Nearly six years ago, the UFC gave women the chance to compete before its huge audiences, in arenas around the world, placing them on a playing field even with that of men. It was, by all accounts, a move worthy of praise, one representing arguably the biggest leap for women’s sports in two decades.
Since then, the promotion has gone on to highlight several of its female fighters. Ronda Rousey, for a time, was the biggest star in the sport, but others including Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rose Namajunas and Miesha Tate have also found success on par with many of their top male counterparts.
Because of that, we know the UFC can be a force for good, for progressiveness. Which makes it all the more perplexing in determining how the organization can go from that to this: It is to booking the infamous Greg Hardy — effectively banned from the NFL in part for domestic violence — on the same card as Rachael Ostovich, who less than three weeks ago was reportedly attacked in a case of domestic violence.
Despite suffering injuries in the incident, Ostovich bravely decided to remain in her scheduled fight against Paige VanZant, set for the first UFC on ESPN+ event on Jan. 19, 2019. That means that the UFC may face a scenario where it praises Ostovich for her courage in one fight, then parades Hardy out with pomp and circumstance in the next.
Not a great look, but even past appearances, it is simply tone-deaf and insensitive to put Ostovich in a situation where she is in such close quarters to someone so credibly accused of domestic assault. Hardy, you may recall, was originally convicted, but on appeal, the case was dropped when the victim, his ex-girlfriend, declined to cooperate following what was speculated to be a financial settlement.
Still, the NFL handed Hardy a 10-game suspension after determining that he’d used force against his ex-girlfriend four times, including squeezing her neck hard enough to leave a mark, throwing her onto a futon covered with four semi-automatic weapons, and shoving her against a wall.
Even if you believe in second chances for such transgressions—and as a reminder, Hardy has expressed little remorse for his actions—this hardly seems the perfect situation for his UFC debut. While his appearance at any event is guaranteed to offend someone, somewhere, his presence is guaranteed to be magnified as the UFC makes the move to ESPN. If you were the cynical type, you might just surmise that the UFC has done this purposely, in order to drum up publicity for its first broadcast with the network.
The alternative is that it’s not a malicious plan, it’s just a boneheaded one. It became pretty obvious the UFC realized the scope of its gaffe on Wednesday, when just moments before the UFC 231 press conference was scheduled to begin, a company public relations representative approached the assembled media and demanded that no non-fight related questions be asked. This is not a standard request. The typical press-conference is free-wheeling and sprinkles in queries related to the intriguing topics of the moment. This time, the UFC decided it did not want to face the heat it had created.
If UFC brass is not comfortable living through this situation, it’s worth wondering how Ostovich will feel about navigating her way through it during fight week. (MMA Fighting reached out to her representatives for comment, but did not hear back by publication time.) Or at least, it should have been worth considering it for the UFC. Even if Ostovich is brave enough to keep her fight date, she has injuries from her case that are literally healing as we speak. This situation is still raw, the wounds unhealed. To many, Hardy is an embodiment of the type of violence that caused her injuries, and yet she’ll have to spend several days around him.
The timing is so unnecessary. Starting with that Jan. 19 card, the promotion runs events on 11 consecutive weekends. Hardy could have easily been slotted on any of the other 10, yet it chose to place him on a card featuring a recovering victim of domestic violence. It’s a mind-boggling lapse of judgment.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the UFC’s shaky history handling domestic abuse. In 2014, UFC president Dana White, while commenting on the Ray Rice situation, 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.”
This statement has come back to haunt White as the UFC went on to place fighters with domestic violence pasts such as Anthony Johnson and Abel Trujillo in high-profile fights. To be fair, the promotion has also released others accused or convicted of the crime, including Thiago Silva, Will Chope and Michael Graves. The organization is hardly the only company to have a complicated relationship with an uncomfortable topic, but here’s a good rule of thumb: don’t pair an accused domestic abuser with a domestic abuse victim.
The UFC’s integration of women has become one of its signature achievements of the last decade, but this inclusion of Hardy and Ostovich on the same card is a spectacular misjudgment. Even if Hardy is deserving of a second chance in the major sports world, this is not the time nor the place to grant it. This is a time to step back, cede the stage, and watch a victim publicly triumph by reclaiming her dream.