Bellator 180: Heather Hardy does the reverse McGregor

A week after it was confirmed mixed martial artist Conor McGregor would become a boxer in order to make obscene amounts of money, this Saturday (June 24) at Madison Square Garden a professional boxer will go the other way, making her debut as a professional mixed martial artist.

Yes, her debut. Heather Hardy, the boxer in question, is a her. This is important to note because it goes some way to explaining why she’s doing the McGregor in reverse; why she is leaving boxing – if only temporarily – to pursue riches in MMA.

Make no mistake, she’s doing it for the exact same reasons. A bit of a challenge, a lot of money; granted, not ‘Money’ money, but money nonetheless. The difference here, though, is this: Heather Hardy’s move from boxing to MMA is emblematic of how women’s MMA, a far younger sport, has made strides women’s boxing has yet to match.

“Women’s boxing is going in the right direction because of girls like Claressa Shields, Marlen Esparza and Nicola Adams, but they’re still not making money,” Hardy told Fighters Only’s Gareth A. Davies. “Women are not making money. There’s still that attitude that you should be thankful for what you’ve got because other girls don’t have this.

“We’re settling for smaller pay-checks and not bigger opportunities. We’re not just females, we’re athletes. We’re just like the guys. There are great female boxers and there are terrible ones. There are ones that deserve a lot more than they’re getting.

“In boxing, the people signing the contracts are the same people who were signing the contracts when Laila Ali and Christy Martin were fighting. They’re making arguments that there’s not enough competition and nobody wants to watch it but they’re basing this on things that happened 25 years ago.”

In terms of the talent pool, women’s boxing is as strong as it has looked for a while. As well as the aforementioned trio of Olympians, there is also Ireland’s Katie Taylor, one of the finest ring technicians in the sport, regardless of gender. But none of these women will have it easy in the pro ranks. They’ll win fights, that’s a given, and more often than not they’ll impress, perhaps even convert some cynics, yet stiff competition will be hard to come by and life-changing paydays even tougher.

Brooklyn’s Hardy knows this because, unlike those previously mentioned, she’s not an idealistic woman in her twenties. She’s 35 now. She has a teenage daughter to support and an apartment in New York to maintain. Alas, with time no longer on her side, she’s less willing to play the long game – an option open to young guns – in the hope women’s boxing become a thing at some point in the near future. It might. It might not. But whether it does or doesn’t, Heather Hardy, tired of pipe dreams, can only deal in the here and now.

Certainly, of the two, women’s MMA is the safer bet at this stage. It has stars capable of elevating it beyond just a curiosity or an interlude before two men fight in a main event. It gave birth to one of the most recognisable female athletes in sport, ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey, it currently houses Joanna Jędrzejczyk, one of the pound-for-pound best fighters on the planet, and it rewards its best competitors with title belts that mean something and headline slots that bolster their bank balance.

The action, too, is far less jarring than what passes for women’s boxing nowadays. More exciting, more competitive, on fight night there’s not so much of a gulf in quality between the product being pushed by women and the product being pushed by men; for the most part, takedowns, arm-bars and chokes look the same, and it’s only sometimes in the striking area that any sort of disparity in quality becomes clear.

Of course, it’s this element of competition that leaves Hardy susceptible ahead of her pro MMA career. She could, because of it, get shown up. She could realise you need more than boxing skills and an undefeated boxing record to make it in MMA. Or, as we’ve seen in the case of Holly Holm, she could use a lot of what she has picked up in boxing, as well as her natural fighting composure, to make an impression and leave a legacy on another combat sport. We just don’t know yet.

Ultimately, Hardy, 20-0 (4 KOs) in boxing, isn’t thinking that far ahead. Her move to MMA is one motivated by a need to make bread and capitalise on a moment. She has taken a look around, assessed the situation, assessed her situation, and then, like Conor McGregor, decided to strike while the proverbial iron’s hot. It’s why, on Saturday night at MSG, Heather Hardy will make more money for a three-round MMA fight than she has ever made for a single night in the boxing ring.

“She’s starting to make a living but she’s a single mom and she has to pay for a New York apartment,” said Hardy’s boxing promoter Lou DiBella. “Frankly, it’s very hard for me to get her the compensation she deserves to allow her to live her lifestyle.

“She came to me and said, ‘Look I want to try MMA,’ and I thought, so long as there’s a mutual respect with Bellator, I can work out a schedule for her. When they reached out to me and we spoke it was with an understanding that my approval of her participation in Bellator is contingent upon mutual respect and a schedule that works for her.

“This is something she really wanted to do. She has a background in kickboxing and she’s been preparing and training for this for a while.”

Heather Hardy makes her MMA debut against Alice ‘Soccer Mom’ Yauger at Bellator 180 on Saturday (June 24) at Madison Square Garden, New York. Her next fight after that, according to DiBella, will be in a boxing ring.