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I have to admit I was a bit frustrated watching Heather Hardy and Ana Julaton fight at Bellator 194 on Friday in Uncasville, Connecticut. However, after I took a deep breath, I took a second look and remembered that they are taking a chance on the foreign grounds of mixed martial arts; and knowing each other from the boxing world, they decided to see who was taking this new game serious enough to step out of their comfort zone and test their new skill sets.
Both women were coming off of losses at Bellator 185, and their encounter needed to show that women from boxing can adapt to MMA. Julaton attempted the first takedown, and while it was not perfect, she knew she and Hardy were on an even playing field when it came to the grappling aspect of mixed martial arts. Hardy responded in kind with her takedown defense and tried to get comfortable going for the kill with submissions once they did hit the ground.
Keep in mind that Renzo Gracie himself commended Julaton’s grappling after her showing at Bellator 185; that’s high praise coming from a member of the family credited with founding Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Julaton also had seniority over Hardy in MMA going into their flyweight clash. It would have been easy to think Julaton had the upper hand at Bellator 194 since we had only seen the striking for which Hardy is known work in her favor in her first bout and against her in her second bout. Her grappling was the wildcard in this matchup, and it was the deciding factor in the fight.
Leading up to their encounter, they let fans know they were preparing for all aspects of the game. However, Hardy proved how serious she was taking it when she answered Julaton’s invites to the ground by accepting them and dominating with attempts to take her back, several passes at chokes and even jumping guard in the second round to show what she had off her back. Julaton defended well, hand fighting and peeling away Hardy’s arms while trying to improve her position. They both could have done better, but they did their best with the skills they had. The more they train, the better they will get. Remember, they are relatively new to this, and improvement takes time.
Hardy seemed to have caught wind of the fans reaction and felt the need to apologize for the way the bout went. Here’s the thing about combat sports that separates it from other competition: All that matters when the bell rings is trying to outwork your opponent, defend yourself and win however you can. Someone is attacking and someone is defending. Yes, this is entertainment and fans pay money to see it, but in the moment, whatever gets the fighter a win with the minimal amount of damage is the best route. Criticism is a part of it, but after the match is over, no apologies are necessary.
MMA fans can be as unforgiving as the sport itself. When we’re discussing boxing-MMA crossovers like Julaton and Hardy, it should be noted that they are tackling new challenges and they should be commended for it. They took quite a leap.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. teased fans about a possible move to MMA, only to say it was not happening, and Conor McGregor recently addressed it in an Instagram post: “My game is a very unforgiving one. It is not like other games.” Hardy and Julaton are due to face each other again in a boxing match this later year. No one needs to be baited; they want to change the definition of what it means to be a professional fighter and they are putting in the work to do so whether anyone likes it or not.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.