On Wednesday, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held their UFC 231 pre-fight press conference at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The press conference featured UFC President Dana White, UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, featherweight title challenger Brian Ortega, and UFC women’s flyweight title contenders Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Valentina Shevchenko.
The presser was designed to set-up this Saturday’s UFC 231 event at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, but it risked being overshadowed due to a controversial story that broke a day earlier.
On Tuesday, Brett Okamoto of ESPN reported that former NFL player Greg Hardy would likely make his UFC debut on Jan. 19. That card is scheduled to be the promotion’s debut event on ESPN.
On May 13, 2014, Greg Hardy was arrested for assault and communicating threats after he was accused of grabbing his former partner, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her (per TIME). In July 2014, Hardy was found guilty of those charges and sentenced to 18 months probation and a suspended 60-day jail sentence.
Hardy appealed the sentence and requested a jury trial. During that trial, the victim of the assault failed to appear at court to give testimony. As a result, the prosecutor’s office dropped their charges against Hardy. The prosecutor’s office said they were unable to locate the victim and that they had reliable information that the victim and Hardy had reached a civil settlement (per WBTV).
Domestic violence charges were expunged from Hardy’s record in 2015, according to the Charlotte Observer. Shortly after this, Deadspin obtained and released photographs of injuries sustained by the victim.
Hardy was given a 10-game suspension by the NFL in connection to this incident and he left the league in 2015. Hardy then switched his attention to MMA. His first professional fight came on the UFC’s Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS) in 2018. Hardy fought a second time for DWTNCS two months later.
The debut ESPN UFC event is also scheduled to feature a bout between Rachael Ostovich and Paige VanZant. On Nov. 18th, Ostovich was the victim of a violent attack that left her with a suspected broken orbital bone. Ostovich’s husband, Arnold Berdon, who is also an MMA fighter, was arrested by Honolulu Police and initially arrested on suspicion of attempted second-degree murder. He was eventually charged with second-degree assault.
The strategy of booking a survivor of domestic assault on the same card as someone who was once found guilty of domestic assault lead to many media members questioning the UFC’s decision-making.
It’s almost like the UFC / Dana White doesn’t care about anything as long as there’s money to be made. https://t.co/7LXTqIRYGR
— Trent Reinsmith (@TrentReinsmith) December 5, 2018
Greg Hardy’s eventual UFC debut was always going to be controversial and met with heavy criticism. However, to debut him on the same card as Rachael Ostovich (on the first ESPN card, no less) is a dubious decision at best and incredibly tone-deaf. https://t.co/lqd8BYW9GA
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) December 5, 2018
Put a domestic abuser on the same card as a domestic abuse victim; pull the two champions with SoCal ties off the card in Anaheim. Are they having a contest at UFC HQ to see who can come up with the dumbest idea this week?
— Dave Doyle (@davedoylemma) December 6, 2018
Let’s say that, hypothetically, booking Greg Hardy on the same card as Rachael Ostovich was a complete oversight and 100% unintentional.
The reaction speaks volumes of the toxicity of Hardy fighting in the UFC to begin with and are the ramifications of being in business with him
— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) December 5, 2018
I’ve had a day to think about it and I cannot for the life of me figure out why the UFC thought it was okay to book Greg Hardy on the same card as Rachael Ostovich. This will be a thread.
— Jeremy Botter (@jeremybotter) December 6, 2018
The subject of Greg Hardy was not raised during the UFC 231 pre-fight press conference. Journalists have since reported that this is because UFC staff told reporters to only ask questions about Saturday night’s fights.
In response to these reports the Mixed Martial Arts Journalist Association (MMAJA) released a statement, on its website, discussing the allegation that reporters “felt they were unable to freely ask questions”.
That statement reads:
After reports from media on site today at the UFC 231 press conference, the MMAJA is looking into a situation in which reporters felt they were unable to freely ask questions.
MMAJA has been in touch with UFC PR, which said their intention was for reporters to focus their questions on Saturday’s card and away from other topics.
UFC said they did not direct the media to avoid specific subjects, but that was the impression felt by several MMAJA members credentialed for the event.
Given the miscommunication MMAJA is seeking to secure a remedy with the UFC.
Any journalist covering a mixed martial arts event, whether they are a member of MMAJA or not, should be able to ask relevant questions during public media events, particularly regarding newsworthy items.
Though the media on-site followed UFC’s message, which was issued moments before the start of the press conference, MMAJA wants to make it clear that any media member would have been well within their rights to do otherwise.
This organization exists to help working journalists in the MMA space. Fundamental to that is ensuring access to the subjects they have been assigned to cover.
We trust the UFC understands that facilitating the work of reporters is a much better option than restricting the work of reporters, and will take care to express its intentions to the MMA media with this in mind.
A source who was at the presser told Bloody Elbow, “In my opinion, the implication was clear that [the UFC] didn’t want to talk about Greg Hardy.”
Bloody Elbow requested a comment from the UFC regarding this incident. This article will be updated should they respond.
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