Like most people, I had a ton of questions when I heard that currently unemployed NFL defensive end Greg Hardy is pursuing a career as an MMA fighter. How the hell did a 28-year-old just three years removed from a 15-sack season end up here? What could Hardy have become had he avoided trouble off the field, namely an ugly domestic violence incident in 2014 and a cocaine arrest last month?
Oh, and the more superficial but obvious question: will Hardy be any good as a fighter?
I immediately thought back to a night in 2008 when I watched Hardy, then a star D-lineman at Ole Miss, lose to a 17-year-old seemingly half his size during a fraternity boxing event in Oxford, Mississippi.
So I got on the phone with the guy who beat him.
Through the magic of Facebook, I was able to connect with Codie Shuffield, who was a senior in high school when he and his dad showed up at Ole Miss’ now-condemned Tad Smith hoops arena to assist with Kappa Alpha Fight Night. Codie’s dad, Steve, had once been a pro boxer, and the KAs paid him to provide the equipment and technical support required for a handful of frat bros to flail away at each other in the name of charity.
Hardy was in attendance, and during a break in the regularly scheduled bouts, took the mic and asked for challengers. After knocking out his first opponent in less than 30 seconds, Hardy made another request. Shuffield, just a year removed from competing in the 18U kickboxing world championships, raised his hand.
So 5’9, 215-pound Shuffield stepped in against 6’5, 255-pound Hardy.
“I’ve fought some big guys, but he’s definitely the biggest,” said Shuffield. “I was intimidated. There’s no doubt I was fighting scared.”
He was also fighting with experience. Instead of teaching he and his brother how to play catch growing up, his dad taught them how to box. With Hardy tossing errant haymakers, Shuffield was able to stay inside, use the angles and negate the football star’s power and reach. Midway through the second round, a gassed Hardy was spending most of his time doubled over, protecting himself.
“That’s the difference between boxing shape and football shape. He’d been used to going five, 10 seconds real hard and then he’d get the break,” Shuffield said. “It’s a different kind of shape.”
Shuffield did take one hard hit—an inadvertent shoulder midway through the first round that sent him tumbling to the mat.
“That’s what he was trained to do; hit someone with his shoulder,” said Shuffield. “When he did, man, it hurt.”
But that was about the only blow the footballer could land over the course of the three-round fight. With Hardy sucking wind and covering his ears, Shuffield punched his way to a unanimous decision.
With training, Shuffield thinks Hardy could be a decent fighter.
Still, he concedes that Hardy’s inexperience and lack of boxing fitness made the difference in their match.
“If he had any training for any amount of time, that fight wouldn’t have gone that way. He was a superior athlete, I just knew what I was doing.”
But Shuffield, who’s preparing to open his own gym in Oxford, saw the physical tools. The athleticism. The size. The speed. A surprisingly effective jab. I asked him if he’d fight Hardy again.
“They’d have to pay me a lot more money,” Shuffield laughed. “I’d rather train him.”