sports 4 months ago

Heat check: Hardy looks to prove herself all over again in Bellator debut

theScore

Warning: Story contains coarse language

When pro boxer Heather Hardy makes her MMA debut Saturday at Madison Square Garden, she'll be looking to win over a whole new segment of the combat sports world.

Just don't expect her teenage daughter Annie to jump on the bandwagon, no matter how well "The Heat" performs at Bellator 180.

"My daughter is 13, she don't give a rat's ass what I do," Hardy told theScore. "She's not impressed with me. As long as I give her money for lunch and she has her music and stuff, she's happy. ...

"She would only come to some of my fights - like I used to fight at B.B. King's in Manhattan and she would go because she liked the mac 'n' cheese. Kids don't like what their parents like. My dad was a Mets fan, I was a Yankees fan. That's just how it goes. She's not into fighting or combat sports, none of that stuff. My daughter likes music and the arts and theater and things like that."

Since Hardy decided to transition from boxing to MMA, life has moved at a furious pace for the 35-year-old Brooklyn native. Hardy was supposed to debut with Invicta FC - the top all-female MMA promotion in the world - in January, but when her opponent bowed out with an injury, Hardy instead returned to the ring for a pair of matches with Edina Kiss. She won them both to improve her boxing record to 20-0.

Rather than take a step back, Hardy signed with Bellator in May. She was scheduled for the preliminary card of Bellator 180, but has now been elevated to the televised portion of the show after an injury to Keri Melendez forced the cancellation of a featured flyweight bout.

Hardy has fought in New York for the past five years and never imagined MMA would be her ticket to competing at Madison Square Garden.

"Oh my gosh, no way! But it's super great, I'm so excited and I can't wait," said Hardy. "I'm in Madison Square Garden, every athlete dreams of that. That's originally 'The Fight Mecca of the World.' Now we have the Staples Center and Barclays Center and MGM Grand, but Madison Square Garden will always be the fight place."

Unlike at some of her previous fights, Hardy won't be scrambling to help the event sell tickets. Instead, her focus will be on preparing for an entirely new challenge, as well as settling pre-fight jitters she thought were a thing of the past.

"It's exciting to me to say that I'm starting over because I have to prove myself all over again," said Hardy. "Someone recently just said to me, 'Heather, you already have your name.' And I said, 'No, my name got me in the door, but my name's not gonna keep me there.'

"It's funny ... a week ago, I told them, 'Oh my God, I think I'm a little nervous and it's the first time I've been nervous since the Golden Gloves.' So it's super exciting, it's a big change, but I'm ready to show everybody what I'm capable of. I'm ready to go in there and get some wins."

Hardy's journey is extraordinary enough from a professional point of view, but her personal story is equally compelling. She told espnW about being raped by an older man in her neighborhood when she was 12.

As an adult, Hardy's earned a rapidly expanding platform from which to share her experiences, and plans to continue broadcasting a message of support and strength for her fellow survivors.

"I'm an advocate for women's rights, for equal rights. I've been always really vocal about my experiences and what it means to be raped because I want people to know that one of the biggest problems with it is that you feel so embarrassed and ashamed and alone and isolated. Like, 'This only happened to me because I'm bad.'

"I feel like as an athlete and as a role model, it's my responsibility to tell these girls and women and men that you're not alone, you're not by yourself, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. It happened to me too, but I used it as a fuel to succeed. And I think it's everyone's responsibility who is in the spotlight to say those kinds of things."

Hardy expects to return to boxing for promoter Lou DiBella in the near future, and one gets the sense that she's only started to make an impact in the ring, in the cage, and beyond.

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