Is Greg Hardy a changed man? The former NFL defensive lineman now fighting in Ultimate Fighting Championship is certainly talking the talk as he prepares to fight Friday night at UFC Boston at TD Garden.
He had been hoping to fight a top-15 opponent, but instead will square off with Ben Sosoli, who will be making his UFC debut. In addressing how he dealt with the disappointment of not facing a higher-profile opponent, Hardy sounded like someone who is seeking redemption.
“Be humble. Sometimes you don’t get what you want,” said Hardy. “It’s time for me to get in the ring and show some skills. Make the right decisions. Move toward dominating the top 15, not just competing or fight in the top 15.”
Hardy acknowledged he needed time to handle the realization that his career was not progressing as fast as he’d like.
“Before I go pick up the phone and get crazy, let’s just think about why,” said Hardy. “This is what got you here. Be consistent. It’s a process. Always readjusting, reassessing. Not slipping back into the old ways.”
The old ways resulted in Hardy being suspended for 10 games by the NFL after he was found guilty in 2014 of assaulting an ex-girlfriend. The suspension was reduced to four games, and Hardy appealed the conviction. The case was dismissed after the victim refused to testify in court.
Hardy appeared in just one game in 2014 for the Panthers before he was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. In 2015, he signed with the Cowboys and served his four-game suspension to open the season. He soon wore out his welcome in Dallas, and was not re-signed by the Cowboys after the season.
Hardy took up mixed-martial arts once he was out of football, where he drew the attention of UFC president Dana White, who decided to bring him on “The Contender” television series in April of 2018, a decision that drew some backlash. White has no regrets.
“The guy has been amazing since he’s been here,” said White. “He hasn’t had any trouble since the trouble he had with the NFL. Anybody that we talk to, that he trains with, male/female, or that he’s around, loves him, thinks he’s the greatest guy in the world. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Before UFC signs an athlete, the organization will conduct a background investigation.
“There are usually signs right away that this guy is just an idiot, and he’s always going to be an idiot,” said White. “That’s not the case with him at all. He’s been perfect.”
Hardy seems to have embraced the opportunity, and talked about the difference between coming to Boston as a player in the NFL, and as a fighter.
“It’s so much cooler than being in the NFL,” he said. “I’m here all week. I get to be all around the ambience. I ran around Cambridge. Got my mileage in around the [Charles River]. I actually got to be a part of the city. It adds to the effect, for the buildup of the fight for the fighter. You don’t just fly in on the weekend, sack Tom Brady a couple of times, and dip out.”
With an aging heavyweight division, Hardy has the potential to be the next big star, a journey that could take another step Friday night.
Here’s a look at other story lines at UFC’s fight night in Boston (9 p.m. main card, ESPN2).
■ Dominick Reyes vs. Chris Weidman, light heavyweight: The winner of the main event could very well be next in line for a shot at Jon Jones and the championship belt. Reyes is undefeated but is coming off a split-decision win over Volkan Oezdemir and fighting in his first main event. Weidman is a seasoned veteran and former champ moving up in weight after losing four of his last five at middleweight.
■ Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens, featherweight: All that’s missing from this match is the late Keith Jackson opening the broadcast with, “You get the feeling that these two don’t like each other.” The two fought last month in Mexico City, but it lasted just 15 seconds because Stephens could not continue after getting poked in the eye. The fight was ruled a no-contest.
■ Greg Hardy vs. Ben Sosoli, heavyweight: Sosoli is enjoying the underdog role. The Australian will be making his debut and is not expected to pose much of a challenge to Hardy.
■ Joe Lauzon vs. Jonathan Pearce, lightweight: Lauzon, an East Bridgewater native, is held in high regard among fighters and fans alike. At 35, he will be making his 27th appearance in the Octagon, and his first in more than a year in what many are speculating will be his final bout.
■ Maycee Barber vs. Gillian Robertson, women’s flyweight: Barber finished JJ Aldrich in her debut in June. At 21, she wants to become the youngest female champion. Now she faces Robertson, who is 4-1 in UFC.
■ Deron Winn vs. Darren Stewart, middleweight: After going winless in his first four bouts in the Octagon, Stewart is 3-1 in his last four. Winn is viewed as a potential rising star coming off a win over Eric Spicely in June.
■ Charles Rosa vs. Manny Bermudez, featherweight: The final bout before the main card features a pair of locals. Rosa, a native of Peabody, is back in action for the first time in more than two years. Bermudez was born in East Boston, moved to Abington when he was 11, and trains out of Rockland.
■ Molly McCann vs. Diana Belbita, women’s flyweight: McCann is looking to win her third in a row against Belbita, a prospect from Europe making her debut.
■ Kyle Bochniak vs. Sean Woodson, featherweight: Bochniak, the pride of Gloucester, has just two wins in six starts, and knows he could be fighting for his UFC future against Woodson, who impressed on the Contender Series this summer and is making his debut.
■ Randy Costa vs. Boston Salmon, bantamweight: Costa returns to the Octagon after losing in his debut. The Taunton native is expecting a lot of support fighting in front of his hometown. “I hope the UFC doesn’t fire me just because my fans are a bunch of idiots,” Costa joked.
■ Court McGee vs. Sean Brady, welterweight: McGee has gone 3-5 in his last eight fights and could be facing the end of the road if he can’t defeat Brady, a black belt who is making his debut.
■ Daniel Spitz vs. Tanner Boser, heavyweight: Boser makes his debut against Spitz, who will be fighting for the first time since June 2018, when he lost to Walt Harris.
■ Brendan Allen vs. Kevin Holland, middleweight: A pair of young talents will start off the night, as Allen will be making his debut against Holland, who has won three straight since dropping his debut.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.