Heather Hardy certainly made an impression in her MMA debut when she first appeared for Bellator last year. FO’s Tony Reid spoke to the decorated boxing champion to find out what life’s been like since transitioning from the ring to the cage.
Given your boxing background, you came into MMA heavily hyped. With a 1-1 record in Bellator, where do you think you stand in the title picture?
I’m trying really hard to avoid that question. I’m still getting my feet wet. I am still making my way up. To talk about that is disrespectful to any opponent I may have. I can’t overlook any fight.
Your Bellator debut was on one of the biggest stages of all – Madison Square Garden. What are your memories from that night?
I couldn’t have scripted a better night. I think, as far as my performance, I would have given myself a C+. It took a little too long to adjust to the distance and the timing. I wasn’t very sharp. I was a little shaky out there. I got hit too much. We have been back to the drawing board fixing those things and improving my game overall.
You won your first amateur boxing fight after only three weeks of training. What was it like to be so green when you first stepped in there?
I said I was going to do it so I did it. It was the same thing with the MMA fight. I was thinking to myself ‘What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you going this?’ And then I won. That’s why I did it.
I train with George, who is the head of the athletic commission, and he was standing next to me getting ready to walk me out to the cage. I looked at him and he said ‘What’s the matter, Heat?’ I know them really well from boxing. I said ‘George, I don t know what the hell I am doing!’ I mean, sometimes you have to leap before you look, right?
Being such an accomplished boxer, what made you want to make the transition to MMA?
To be honest, during my whole boxing career people asked me if I was going to fight Ronda Rousey. I said no. That’s not my sport, people. No more than I am going to strike out Derek Jeter. Around my 15th or 16th fight I was passed up for a TV slot for less qualified men who were getting TV slots and getting paid so much more than me.
I initially decided to do this for the money. I needed another job. Boxing was not paying my bills. I was working three jobs in boxing. Coincidentally, after the Bellator debut I meant it when I said I fell in love. Now I never want to not do this!
You mentioned Derek Jeter, the recently retired captain of the New York Yankees. I heard that you wanted to be the first female pitcher for the team. Is that true?
When I was 14 my mother took me for my first tattoo and it was a Yankees tattoo on my back. When I was 10, I used to have a little black and white TV in my room. I would be up there cursing out Don Mattingly or the announcers or umpires. I would watch every one of the 162 games each year.
In 2010 you went through a rough patch. You went through a tumultuous divorce. You were working numerous jobs to support your young family. What got you through that difficult time?
Without a doubt, boxing saved my life. I have said that 100 times. I was at a point where I was working so many jobs that there weren’t enough hours in the day to make enough money to feed my kids. It wasn’t just me and my daughter. I was living with my sister and her son. It was the two of us, not getting child support trying to raise a household and it was really discouraging.
Once I saw what I was doing in boxing, beating up all these girls and winning all these titles, the thought of turning pro made me feel like I could really do this and make something of myself. I reinvented myself through boxing.
Did going through those struggles and coming out the other side lend itself to aiding in self-confidence once you stepped into the ring or cage?
Sure. For every one of my fights, I look at it like this – If I can be homeless and poor and have all the shitty things that happened to me in my life happen and still make it out then there is no female at 125 pounds that can stop me. None. She just doesn’t exist.
Being a boxer, you picked a great team to work with to improve your ground game. How valuable has Renzo Gracie and the team been in helping you transition to MMA?
I am training predominantly under Daniel Gracie. He has a fight team out of Williamsburg, New York. His head striking coach, I call him coach nick, these two guys are always in awe of how much tougher I am than the boys on the team.
We really hit it off right way. They realized how serious I was and how much I don’t want to lose. It’s a rare thing that you find a team that wants you to win as much as you want to win. I had that in boxing and now I’ve found it in MMA.
Former Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith said: “You become a Heather Hardy fan the more you are around her.” You said you found teams in both sports that care about you, but maybe it’s more of a reflection of you and what you bring to the table?
That’s the nicest thing anybody has said to me all day. I am a boxing coach also. I am an amateur coach here at Gleason’s and I am a head coach at a different gym. I tell all my students if you want to fight you can’t let me want you to win more that you want to win. There is nothing I respect more as a coach when a fighter wants to win as bad as I want them to win.
When I walk in to the gym I tell my coaches that I will do whatever it takes to get the ‘W’. They see me working out in plastics. They see me working around PTA meetings and missing school plays. There is a certain level of respect earned. They see you working with bruised ribs or see you continue a round after a bloody nose or slit eye. That is the kind of stuff that makes a coach want to give you that little bit extra.