-- FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- Former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy hopes to eventually fight in the UFC, and his mixed martial arts career got off to an impressive start Saturday night.
Hardy (1-0) was victorious in his amateur heavyweight debut, scoring a first-round knockout in 32 seconds over fellow amateur Joe Hawkins (0-1) at "Rise Of A Warrior 21." Hardy landed a stiff right hand that floored Hawkins early, then followed with a series of punches before the referee stopped the fight.
Entering the cage sporting a white skeleton mask, Hardy, 29, showed much of the elite athleticism and strength that he used to display on the football field. He slipped early in the fight while backpedaling but otherwise moved around the cage well.
Hardy's debut was a long ways from playing in packed stadiums in front of 50,000 to 70,000 NFL fans. About 500 people were in attendance in a converted basketball gym at the Havert L. Fenn Events Center, where Hardy, a former Pro Bowler, was the biggest name on the card but wasn't part of the main event. Hardy's was the ninth of 13 bouts.
Hardy trains at South Florida's American Top Team, which is one of the biggest and most well-respected gyms in MMA. UFC champions Tyron Woodley, Amanda Nunes and Joanna Jedrzejczyk are among the notable stars who also train at ATT. Fellow UFC heavyweights? Junior dos Santos?and Antonio Silva also are gym mates and training partners for Hardy.
In 2014, Hardy's NFL career took a turn for the worse when he was accused of domestic violence. He was initially suspended 10 games by the NFL in 2015 for "conduct detrimental to the league," but that ruling was reduced to four games while he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Hardy contends he never violated the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Hardy's six-year career included 165 tackles and 40 career sacks in 75 games. He played one season with Dallas and five seasons with the Carolina Panthers.