This coming Saturday, Bellator will make history.
New York City, the hard fought battle ground that effectively served as the final frontier for the sport of MMA in the United States, will finally roll out the welcome wagon in preparation for the company’s promotional debut. Bellator 180, or simply Bellator NYC, will be a monumental moment for everyone in the Scott Coker-led fight organization – and not least for Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy.
For those unfamiliar with or perhaps unable to place the name, Heather is kind of a big deal within the NYC fight community. Introducing herself to a potential new audience here at The MMA Vanguard, Heather explained who she was during an exclusive interview: “My name is Heather Hardy, I’m a 35 year old single mom from Brooklyn, New York. I’m currently the WBC Super Bantamweight and Featherweight champion, I’m 20-0 as a professional boxer, and I like to beat girls up.”
Succinct, to the point, and extremely intriguing as a mixed martial arts prospect, Hardy’s cross-over to MMA has actually been on the cards for some time. In January of this year, Heather was due to compete for Invicta FC against Brieta Carpenter, an experienced amateur MMA stand out, only for Carpenter to pull out with an injury. Fast forward five months, then, and Hardy is ready to go again, only now with more training time under her belt as well as a superior boxing record having twice outpointed Hungarian Edina Kiss during that time.
“I’ve been training the last year for an MMA fight,” Heather told The Vanguard, referencing that false start with Carpenter. “I’ve stuck with my kickboxing and some of my Jiu Jitsu [for this fight], so there wasn’t a huge change [in my regime], but there’s certainly been a lot of training in a lot of different stuff.”
So is the plan for Heather to continue both careers simultaneously? “Yes, going forward I’m going to be co-promoted in boxing and MMA, so I look forward to staying active in both sports,” Heather clarifies. DiBella Entertainment, one of the biggest players on the New York boxing scene, will be handling negotiations across both sports, though until now, Heather has never fought on the biggest stage in NYC combat sports. Not surprisingly, Heather has always dreamed of fighting at Madison Square Garden.
“Oh my gosh, it’s every New Yorker’s dream,” Heather beams. “They could offer me a sword fight in Madison Square Garden and I’d take it, this really is the opportunity of a lifetime for me. When they offered me a spot on it I was [thinking] I’ve dedicated so much of my life to make this fight happen, and not just make it happen but make it successful – everything from the media, to promotion, to selling tickets, to getting my fans out [and] taking all my boxing fans and getting them to cheer for me doing something else – I’ve put a lot of work into this and I’m super proud to be a part of the night.”
It’s pretty clear, then, that this is not just a distraction for the hugely successful (and immensely popular) Bronx-based pugilist – and there’s no doubt she will make for one of the biggest attractions on offer particularly for local audience members. We asked her what she’s expecting from the atmosphere at MSG this weekend: “Oh my God, it’s going to be electric – I mean you walk into Madison Square Garden and whether it’s Billy Joe playing the piano or you’re attending a college graduation, it’s almost like walking into the old Yankee stadium, you know? It’s powerful, it’s so New York – so I really can’t wait to see it when I walk out to ‘Girl on Fire’. When I hear my song, man, that’s going to be my moment, [something] I’ll never forget!”
That synonymy, that connection with her audience has been a huge part of Heather’s success, and will no doubt play a major role come Saturday night. But while Heather will of course be the face of Bellator in her home city, we asked if she is keeping her options open with regards to fighting elsewhere: “Yeah, I would love to,” she admits, “I mean no athlete is going to say that they don’t want to fight in front of their home town, but I’m really anxious to fight in other places so that I can build my base as well.” Does that include overseas? “I would love to, yes, my family is from Ireland, and my dream is to go to Ireland, I’d love to see that [and make it happen].”
Even with MMA royalty like Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen, and Fedor Emelianenko on the card, then, Bellator have succeeded in playing not only to NYC fight fans’ demands, but also those heading over from Ireland. With SBG stand out James Gallagher also on the card, Heather should find that there will be a significant following from the Emerald Isle – and they will most likely also be firmly in her corner for this tough bout against nine-fight veteran Alice Yauger.
That isn’t to say this will be an easy bout, however. 38 year old Yauger not only possesses far more experience inside the cage, but has, perhaps crucially, gone the distance no fewer than seven times. While Hardy should have no concerns about her own cardio given her outstanding boxing résumé and propensity for dominating round after round, the longer the fight goes, the longer Yauger has to impose that experience differential.
“I’m expecting Alice Yauger to bring it,” Heather told The MMA Vanguard of what she’s expecting in her MMA debut, “But it’s about time one of the Brooklyn girls stood up and showed everybody what we do.” When asked what came most natural to her in her MMA training, Heather kept it short and sweet: “I like punching girls, everybody knows that!”
Heather does admit, however, that there are key differences. While the concept of a complete fighting system is far from unfamiliar to Hardy, and while as she astutely points out “if I walked down the street and someone tried to steal my wallet I wouldn’t be lost,” the fact is those differences that have to be overcome. “In boxing I can step in and lean my shoulder against my opponent to bully her and move her around,” Heather states, illustrating the point. “I can’t do that in MMA because they’ll take me to the ground. I’m having to learn about distance and where I need to stand, and being aware of leg kicks and someone grabbing me. It’s an adjustment, but like I say I’m a fighting athlete anyway, I understand it, so it’s not so much like I’m starting from the ground up. I understand the foundations of martial arts. I think the coaches are always so surprised that I do things because I’m athletic, you know? I know so much about fighting.”
Showing no shortage of confidence then, and rightly so for a competitor of her stature, Heather also holds a great deal of respect for her opponent. When we asked her thoughts on facing a fighter about to have her tenth pro MMA bout, Heather stated: “Well you also have to consider who would be willing to fight an undefeated 20-0 two-division boxing champion, you know? I’m very thankful and grateful to go in there with someone who’ll step in with me, I give so much respect to my opponent for, I don’t care who she is – I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, I mean that in a polite way, you could put anyone in front of me and I’ll fight!”
That’s a sentiment reinforced in her refusal to call out a potential next opponent. “No, it would be very disrespectful of me to mention someone’s name and call anyone out because I haven’t established myself yet – after this fight you can talk to me about where I want to go!”
As for predictions, Heather keeps things clean: “I’ve never done that before in any of my boxing matches, but I will tell you this: I’m coming out a champion! I’m a champion, I’ll fight like a champion, and I’m coming out of that cage an undefeated champion!”
We at The MMA Vanguard cannot wait for fight night at Bellator NYC: Sonnen vs Silva this coming Saturday!