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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Moscow

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066_Jeremy_Stephens_x_Zabit_MagomedshariZabit Magomedsharipov | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Greg Hardy’s tenure in UFC could be called polarizing. But that’s probably not even the right word since polarizing would indicate people fervently backing two completely different sides.

Hardy came to the UFC after drawing strong viewership numbers and scoring fast knockouts in two fights on Dana White’s Contenders Series, as a former NFL second-team All-Pro lineman who made further headlines due to a 2014 domestic violence charge. The charge has been debated for years. Hardy was at first convicted, but the conviction was overturned in appeal when the alleged victim didn’t testify. The prosecutor’s office claimed it was due to Hardy and the victim reaching a settlement. The NFL did allow Hardy to return.

Dana White had previously said domestic violence was something you can’t come back from in the UFC. In the case of Hardy, since the conviction was overturned, he did have his wiggle room. But to many, it was a bad look. Hardy is an athlete at a level few UFC heavyweights have ever been. But fighting is a different animal. He was protected with being given several opponents who would not have been in UFC otherwise. His first serious test, Allen Crowder, saw him disqualified in a fight he was on the road to losing.

His fights have been filled with controversy and no fighter in the promotion is booed by the audience regularly at the level he is. But until Saturday, he had no decisive losses. His fights have also generated interest, as he is typically one of the most searched topics on the Internet the days he fights.

Hardy (5-2, 1 NC), to his credit, after a win in Boston on Oct. 18, accepted being a late replacement for Junior dos Santos in the UFC Moscow co-main event against Alexander Volkov (31-7), a serious heavyweight contender who was a Bellator and M-1 champion, and ranked No. 7 in the division coming into the fight. It was a fight so far above the level of opponents he had faced that it was almost shocking when it was announced.

To some, it was almost the feeling that what they were waiting for would happen. Hardy would be exposed, take a beating, and be done away with. To an extent, the first thing did happen. He was clearly not the class of Volkov, but nobody expected he would be. Hardy does have power, but at no point did he tag Volkov in a manner that indicated he had a chance to win. But Volkov never hurt him that badly either, content to use his superior skillset and footwork to pick him apart, while never going all-out for a finish.

Hardy survived three rounds with a legit contender relatively early in his career. But he also didn’t show anything past hanging in there, nor enough to make you think he would ever reach contender status himself.

And with all that, the novelty of Hardy wore thin. There was relatively little interest in Saturday’s UFC show from Russia and for the first time for a Hardy fight in UFC, he did less than 50,000 Google searches, meaning mainstream America didn’t care all that much.

He’ll likely continue to fight, and probably still be used on main cards due to his name. He’s still an experiment in progress, a superior athlete who can hit hard, who didn’t have his first fight until 29. The reality is that Randy Couture and Dan Severn took up the sport at an older age, and both became Hall of Famers. Brock Lesnar started slightly younger and became a UFC champion. Perhaps it shows that high-level wrestling is a lot better for MMA than being an All-Pro NFL lineman.

Hardy will be the answer to the question of taking a superior NFL athlete, the type that usually doesn’t get into fighting, while still close to his athletic prime, and putting him in a top level camp with the idea that athletic ability alone he could eventually dominate MMA fighters. For those who thought you could take a badass NFL star and teach him to fight and dominate, well, that looks like it is not nearly so easy. But for those waiting for him to be destroyed, they instead got a tame and relatively boring fight on Saturday.

Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday’s show.

ZABIT MAGOMEDSHARIPOV - Magomedsharipov (18-1), clearly the best fighter on Saturday’s show, looked great for two rounds against Calvin Kattar (20-4). If the fight ended after two, Magomedsharipov would be talked about for a title fight down the line. But round three led most of the post-match talk to be about how he probably would have lost in a five-round fight.

That’s not exactly fair, because had it been five rounds, his strategy and training would have been different. But it was clear in the last round he was looking at the clock and hoping the seconds would tick away. It was not the look of a guy en route to a title fight.

There is intrigue with Kattar. A five-round fight between the two of them would make for an interesting next bout, or perhaps that will happen somewhere down the line.

But with the win, Magomedsharipov, coming in ranked No. 5, should move to higher ground. His next opponent could be the winner of the Dec. 21 fight with Chan Sung Jung (14-5) vs. Brian Ortega (14-1), or Yair Rodriguez (13-2), or Frankie Edgar (23-7-1).

CALVIN KATTAR - While Kattar lost the main event, because of how he finished, he probably came off viewed more positively by those who saw the fight. A fight with Rodriguez would be more viable now, as would one with Jeremy Stephens (28-17).

ALEXANDER VOLKOV - Volkov didn’t make the kind of statement someone looking for a title shot should have, basically being content to win a lopsided decision. His next fight should be the originally scheduled bout with Dos Santos (21-7).

GREG HARDY - They could go back to using lower level guys to rebuild Hardy at this point. But someone like Maurice Greene (8-3) would be a better test. If they’re looking at Hardy in a fight with another slugger, Tai Tuivasa (10-4) would garner legitimate interest.

ANTHONY ROCCO MARTIN - Martin (17-5) won a heavily-booed decision over Ramazan Emeev (18-4). But Martin got 100 percent of the media scores on MMA Decisions. His next fight could be against new welterweight Rustam Khabilov (24-4), who moved up from lightweight on this show and won a decision over Sergey Khandozhko.

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