Greg Hardy lost, but he did look like he belonged in the Octagon with one of the top heavyweights in the UFC.
Alexander Volkov defeated Hardy, the former NFL star, by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in the co-main event of UFC Moscow on Saturday. It was a clear victory for Volkov, but hardly a rout. Hardy was very competitive with a man ESPN has ranked No. 7 in the world at heavyweight.
Volkov, who has 30 more pro fights of experience than Hardy, was able to slow his explosive, powerful opponent with repeated kicks to the legs and body. Volkov landed a good one-two combination that stung Hardy in the first, but Hardy finished the round well with two hard left hooks.
"Greg Hardy is uncomfortable to fight, because he is big and physically strong" Volkov said. "He throws down uncommon jabs. He is uncomfortable when he tries to break away. But generally it was a good fight, and I now understand how to develop as a fighter."
Hardy told his corner after the first that he injured his right hand, and he didn't throw it much afterward. Volkov stuck with his strategy of working over Hardy's body with kicks -- roundhouse and front -- in the second and third rounds. Volkov landed his best punching combination in the third, a straight right followed by a hard jab that snapped Hardy's head back.
"I'm clearly devastated about the decision," Hardy said. I didn't fight well enough - plain and simple. That's the hardest thing to tell yourself after you go to war. I didn't earn it today."
"The fight generally went as I expected," Volkov said. "But I had to fight more carefully as I didn't perform for a long time. I didn't want to finish the fight very early. I was looking for an opportunity to feel the Octagon, because I was afraid to make mistakes. The stakes were very high. Overall, it was a decent fight, but not very spectacular for the fans. The work is done, though. And I have the opportunity to go further and get a stronger opponent."
Hardy came in with just seven career fights and just a little more than a year as a pro. He fought just 22 days ago, a no contest against Ben Sosoli at UFC Boston on Oct. 18. Hardy won that bout by decision originally, but it was overturned after he illegally used an inhaler between the second and third rounds. He stepped in on three weeks notice when Volkov's original opponent Junior dos Santos withdrew due to injury.
"I don't think the bar is too high," Hardy said. I think it's there. The bar where I want to get to is astronomically high. It's so far away from me right now, I'm in tears on the inside. I have a lot to go get, man. And I'm gonna go get it. I'm gonna bleed and I'm gonna sweat until it's done. When I come back, I will be the 'King of War.' But right now, I'm humbly bowing down as the 'Prince of War' in defeat to one of the best in the game right now."
Volkov (31-7) had not fought since an October 2018 loss to Derrick Lewis at UFC 229. The Russia native has now won seven of his past eight bouts. Volkov, 31, won for the first time since March 2018.
Hardy (5-2, 1 NC) came into the UFC earlier this year from the NFL with controversy. The former All Pro was convicted in 2014 on a domestic violence charge, which was later overturned on appeal when the woman didn't show up to a jury trial. Hardy, 31, lost his UFC debut in January by disqualification due to an illegal knee. He rebounded to win two in a row via TKO/KO before the no contest against Sosoli.