On Dec. 5, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported that former NFL defensive end and convicted domestic abuser Greg Hardy would make his UFC debut on the same card as Rachael Ostovich, a recent victim of domestic violence whose husband, fellow MMA professional Arnold Berdon, faces a second-degree assault charge in her beating last month.
According to the Washington Post’s Matt Bonesteel, Ostovich’s management had originally canceled the bout after the pro-MMA fighter suffered a fractured orbital bone during the alleged attack, “but her manager told ESPN in late November that Ostovich had been cleared to remain in the fight after seeking a second opinion.”
There was no shortage of outrage on Twitter after the promotion announced it would book the heavyweight bout between Hardy and Allen Crowder on Jan. 19—the same night that Ostovich is set to face Paige VanZant in flyweights.
“There was really only one fight card that you absolutely, positively could not put Greg Hardy on without making the whole situation even worse. And the UFC put him on exactly that fight card,” MMAJunkie.com’s Ben Fowlkes tweeted.
MMA fighter Leslie Smith also weighed in: “It’s admirable of Rachael Ostovich to use her platform to encourage women not to be ashamed of domestic abuse and get to get the help they need to. It is tone deaf and insensitive of the UFC to debut Greg Hardy, a known and unapologetic abuser on the same card.”
It's admirable of Rachael Ostovich to use her platform to encourage women not to be ashamed of domestic abuse and get to get the help they need to . It is tone deaf and insensitive of the UFC to debut Greg Hardy, a known and unapologetic abuser on the same card.
— Leslie Smith (@LeslieSmith_GF) December 5, 2018
In July 2014, Hardy was convicted of choking and threatening to kill his then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder. According to Deadspin’s Diane Moskovitz, Holder says he had “thrown her against a tile bathtub wall, tossed her on a futon covered in assault rifles, and choked her until she told him to ‘kill me so I don’t have to.’”
But after she failed to show up to testify during the appeal, the prosecutor’s office dropped the charges and they were expunged from Hardy’s record.
In a TSN interview, UFC President Dana White defended the decision to place the two competitors on the same card, saying Ostovich told him she had no problem with Hardy being on the card.
“I called Rachael Ostovich and talked to her and walked her through this situation, and her take on it was: ‘His story isn’t my story, everybody’s story is different and I believe in second chances. I have no problem fighting on the same card with this guy,’” White said. “He didn’t do anything to Rachael Ostovich, so she was totally cool with it. So obviously, having her support was a key factor in making that decision. … Rachael Ostovich doesn’t have an issue with it, and that’s all that matters to me.”
White also told TSN that Hardy, like everyone, deserves a second chance: “He’s gonna be tied to [the domestic violence allegations] for the rest of his career, the rest of his life. This is a guy who’s spent the last five years rehabilitating himself from drugs, alcohol, anger management, you name it. Rebuilding his life. He hit rock bottom, he lost his job. He’s building a family now; he has a son and a daughter. He’s trying to put that behind him.”
Though all of his points are valid, they don’t matter when you realize that the bigger picture here isn’t Hardy or Ostovich, it’s the way the UFC and major sports leagues continuously downplay domestic abuse cases within their organizations and focus more on the abusers than on the victims.
According to Bonesteel, “A 2015 investigation by HBO’s Real Sports found that MMA fighters, in general, had been arrested (on charges of) domestic violence at more than twice the average national rate.”
In addition, White, according to Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko, “has often cited mitigating circumstances for fighters accused of domestic violence, reinstating some immediately after charges were dropped, or citing third-party investigations that cleared players of wrongdoing. (The UFC says it hires outside investigators to consult on incidents involving fighters on a case-by-case basis but declined to give its investigators permission to speak about the process.)”
Essentially, Hardy is only one case of domestic abuse and while he has White’s support, it doesn’t change the fact that the UFC has not shown it cares about victims of domestic violence.
For example, while White has spoken on numerous occasions with media outlets about Hardy’s rehabilitation and boasted about how respected and changed he is, he has yet to address the impact of domestic abuse on victims; to show that though Hardy might deserve a second chance, victims deserve justice and support.
In fact, according to Klemko, “White says he didn’t reach out to Holder or her lawyer because she’s had ample opportunity to comment since the trial and hasn’t done so.”
While White has expressed an unyielding distaste for domestic abusers, the reality is the “UFC’s stance on domestic violence has been just as inconsistent as the NFL’s, and perhaps more so,” writes Bonesteel.
“We have a record, a track record of getting rid of many people that have done bad things,” White said in 2014 when asked his opinion about the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice once video surfaced of the running back knocking his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, unconscious in a hotel elevator.
So the UFC just couldn't move Greg Hardy to ANY OTHER card than with Rachael Ostovich? Do better. 🤦🏻♂️
— Below the Belt with Brendan Schaub (@btbshowtime) December 11, 2018
“We’ve been human beings in letting these guys, other guys make up for what they’ve done and come back,” White said. “There’s one thing that you never bounce back from and that’s putting your hands on a woman. Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
Despite what White says, “higher-profile fighters such as lightweight Abel Trujillo (who twice has pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges against the mother of his child) and light heavyweight Anthony Johnson (who was convicted of domestic violence in 2010) have been allowed to continue fighting on the circuit,” writes Bonesteel.
According to Klemko, mixed martial artist Jessica Aguilar says that while she supports Hardy’s career in the MMA, “she’s not buying the UFC’s party line.”
“He didn’t get convicted, so they see the big name, they say he can make us money. It’s business,” Aguilar said. “They don’t care about domestic violence. I’m being honest. I’ve been around the sport for a while and seen how things work. It’s about business. You lost? Okay, next. They’re constantly looking for popular people, the next superstar. ‘She looks good, let’s bring her in. He has a name. Let’s bring him in.’ It’s entertainment. It sucks.”
Ultimately, White has yet to take serious steps to ensure his fighters are held accountable when they commit domestic abuse. In addition, there has been no initiative on the promotion’s end to actively combat abuse, especially because it’s so prevalent in its culture. Instead, the UFC continues to offer abusers second chances and sympathetic redemption narratives that fans can latch onto.
Meanwhile, survivors are left with fluffy speeches and public statements replete with fake outrage and meaningless promises, prompted only by social media backlash. The UFC needs to start putting its money where its mouth is and prove to victims that they matter, too; that they deserve the same respect that White gives the fighters who’ve abused them.