Heather Hardy is a New Yorker through and through, so it’s easy to understand why even a short trip up north could mess up her fight routine.
The undefeated boxer-turned-cagefighter competes for the second time under MMA rules when she meets Kristina Williams in a flyweight bout at Bellator 185 on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. It will be the first time Hardy is not competing in the state of New York, and a considerable departure from her Madison Square Garden debut this past June that saw her defeat Alice Yauger by third-round TKO.
Though it’s only a few hours away from Brooklyn, Hardy told MMA Fighting that fighting outside of her usual stomping grounds will present some complications.
“It’s not even the vibe that I’m worried about,” said Hardy. “I’m so used to and accustomed to fighting here (in New York), like I keep telling people I’m traveling and someone said to me today, ‘You’re not f**king traveling. You’re driving upstate, shut up.’ But it’s really traveling because I can’t eat at my favorite restaurant after the weigh-in, I can’t sleep in my bed, or I can’t use my steam room to lose my last two pounds.
“I just have that jumpy feeling. The cage can be anywhere, you can drop a cage and a girl in front of me and I’ll fight anywhere. It’s just the lead-up to the fight that’s going to be different for me, different routines. I’ve done this 21 times.”
Indeed, Hardy has plenty of experience when it comes to taking care of business come fight night, having gone 20-0 as a boxer since turning pro in 2012. Her move to MMA has mostly been necessitated by money and opportunity as she has lamented on several occasions the wage gap between male and female pugilists.
Most recently, she passed on a spot at an Oct. 14 Showtime boxing event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn headlined by Erislandy Lara and Terrell Gausha in favor of a second Bellator booking, recognizing that her new career path is already offering greater exposure (as with her first fight, Hardy’s bout with Williams will be broadcast live on Spike TV).
The fact that Bellator will introduce a 125-pound title next month should be even more incentive for Hardy, but she’s been in the fight game long enough that it takes more than a glitzy gewgaw to get her attention.
“I don’t need a belt for motivation,” said Hardy. “One thing I learned in women’s boxing is that belts really don’t mean anything. I fought, for my first belt, a boxer that really didn’t have the best record; and for my second belt, I fought a girl who was undefeated at, like, 19-0 and I beat her for it. And I didn’t get any more or less money, any more or less recognition, it is fighting and winning, right? So I wouldn’t say that it’s more incentive for me to stay in and fight. I want to beat up all the girls and I really don’t care what they give me for it.”
Hardy carries that pragmatic attitude into her upcoming bout with Williams, an opponent who is unbeaten in three amateur bouts. The 35-year-old refuses to look past her, even as fellow boxer Ana Julaton has made it known that she would like to challenge Hardy at some point in the future. Julaton (2-2) makes her Bellator debut this Friday.
Asked about the prospective bout, Hardy isn’t giving it too much consideration yet.
“After I signed this fight with Kristina, (Ana) did a lot of talking about doing a fight with me, but I will not entertain a fight with anyone until I get through this one. That’s so disrespectful to my opponent to even talk about her, right?” Hardy said. “How am I going to talk about doing a fight with someone else when I have something coming up in a couple of days. After Oct. 21, they want to set me up with Ana, whether it’s in the ring or in the cage, I really don’t care.”
One fight at a time. That’s how Hardy made it this far and that’s how she plans to carve her way through the MMA ranks. And while she’s not going to start calling her shots, she does have ambitions that extend beyond the cage. Ambitions with a distinctly New York flavor.
When she marched out at Bellator 180, “The Heat” was accompanied by the music of Manhattan’s own Alicia Keys, specifically the song Girl on Fire. It’s the song Hardy has walked out to for every single one of her fights and she envisions it one day becoming as synonymous with her name as Darude’s Sandstorm is to Wanderlei Silva in the minds of MMA fans.
And that Keys herself catches wind of the homage.
“It got to the point in boxing where people hear the song and there’s no boxing person, no boxing fan that doesn’t hear that song and think of me,” said Hardy. “I’m hoping to have enough MMA fights that the same thing happens because my dream has been for Alicia Keys to walk me out singing Girl on Fire.
“From the beginning of my boxing career that I would have a big enough fight one day where Alicia Keys would walk me out and sing that song for me. Hopefully, my MMA career gets big enough and everybody associates Girl on Fire with ‘The Heat’ and maybe word can get to her, right? We have the same birthday!”
Hardy’s other Bronx fantasy? Getting to take part in the ceremonial pitch at a Yankees game. As much success as Hardy has had in boxing, it never brought her the kind of recognition that could garner her a VIP invitation to Yankees Stadium, home of the team that she has been a diehard fan of her entire life.
Now that Bellator has begun to plant its roots firmly in Hardy’s beloved city, she’s angling to channel her inner Mariano Rivera someday.
“I’ve always wanted to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium,” said Hardy. “When I was 8 years old I used to dream of running out of the bullpen and closing out a World Series game, so if I can be on that mound, my life would be made.”