Season two of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series has come to a close and once again we have been treated to a tremendous summer of fights to dwindle away our Tuesday evenings. Over the duration of eight weeks, 33 of the 40 scheduled bouts ended before the judges were called into play, smashing last seasons record of 25 finishes. As we know, Dana White cannot sign every fighter who wins to the ever growing roster of the UFC, but a staggering 23 fighters where handed immediate contracts and others have been called up on short notice opportunities. In this article we will take a look at the 23 fighters who won contracts directly after the show, and I have even been fortunate enough to catch up with some of the fighters for a quick interview to see how they are feeling after achieving the dream of every mixed martial artist on the planet!
It took just 57 seconds for Greg Hardy (1-0-0) to finish Austin Lane (4-1-0) with a viscous KO during the first episode of Dana Whites Contender Series 9. It was a particularly impressive performance considering the fight was Hardy’s first professional MMA contest, following a brief stint as an amateur which saw the former NFL All-Pro defensive end win all three of his fights.
When the fight with Lane was first announced, Dana White and the UFC received a notable amount of criticism due to Hardy’s 2014 conviction for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The charges were subsequently dropped during Hardy’s appeal after the victim declined to testify.
Speaking to MMAJunkie after the event, Dana White acknowledged Hardy’s past but explained that he felt that the 29-year-old deserved his opportunity to rebuild his life.
“The reality is, if this guy stays clean for the next 10 years, goes on to win a world title, becomes one of the greatest mixed martial artists to ever live, he’s always going to be looked at – he’s always going to hear it,” White said. “That’s always going to be in the story that’s written about him. Other opponents he fights are going to call him a woman beater. That’s going follow him for the rest of his life. You don’t shed that. That stays with you forever, and he’s done all the things right so far.
“The guy paid his dues. He hit rock bottom. He built himself back up, and the guy’s out there just trying to make a life and a living.”
“People always make mistakes, and the thing about making mistakes is, how do you recover from that? How do you act after you’ve done something bad?” White said. “This guy has paid his dues, and like I said, he hit rock bottom. He built himself back up, he’s going out there, and he’s fighting in these amateur fights where he doesn’t get paid. Now he came here, and I think he made $10,000 and $10,000. He’s working his way back up the ladder. He’s doing the right things. He’s off drugs, he’s off alcohol, and he’s trying to change his life.
White went on to say that he recognises the risks for Hardy now that he is back in the spotlight. As many UFC stars will confirm, the platform the promotion provides leaves very little margin for error.
“He’s the type of athlete, and he’s the type of guy that, if he does anything wrong, there will be no mercy for him,” White said. “I mean, everybody’s going to jump on him. You talk to the people in his camp, they love the guy. Men and women. They think he’s a great guy and a guy who (was) probably doing drugs, drinking and made a big mistake.”
While it isn’t completely unheard of for a fighter with just one professional contest to enter the UFC (shout out CM Punk), White is eager for Hardy to follow a more structured developmental path before making the step up to the biggest stage.
How that plays out is still a mystery for now but it would seem that Hardy is likely to take at least a few fights elsewhere before making his official UFC debut – something the promotion has a history of doing with prospects they have particularly high hopes for.
“The way I see it is, what I would love to do, in a perfect world, this is not what I’m doing, but in a perfect world this is what I would like to do,” White said. “If he can turn around and come back, I would like to have him fight on the last episode of the Contender Series. Then I would like to put him on a bunch of ‘Looking For A Fight’ cards, get him some experience and then we’ll decide when we think he’s ready for the UFC.
“If you see him, you see that he has power. He’s a big heavyweight. He needs to work more. He needs to get some more fights. We’ve done deals where, for example, Cyborg was under contract with the UFC but fought in Invicta. Alexa Grasso was under contract with the UFC. Mackenzie Dern was under contract with the UFC and fought in other places. I have a few ideas of what to do with this guy and let him develop. He’s with a great team already, he’s training with great guys. They say he’s a hard worker. They say all positive things about him out of that gym. We’ll try to build him up and see what he can do.”