By Thomas Gerbasi
Heather Hardy’s return to boxing after three mixed martial arts bouts isn’t like Michael Corleone getting dragged back into the family business in The Godfather III, but it’s close.
“I keep on telling people the best analogy I ever heard was going back to that girlfriend who cheats on you, steals your money, she’s abusive, but man, you love her so much you just gotta, right?”
She laughs, maybe knowing how crazy this fist fighting journey has been over the years, but as she prepares for her first bout between the ropes since May of last year, a Saturday matchup with Iranda Paola Torres, “The Heat” is probably in the best place she’s ever been when it comes to the world of combat sports.
Already 20-0 as a pro boxer, Hardy comes back to the sport after a notable year in the Bellator MMA promotion, where she made an immediate impact, going 2-1 in her first three pro bouts while getting embraced by fight fans who took to the Brooklyn native and her story. So much has happened since she defeated Edina Kiss last May that it’s hard to believe that it’s only been 11 months.
“It feels like it’s been a long time,” she admits. “The year I dedicated to training MMA really came out in my first two weeks of boxing training camp because it was like all of a sudden I forgot how to move my head, I forgot how to slip, I forgot how to use my feet. Anyone who crosses in both sports will tell you that boxing for boxing is not the same as boxing for MMA. So it was like going to play softball for a year and then coming back.”
But there have been no sparring mishaps, no takedown attempts or low kicks.
“Never,” she said. “Devon (Cormack), my coach, said in karate you might have six different senseis or shihans, and they all want you to do different stuff, and you have to be smart enough to know what to do in front of each one. So I never picked up a leg. However, I am getting kind of good at that clinch, so that’s becoming a little natural (Laughs), but luckily, that’s not too illegal in boxing.”
It’s not shocking that Hardy got back into her boxing rhythm like a kid riding a bike, but what was surprising is that after her MMA win over Ana Julaton in February, she is making a sudden return to boxing.
“This presented itself,” she said. “As much as I love boxing and I love fighting and I do it for the love of the sport, I also do it to support my family. My daughter is starting private school next year, so when they offered me a fight, I couldn’t say no. I’m not one to turn down a fight. And I want to be back in the rankings.”
Will she continue to jump between sports, though?
“Yeah, I can’t wait to go back (to MMA),” Hardy said. “We have this agreement between Bellator and (promoter Lou) DiBella that when I have a fight on the horizon, we won’t have too much back and forth distracting me with what’s coming next. I only know that we’re working on a return to the cage in either June or July, so it’s a matter of getting back into my MMA training right after this boxing camp is over.”
Excelling at one sport is hard enough; doing it in two takes things to another level. Doing it in both at the same time? Well, you get the picture. So while Hardy has taken her hard knocks in MMA, both in the cage and outside of it, “The Heat” is no quitter, and the Julaton fight proved that, as the aspects of the ground game that are always a task to learn for strikers making their move to MMA are starting to come together.
“When I got out of the ring, even though I got a lot of bad Twitter reports after, I jumped 30 feet in the air when I hit backstage because all that over-under stuff, and when to switch your hips and which way they go, being able to have remembered that and listen to my coaches and do what they were asking through all of that, that was no easy task.”
But this weekend, she’s home, literally and figuratively, as she fights in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and in the sport where she made her name in the first place. And she wants to remind boxing fans – and her peers – that she hasn’t gone anywhere.
“I never left,” Hardy said of the sweet science. “I went out and got a side job (Laughs), but I never left. I wanted to be a two-sport athlete and I knew it was important for me to get back to boxing now. I want to be in there for a title shot, I want (IBF featherweight champion) Jennifer Han, I want (WBA / WBC featherweight champion) Jelena Mrdjenovich and I can’t have that unless I’m active in boxing. So this fight is a necessity for me.”
World titles will add to Hardy’s fighting resume, but as she noted, this is her job, and she hasn’t shied away from saying that mixed martial arts has put more money in her pocket than boxing has. And while she sees the ladies of boxing starting to get more attention, Hardy does have that Brooklyn realism in her DNA, and as such, she isn’t sure if she will be around long enough to reap the rewards from that added attention.
“You see Claressa Shields headlining on Showtime, you see these Olympic girls, and what is more positive than seeing promotions like Top Rank and Golden Boy showcasing their new female stars?” said Hardy. “But the truth is, I’m 36 years old. I don’t have five years until the boxing world can come around and embrace all female fighters. Yes, the tides are turning, yes, I’m so proud of all these girls and I love that they’re making it, but my daughter’s tuition ain’t going to be put on hold for another five years, so I gotta keep doing everything I know how to do and hope if it comes around it comes around. If not, I need a backup plan.”
MMA is that backup plan, but for this week at least, she’s working the day job, and while there are clear differences between the sports, “The Heat” remains the same fighter she always was.
“MMA is like I’ve got five minutes to get my mama’s wallet back in the ocean and I really can’t swim, and boxing is I’ve got five rounds to get my mama’s wallet back in my living room.”