deadspin, that reveal bruises from head to toe -- on her chin, neck, arms, back, legs and feet.

These sickening images continue to follow Hardy, but they have not followed him back onto a football field. Pro Bowl pass-rushers like him are scarce, and yet, aside from a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys, the 29-year-old Hardy hasn't drawn interest from an NFL team. Instead, Hardy's problematic past is about to follow him into the Octagon. He made his professional MMA debut on June 12 -- as part of "Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series," the fight promotion's newest vehicle for scouting talent -- and knocked out Austen Lane in less than a minute.

After the fight, the UFC signed Hardy to a contract. You might find this move disappointing or even disgusting, but if you've been following the UFC even just a little, you cannot find it surprising.

Dana White would have you believe that the UFC is weeding out those who take their hostility outside the cage. "There's one thing that you never bounce back from," the promotion president told Fox Sports in 2014, "and that's putting your hands on a woman."

But Anthony Johnson bounced back pretty well. He was convicted of domestic violence in 2010, and in the five years that followed had two other women, one of them the mother of his children, come forth with abuse accusations. Yet the man known as Rumble got to challenge for the light heavyweight championship in both 2015 and 2017.

Meanwhile, lightweight Abel Trujillo has remained in the UFC following two convictions for violence against women, and there are other fighters within the promotion who were arrested or accused but came through the legal system unscathed after the women or men who accused them of domestic violence refused to testify.

White has also expressed interest in signing Floyd Mayweather to a UFC contract. The all-time great boxer has had multiple domestic violence convictions.

Domestic abusers sully the whole landscape of MMA, casting storm clouds over a sport that, by and large, has featured women prominently in recent years. Before Conor McGregor came along, the biggest star in MMA and its most dominant competitor was Ronda Rousey. Upon her shoulders the UFC built a roster of nearly 100 female fighters spread across four weight classes. Today, women are main event attractions.

The UFC has built goodwill in other ways as well. The promotion addressed rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs by teaming with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, even at the cost of losing some main events and top earners. Just last weekend, a UFC pay-per-view card was headlined by a title bout between two openly gay athletes, a first. And the same Contender Series that brought in Hardy also is opening up a much-deserved opportunity for an athlete with a disability, Nick Newell, who was born with a congenital amputation just below his left elbow. The last two of these positive developments are genuine feel-good stories.

Everyone wants to sing a redemption song, but Greg Hardy's shouldn't be one of them.

Two years ago -- a full two years after his arrest -- Hardy still entertained hopes of getting back into the NFL and sat down for an interview with ESPN. He stated flatly, "I've never put my hand on any women ... in my whole entire life, no sir." He then was asked about the ghastly photos of the battered woman from Charlotte and said, "Pictures are pictures, and they can be made to look like whatever."

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Hardy: 'I never put my hand on any woman'

Greg Hardy sits down with Adam Schefter to discuss his past allegations of domestic violence.

Some might argue that the perfect place for Hardy to be, in light of his dark history, is inside an MMA cage. This is a sport where participation can be a form of payback. When Hardy makes his UFC debut, there will be those who tune in hoping to witness a domestic abuser get beat up. Indeed, that sentiment exists even within the fight promotion. UFC heavyweight Derrick Lewis, who grew up in a house where his mother and stepfather regularly had physical altercations, has said he'd welcome a fight with Hardy -- even though the ex-NFL player is new to the sport and Lewis is ranked in the top 10.

"I like knocking these wife beaters out," he told TMZ. "Yeah, I'll fight Greg Hardy. It'd be like vice versa of him beating all the women."

Still, bringing on Hardy is an appalling move by the UFC, especially right now. Timing might actually be at play here, as the fight promotion's ownership, Endeavor, is looking to build star power commensurate with the $4.2 billion price tag it paid for the UFC in 2016. And considering the murky status of its leading men and women -- Rousey is gone, McGregor is in legal limbo, Jon Jones is not to be relied on, and who knows about Georges St-Pierre? -- the company would love to hit a home run with a controversial former NFL player stirring up its heavyweight division.

At what cost, though? Endeavor is an entertainment talent agency that conducts much of its business in Hollywood, which is ground zero of the #MeToo movement. The ownership should know better. Abuse of women was a depraved offense long before Harvey Weinstein, but now? How tone deaf can the UFC get?