NEW YORK -- Blood dripping from her nose, Heather Hardy went back to her instincts: boxing. Her kicks seemed more for show in her mixed martial arts debut, a three-round 125-pound flyweight fight. Hardy’s fists had innate muscle memory. They seemed to know what to do, and that was to cause damage.
One look at Alice Yauger’s face provided proof. She, too, had blood splotches across her face.
A straight right from Hardy put down Yauger at Bellator 180 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Yauger clipped Hardy with a head butt that opened a gaping cut on the unbeaten boxer’s left eye with less than two minutes remaining in the third round. The gash was so severe that it caused referee John McCarthy to have the ringside doctor look at it with 54 seconds left in the bout. That seemed to spark Hardy into overdrive. She upped her attack and put Yauger in serious trouble. She had Yauger (4-6) against the cage, nailing her with point-blank shots when McCarthy saw enough and intervened at 4:47 of the third round.
In truth, Hardy needs a lot of work. It was apparent she has no ground game yet, and she beat someone who was there to be beat; and it was a struggle. Hardy admitted it took her a little time to get going.
“In boxing, it takes me a round to get loose, but I have 10,” Hardy said. “Distance, timing, everything from smaller gloves, it just took me a little bit to get going. I wasn’t thinking of the finish, but I knew I could get it. I’m so happy right now I don’t even care that I have seven stiches in my face.”
Asked if she sees more MMA fights ahead, Hardy was quick to respond: “I think I just fell in love [with MMA] guys ... I’m hooked. I’m so happy right now. I can’t feel it, but I have stiches in my face. I just worked so hard for this and a lot of people thought I couldn’t do it, and to do it feels so incredible. I will never leave boxing, but I’m definitely excited to get back in the gym and work on my game and learn more tricks to show off in the cage.”
Bader Takes Light Heavyweight Title
Ryan Bader knows Phil Davis all too well. They faced each other as accomplished collegiate wrestlers -- Davis won -- and again as MMA fighters, when Bader got his revenge two years ago in Stockholm. Their rematch attracted venom from the crowd in the form of intermittent boos, but Bader emerged victorious in his promotional debut, wresting the light heavyweight championship from Davis (17-4) by split decision.
Bader (23-5) had never been awarded a title shot in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“It was a bunch of relief, because I never got a chance to fight for a belt in any organization,” he said. “In wrestling, in football, mixed martial arts, I would fight on these local shows, I never got a chance. Even in [the] UFC, I won ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ [in 2008] and was never given a title shot. I never stepped foot in Bellator cage before. I was touching the canvas to see how that felt. I didn’t know a lot of things, and to beat a top two, top three guy in the world, to take this away is a lifetime work. If you look at his face and the damage that I was doing, he’s a weird guy to fight, because he’s all over the place. The fight didn’t necessarily go the way I wanted it to go. I wanted to come in here and make a huge statement, but how many people beat Phil Davis? I beat him twice, this time for a belt.”
Bader said his biggest concern was making one mistake that could get him trouble. He felt the difference was landing more power punches.
“My jab was working, and Phil did a great job of moving around; and he’s hard to track down,” Bader said. “Some people may see that as winning the fight, but you have to look at the punches landed and the takedowns.”
Flawless Gallagher Stays Undefeated
Maybe there is something in the water in Ireland, because the island in the North Atlantic seems to be producing a swell of MMA fighters. James Gallagher, 20, seems to be part of the production line that no doubt takes great pride in Conor McGregor.
Gallagher (7-0) made rather easy work of Chinzo Machida (5-3), who was Gallagher’s age when the Irish featherweight was born. There was little intrigue involved here. Within the first few minutes, Machida was lying on his back bleeding from a cut near his left eye. Finally, Gallagher made him submit to a rear-naked choke at 2:22 of the first round.
“It could have went a lot better,” Gallagher said. “I got hit with a few shots. I made a few mistakes that I have to go back and work on, but I’m 20 years old fighting in one of the most exciting venues in the world. Muhammad Ali fought here, Mike Tyson, all of these guys, and I feel like I’m falling in the footsteps of the greats. It just felt right. I thought [Machida] would have been more elusive on his feet, to be honest, but I feel that I put a lot of pressure on him from the start. I don’t think he was thinking I would be as confident on my feet as I was. I split him with the first shot, and that rocked him.”
Brad Desir (10-5) scored one for the United States Marine Corps, easily dispensing Navy veteran Nate Grebb (3-2) with punches at 2:54 of the first round in a lightweight fight. Desir used a three-punch combo that decked Grebb, then pounced on him, as referee Todd Anderson waved it over.
In the first fight that reached a decision, Ryan Couture (11-5) defeated Haim Gozali (2-2) in a welterweight bout by unanimous scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27.
Anthony Giacchina (2-1) submitted Jerome Mickle (2-2) with a rear-naked choke at 3:40 of the third round. Usually comfortable at welterweight, Giacchina dropped the 15 pounds to make the lightweight limit.
Matt Rizzo (10-2) submitted Sergio da Silva (6-9) with an arm-triangle choke at 3:48 of the third round in a 138-pound catchweight bout.
In the first fight of the night, Hugh McKenna (1-1) submitted John Salgado (4-8-1) with a kimura at 4:06 of the first round of a 168-pound catchweight affair.