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‘Boring win’ in last fight has Heather Hardy focused on entertaining fans from now on

Heather Hardy (pictured) fights Taylor Turner in a flyweight bout at Bellator 222 at Madison Square Garden on Friday
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

This may come as a surprise to some, but Heather Hardy is actually coming off of a win in her return to MMA action at Bellator 222.

That’s not just referring to the WBO featherweight championship boxing bout she won in October. Hardy’s most recent cagefighting outing, a February 2018 bout opposite fellow boxing transplant Ana Julaton that surprisingly turned into three rounds of grappling, ended with Hardy taking a unanimous decision to improve to 2-1 as an MMA fighter.

Much of the discussion afterwards revolved around how awkward the two pugilists looked competing outside of their comfort zones and while Hardy isn’t touting the fight as a classic, she’s still able to take some positives from the experience. She’s also vowing that it’s the last time fight fans will see her in that kind of slog again.

“This is the best way I can explain it. That was a tremendous amount of personal growth for me,” Hardy recently told MMA Fighting. “That was a personal landmark. When I went back with my team after the fight, it turns out that it was no surprise Ana would try to get me to the ground and use her grappling and wrestling because I knew nothing and I didn’t make a secret out of knowing nothing. I worked with a wrestling coach, an exceptional Renzo Gracie black belt teacher, and in six weeks was able to get my level of nothing above someone’s level of something. So at the end of that fight when she wasn’t able to submit me and she wasn’t able to get me down and I was still able to outscore her, it was such a great personal moment.

“However, it brought me back to knowing that I’m an entertainer and I have a duty to fight fans, and none of my fans wanted to see that. It kind of made me shift mentally that this isn’t for my process, this isn’t for my satisfaction, it’s not even for me winning. It’s more like, I need to put on a show.”

Unbeaten in 23 pro boxing bouts, it’s understandable that the 37-year-old Hardy would face extra scrutiny crossing over from another sport, especially given that her last two fights were featured on Bellator main cards. Her first fight, a preliminary outing, went well enough as she out-worked Alice Yauger at Bellator 180 before finishing with strikes late in the third round.

Heather Hardy has her hands raised after her MMA debut at Bellator 180 at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2017
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Her second outing, however, confirmed some of the critical chatter, that maybe Hardy was being pushed too hard and too soon. Facing the relatively unknown Kristina Williams, Hardy was left bloody and her nose was busted up so badly that the cageside physician refused to let her come out for the third round.

Oddly, Hardy feels like the reaction to her effort in that loss was better than what she received for out-grappling Julaton.

“The internet just ripped me apart. It’s a win that felt like a loss,” Hardy said of the Julaton encounter. “I got more support for the fight that broke my nose and shattered my face than I did from the boring win. People would rather see an ugly loss than a clean win in MMA and I can respect that.

“Like, as much as you say, don’t listen to the haters, these are the guys who are telling Bellator whether they want me or not. I’m fortunate that they got over it but I’ve got to restore faith in my fans.”

Hardy will have plenty of opportunities to win back the audience if she sticks around in MMA, a decision that is becoming more and more of a possibility as she grows tired of the baggage of boxing. While her WBO title win was a personal highlight for her, Hardy’s boxing career is facing uncertainty given that she does not currently have representation and she knows that’s a bad place to be in her old sport.

Fickle though MMA fans may be, it sounds like Hardy is more eager to work for them than deal with the boxing’s infamous politics. A recent lightweight unification bout between Irish star Katie Taylor and Belgian veteran Delfine Persoon (which took place on the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruis Jr. undercard) reminded Hardy how ugly the business can be, as she was shocked by Persoon losing a decision and her title to Taylor.

“One of the things I love about MMA is—and I may be speaking out of turn here from someone who doesn’t know as well—but I feel like when you watch a boxing match, nine out of 10 times you already know who’s going to win,” Hardy said. “When you watch an MMA fight you don’t always know, you’re excited to see who comes out with what, who’s going to do something different. Boxing matches are often overmatched and in favor of whoever the promoter’s fighter is. It’s a fact.

“Don’t get me wrong with what I said in my tweet. Katie Taylor is perhaps one of the best boxers there is. She did an incredible job on Saturday, I’m in no way, shape, or form taking away from her, but they both went in that ring as champions and when you’re a champion defending your belt, the other girl has to physically take your belt. Like, who won on points, you could see it either way. Neither one of those girls should have lost their belts. There is no way that Katie won that other girl’s belt.”

Hardy is constantly feeling the pull from both the boxing and MMA worlds to focus on one realm. She’s appreciative of her relationship with Bellator and though she’s interested in committing to the promotion long term, she also likes having the flexibility to box and potentially defend her recently won world title in the near future.

Her immediate goal is to get past Taylor Turner on Friday when the two meet on the preliminary portion of Bellator 222 at Madison Square Garden. Though Taylor has a losing record at 3-5, she’s coming off of back-to-back submission victories, a fact that Hardy is distinctly aware of.

“One thing, there was some buzz on Twitter about how everyone is sleeping on her. I can assure you, I sleep on no one,” Hardy said. “Not in MMA. This is not my sphere, I’m really going in there thinking, ‘I’m tough, I’m strong, I’m mean, I’m gonna beat you.’ I’m not going in there saying I know more stuff than you. Make no mistake, this girl has a lot of MMA fights, a hell of a lot more experience than me, and I’m not taking this one lightly.”

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