Greg Hardy just made a statement that he’s taking his foray into mixed martial arts very seriously.

Hardy, who played six seasons in the NFL from 2010 to 2015, began his MMA career Saturday night with a first-round knockout win over fellow amateur Joe Hawkins (0-1) in 32 seconds at “Rise of a Warrior 21.” It was an impressive debut for Hardy, a Pro Bowl pick in 2013 who last played for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 after five seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

“I’d be a fool to turn away from what I loved doing for so long,” Hardy told’s James Walker, indicating he’s not ruling out an NFL return despite focusing primarily on MMA. “But it’s a habit of an athlete, a player and a baller to put his whole heart and soul into what I’m doing. So the UFC has got my heart and soul. That’s where I’m going in my mind and my heart. Everything that I do is focused on this MMA career, so I’m coming.”

Hardy, now 29 years old, recorded a career-high 15 sacks with the Panthers in 2013 but appeared in just one game in 2014 after being arrested for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The defensive end was suspended four games by the NFL (reduced from 10 games) during the 2015 season following a lengthy investigation, and Deadspin published photos in November 2015 that showed the accuser, Nicole Holder, looking bruised and battered.

Hardy’s return to the gridiron with the Cowboys in 2015 was underwhelming, as he registered six sacks in 12 games for a Dallas team that went 4-12. Off-field problems again became an issue in September 2016 when Hardy was arrested on cocaine possession charges.

It’s hard to tell from one fight whether Hardy is good enough to someday land a contract with UFC, the biggest promotion in MMA, or whether he’ll behave moving forward. His career inside the octagon started with a bang, though. Maybe — just maybe — he’s on to something.

Hardy currently trains at South Florida’s American Top Team, which is one of the biggest and most well-respected gyms in MMA.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images