Heather Hardy: MMA One of the Few Sports Where Women Are Seen as Athletes

By Tristen Critchfield Jun 21, 2017
After compiling a 20-0 record and winning the WBC international featherweight title in the boxing ring, Heather Hardy will make her mixed martial arts debut in one of the world’s most famous sporting venues — Madison Square Garden.

Hardy will square off with nine-bout veteran Alice Yauger in a flyweight bout to be televised on Spike as part of the Bellator 180 card, which serves as a lead-in to the promotion’s pay-per-view event at the same arena. While most newcomers would generally make their first MMA foray in a more low-profile environment, Hardy would like to remind the world that she isn’t your average cagefighting rookie.

“Because I’m an athlete and because I’m a veteran of combat sports I understand fighting more than most people do,” Hardy told Sherdog.com. “So my transition to doing judo, jiu-jitsu, American wrestling, muay Thai and kickboxing, I don’t want to say it came natural, but I was able to apply my knowledge of boxing to those other disciplines. I’m sure it’s been much easier for me as an elite fighter than maybe it would be for someone else.”

Despite her accomplishments in the Sweet Science, Hardy instantly found MMA to be a more lucrative endeavor — even with her lack of experience.

“It’s more than I’ve ever made in any individual bout in my boxing career, including a 10-round title fight with an undefeated contender that was on NBC Sports,” Hardy said of her Bellator debut.

Hardy wouldn’t be the first to find the pastures greener in the cage than they were in the ring. Multi-time boxing world champ Holly Holm was a highly-hyped signing by the UFC, and she admitted to receiving more interview requests upon signing with the Las Vegas-based promotion than she did throughout her 13-year boxing career. The pay bump didn’t come as a shock to Hardy, who views the MMA world as much more progressive than her initial sport of choice.

“It wasn’t surprising. I knew that MMA was so much more evolved than boxing. I knew that female boxers are so grossly underpaid. I hate to say I’m gonna do MMA for the money, but it is certainly an incentive,” Hardy said.

“The sport itself is much more evolved. Not even just more than boxing but more than any sport where females are involved. MMA is one of the few sports where women are seen as athletes.”

There is some truth to Hardy’s words. Ronda Rousey ushered the women’s era of MMA into the UFC and became the promotion’s biggest star. Holm in turn raised her profile immensely with a shocking knockout of Rousey in November 2015. Bellator President Scott Coker helped develop many female talents — including Rousey and former champ Miesha Tate — in Strikeforce before the organization folded. These days, there are many more opportunities for women to shine and occupy prominent places atop major fight cards than ever before.

Boxing, Hardy says, remains stuck in the Dark Ages in that sense.

“In boxing, we’re dealing with the same guys that we’re signing contracts when Laila Ali and Christy Martin were fighting. ..These are just a bunch of guys who are really far behind in the times and stuck in their ways,” she said. “Women in the sport are suffering. I just had to change. Boxing is not evolving.”

That said, Hardy, a native of Brooklyn, didn’t reall need much incentive to jump at the opportunity to fight at Madison Square Garden. Her original debut was to take place at Invicta FC Brieta Carpenter at Invicta FC 21 on Jan. 14, but Carpenter withdrew from the bout due to injury.

“Bellator could’ve offered me a thumb wrestling match at the Garden and I would’ve taken it,” she said. “That’s the fight capital of the planet to all New Yorkers. Fighting at the Garden is probably one of my biggest dreams. To be able to fulfill that, I’m so excited.”

Hardy has trained primarily at Renzo Gracie’s Brooklyn Academy under the guidance of Daniel Gracie. One of her primary sparring partners since she began her MMA journey in earnest approximately one year ago has been three-time UFC bantamweight competitor Katlyn Chookagian. While Hardy is laying the foundation for a successful MMA career, she doesn’t plan on following in the footsteps of anyone in particular. However, she already has plenty of respect for anyone who elects to pursue the sport.

“After going through one full training camp I can say so I have so much respect for all MMA fighters. It’s not easy, not just physically. I’m like limping around half the time. Mentally, dedicating your time, a lot of people don’t know the sacrifices that goes into an MMA camp,” she said. “I tip my hat to every MMA fighter. But I say that to say this: I don’t really watch fights. So for me to say I look up to or admire one of these MMA fighters…I’ve already established who I am as a boxer, and I’d like to carry that into my MMA career as well.”

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