There’s no set road to a career in combat sports, but Britain Hart’s journey is definitely more unique than most.
The 30-year-old boxer turned bare-knuckle brawler didn’t make her professional debut until 2017, and that came after she had only been training a matter of months rather than years. Of course, Hart had been a fighter for much longer than that, though in the beginning, it wasn’t always her choice.
Until she was 11 years old, Hart grew up either on or around military bases, a self-described Air Force brat. After living in Turkey, her family relocated to Germany, where she attended school before eventually moving to Virginia, where she was around American kids for the first time in her life.
Needless to say, the transition wasn’t easy.
“When I come to the United States and going to a country town, I was bullied for being the German girl and being able to speak another language,” Hart said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I liked to wear nice clothes, and all the girls wore camo and those JNCO jeans with the bandana and the fake tattoos, and I got really bullied.
“It really didn’t stop until I went to high school. I was able to start over new and I kind of ditched the whole ‘being like everybody else’ and became my own person there. I had great high school years, but elementary and middle school years were a little rough.”
Hart was a natural athlete in school, playing multiple sports. But being picked on by other kids for so long made her quick tempered, especially when she realized she was bigger and tougher than many of her schoolmates. Rather than just lashing out, though, she became an advocate for those who weren’t able to stand up for themselves.
That still got her into just as much trouble.
“I had several police escorts from playing [on] sport fields,” Hart said. “A lot of it was protecting people when they were getting bullied. I would step up and be like, ‘It’s time to leave that kid alone,’ and they would say, ‘Mind your own business,’ and then it’s on.
“One girl tried to punch one of my friends, and I ended up slamming her into a drain and grounding and pounding her until the refs pulled me off. That was a pretty memorable moment for me in high school. I never started it. I never went looking for a fight, but if I saw someone picking on my friends or someone who didn’t deserve it, I was definitely one to step in.”
Hart eventually made her way to college. But the following years also resulted in a marriage that turned volatile in a hurry.
“I had just finished my Master’s degree, and I had some other things going on in my life,” Hart explained. “I found myself in some legal problems, I was in an abusive marriage and just had other things going on, and it kind of wrapped up into one huge snowball and I really felt like my life was over.”
Rather than giving up, Hart decided to vent her frustrations by going to a local boxing gym, where therapy was punching things for hours at a time. Her natural athletic ability and fiery spirit allowed her to pick up the sport quickly, and as money problems started to mount, she looked at boxing as more than just an outlet for her aggression.
“It started out as a way to shut out reality,” Hart said. “I went to the boxing gym and it was a place that really saved me. I felt like I was able to fight back for a life that I wanted. I had real money problems, and this was a way for me to make money, so I went pro.”
After boxing professionally for several fights, Hart found a new opportunity with the debut of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships. The fledgling promotion was looking to book fights in both the men’s and women’s divisions, and Hart jumped at the opportunity to test herself in a new sport.
Three fights later, Hart has put on memorable battles every time she’s set foot in the BKFC ring, and now she’s looking to add a different kind of accolade to her record when she welcomes Paige VanZant to the organization in the main event of the KnuckleMania pay-per-view on Friday in Lakewood, Fla.
VanZant was a high-profile addition to the BKFC roster, and the chance to face a former UFC star in her first bare-knuckle fight had a lot of potential opponents clamoring for that position. Rather than wait for the offer to come across her table, Hart took it upon herself to convince the BKFC executives she was the only real choice.
“Everyone had already warned me, ‘You’re not going to fight her first, it would be cool if you did, but you’re not.’” Hart said. “You’re basically going to be two sharks — Paige is going to be a shark, and you’re a shark and you’re going to eat a bunch of goldfish that way you make a mega-fight and it will be a lot of money.
“I said OK, but then when I had my fight on Nov. 13 and she was ringside, I don’t know what it was, it was the weirdest thing, but I was just possessed and I went up to her and said, ‘You’re f**king next.’ Because of that little stunt, everyone was like, ‘Wow, Britain you’re a freaking genius, you might have just landed yourself that fight.’”
It took some time to finalize the contracts, but eventually Hart got the fight she wanted, and now she’ll be the first person to test VanZant as she moves from MMA to bare-knuckle boxing.
When it comes to her expectations for the fight, Hart can’t predict how easily VanZant will adapt to her new sport, though she knows from personal experience that it can be a nerve-racking experience.
“For me, people ask me about my first bare-knuckle fight, and I remember my first fight with Bec Rawlings when I got hit and I was like, ‘Oh it’s not that bad,’” Hart said. “It wasn’t that bad to me. It was kind of a like a relief, because you don’t know what to expect getting hit with a bare fist for the first time.
“But I’ve been there. The bigger dog is in me. I’ve had to fight for my life outside the ring, so being in the ring is almost a blessing.”
In some ways, Hart feels like she had to get the fight with VanZant right now, because she’s not exactly convinced the 26-year-old bare-knuckle novice will stick around after Friday night.
“I do expect her coming in with a mindset of a lot confidence, being tough and that she can do it,” Hart said. “Then I also see her changing her mind really quickly like, ‘Oh sh*t, why did I do this?’ Which I think a lot of people had those moments in their life. Like oh man, what was I thinking?
“I think this is going to be her moment of what was she thinking? I do expect her to come in, I don’t think she’s scared or nervous right now, but once she gets in there, I could see her being that.”
Hart has personally engaged in several bloody battles since joining the BKFC roster and she fully expects VanZant to join that list come Friday night. A win at any costs is all that really matters, but she knows the best way to cap off this main event showcase is to send VanZant packing before the final bell.
“Honestly my goal is to break her down and basically make her quit the fight,” Hart said. “That would be my main goal. I definitely want to end it. I’ll feel it that night and I really feel like I’m prepared for it so no excuses.”
Considering everything she’s been through already, just headlining a pay-per-view card like this feels like a victory for Hart. But she won’t be satisfied unless her hand is raised in the final fight at KnuckleMania.
“I remember my first manager and coach made me take a fight in Delaware on a Roy Jones Jr. card, and he told me I would never fight on a bigger, better stage in my life and I had to take it,” Hart said. “It was at 135 [pounds] and I was walking around at 122. I’ll never forget he told me I had to take it because that’s as big as it would get.
“Now to be here three years later on pay-per-view against Paige VanZant, it’s remarkable. It’s an out of body experience looking down on it where I started and where I’m at now.”