It has become a given that whoever fights Greg Hardy instantly draws a large cheering section. UFC fans haven’t exactly warmed up to the disgraced former NFL defensive lineman, as evidenced by the reception he heard at his fight at TD Garden last October.
Hardy will not have to worry about hearing any boos Saturday night in Jacksonville — there will be no fans in attendance at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena when he steps into the cage as part of the opener for the main card of UFC 249.
But many of the mixed martial arts enthusiasts watching from the socially distant safety of their homes will still be rooting against Hardy, particularly if they know the story of his opponent, Yorgan De Castro.
Born in Cape Verde, De Castro moved to Portugal at age 19, when he took up kickboxing. In 2012, he moved to Fall River and transitioned to mixed martial arts. He turned pro in 2017 and won his first four fights before facing Alton Meeks in Dana White’s Contender Series. After finishing Meeks with a devastating kick to the left leg at the end of the first round, he was awarded a four-fight contract with UFC.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 19, 2019
He made his debut at UFC 243, taking on undefeated Justin Tafa, the hometown favorite in Melbourne, Australia. Again, the fight did not get out of the first round; De Castro delivered a vicious right to the chin of Tafa to end the fight, raising his record to 6-0.
— UFC (@ufc) May 6, 2020
Outside of the ring, and his training sessions, the 32-year-old De Castro is a security guard at Durfee High School. A popular figure around the Fall River school’s campus, he received a loud ovation when he was introduced at a school rally before the football team’s Thanksgiving game with New Bedford last fall.
And he knows that they will be supporting him when he enters the Octagon Saturday night.
I just fought in front of 57.000 people for UFC 243 in Australia 👊but nothing beat this one WOW🤩 i felt genuine LOVED 🥰I can’t even explain it 🙏goosebumps……..💯 pic.twitter.com/4heiZSzw4a
— Yorgan”the mad titan”Decastro (@DecastroYorgan) November 27, 2019
“Everybody’s going to be watching, man,” said De Castro. “All Fall River schools are going to be watching. Cape Verde is going to be watching. Portugal is going to be watching. A lot of people are behind me and are looking forward to Saturday.”
Although Durfee closed its doors to students on March 17, De Castro continues to work part-time in the school system.
“I’m blessed enough and lucky that the Fall River schools kept me working, because we have a program to help families that can’t afford food,” said De Castro.” I was part of the program, helping people out. I feel blessed that I am able to work with all this going on.”
But now he is concentrating on his fight against Hardy. As Saturday night’s event draws closer, De Castro has stayed away from any trash-talking about his opponent, embracing his role as the underdog.
“I don’t care about what’s gone on in his life. I think he’s a super athlete, a big guy,” said De Castro. “I always like to prove my point that I belong in the UFC, so why not fight a guy like Greg, that everybody thinks can be a big star one day?
“I know that they’re tuning in because of Greg Hardy, but at the end of the night, they’ll be talking about me.”
It is part of the UFC’s return to action after an eight-week hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the main event, Tony Ferguson will face Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight championship.
“Everything’s good. It’s been a good week, and we’re right there,” said White, the UFC president who was sporting a TB12 Tampa Bay t-shirt at Friday’s weigh-in. “Get in there tomorrow, make sure everybody’s good and healthy, and put this behind us.”
Everyone involved with the fight — the athletes, trainers, referees, reporters — was immediately directed to a screening station upon arrival in Jacksonville and tested for COVID-19, a process that involves a long swab pushed deep into the back of the nasal cavity.
“It sucked,” said Calvin Kattar, a 32-year-old fighter from Methuen. “It was not enjoyable, but if that’s the most pain I feel all weekend, I’ll feel like I did my job.”
Kattar, the ninth-ranked featherweight, will take on No. 7 Jeremy Stephens after the Hardy-De Castro fight.
Also on the Jacksonville card is Peabody native Charles Rosa, who will take on Bryce Mitchell in a featherweight bout in the early prelims.