Ready to rumble: Brooklyn boxer anxious for mixed martial arts debut

Ready to rumble: Brooklyn boxer anxious for mixed martial arts debut
File photo by William Thomas

She’s not leaving boxing — she’s just getting a second job.

Gerritsen Beach native Heather Hardy built a career in the ring, but now she’s ready to try her hand, and her fists, in the octagon. Hardy is set to make her mixed martial arts debut on June 24, taking on Alice Yauger at Madison Square Garden on the Bellator 180 card.

It’s not a career change, she insists, simply a brand new challenge.

“It’s definitely not a switch,” Hardy said. “I’m going to stay in boxing and I’m going to stay co-promoted in both sports. I’m really not switching because I love boxing too much to ever leave it. But it kind of got where boxing isn’t paying me and it was two steps forward to take one step back, it seemed like, every fight.”

Hardy was originally slated to make her octagon debut for Invicta FC in January, but her opponent withdrew late, due to injury. Hardy said the sudden cancellation was frustrating, particularly after she’d trained for months for that fight, but conceded that this time around, she’s even better prepared.

“It’s more training, so it’s more physically hard,” she said. “I’ve been eating better, not drinking as much — there’s no two glasses of wine every night with dinner. That just wouldn’t fly and I needed to be prepared to do all this physical stuff.”

Hardy has her sights set on another win at the Garden — Yauger (4-5) lost her last fight to Jessica Middleton in a unanimous decision in January — and she sees mixed martial arts as another opportunity to compete and, more importantly, get make a consistent paycheck.

“I’m 35 and I still have a lot of fight left in me, but I want to make sure it’s going to the right place,” Hardy said. “So I’m staying in boxing and keep on keeping on, but at the same time, if I have to get another job, it might as well be this.”

Hardy’s fight was previously set to air on the online prelims, but was switched to the Spike TV broadcast when popular fighter Keri Melendez pulled out of her bout. It’s a national television moment Hardy cannot wait to seize, and use as a chance to prove that female fighters are nothing to scoff at.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity and I’m so thankful that Bellator has chosen my fight to be on TV,” Hardy said. “I say this a lot. The fight in boxing wasn’t so much that I wanted to be on TV, because I wanted everyone to see Heather Hardy. [It was that] I wanted to women to have the opportunity to fight because we weren’t allowed. So to say I finally got what I wanted doesn’t do justice to what I was trying to do over the last four years.”

Hardy doesn’t believe she’s opening doors, rather, she’s punching through them. This isn’t about her, she says; this is about shining a light, national or otherwise, on a whole other side of the sport that sometimes doesn’t get a second glance.

“I don’t know that I’m opening doors so much as I’m making noise,” Hardy said. “I think any time anyone is in a position to speak when you get the microphone and the opportunity you have to. You have to say what people are thinking and not saying.”

Hardy isn’t taking anything for granted. She knows there’s a challenge ahead of her in the octagon, but she’s not shying away from anything. After all, she’s never backed down from a fight before.

“It’s just really about trying to stay sharp,” Hardy said. “I’ve done this 20 times before and I know the business end…I won’t really hit those fight nerves until I’m doing my cage walk.”