It was a slow start, with the more experienced fighter, Alice “The Soccer Mom” Yauger, controlling the first round and half of the second. In the third round, Heather “The Heat” Hardy found her rhythm and relied on what she knew best. She boxed her way to victory. And with just 13 seconds left to the end of the bout, the boxer became an MMA fighter.
Hardy overcame Yauger’s first round dominance and fought for victory through heavy 1-2 combinations, backing Yauger against the cage and forcing a referee stoppage. Overcome by emotion, Hardy dropped to her knees amidst cheers from a strong New York contingent of fans at the Madison Square Garden.
The visibly ecstatic victor faced the press after the fight. “I’m so happy right now I don’t even care that I have stitches in my face,” she said.
Hardy’s MMA debut in front of a hometown crowd was widely considered to be a success, which could serve as a model for possible crossovers between boxing and MMA.
Five-division world champion Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano recently announced via her social media accounts her plan to do MMA after her July 21st title defense in Puerto Rico. Serrano noted that she had been training in MMA quietly for a year and now appears ready to follow Hardy’s footsteps. Both women are from Brooklyn, New York and promoted by DiBella Entertainment.
I conquered the boxing ring & became the 1st Female & Puerto Rican 5 Division World Champion, now MMA Is NEXT! 😉👍https://t.co/bBsrGeil1g
— Amanda Serrano (@Serranosisters) June 25, 2017
Hardy’s road to victory was brutal. Yauger repeatedly attacked with the knee to the body in the first round, and caught Hardy with straight punches that gave the boxer a nosebleed. The second round saw Hardy neutralizing Yauger’s knee attacks and gaining more confidence in the cage. A head butt in the third round had blood streaming down Hardy’s face, prompting the referee to call for a timeout.
Meanwhile, Yauger broke her right thumb in the first round but continued fighting. At the end of the fight, she sustained a cut on her left cheek and her left hand was severely swollen. “Toe to toe vs boxing world champion after broke & dislocated right thumb in 1st round. Needs operation. How many other keep fighting?” she tweeted in response to my Twitter message.
“I just worked so hard, and now I can say I did it too,” Hardy said. “A lot of people said I couldn’t do it or I wouldn’t do it. And I did.”
Hardy also reaffirmed her commitment to boxing, noting that she is not walking away from the sport. But she professed, “I just fell in love (with MMA). I’m hooked.”
And does MMA love The Heat back? In all likelihood, yes. Post-media coverage of the Hardy-Yauger fight was extensive. Their bout was indeed more action-packed than the two other televised Bellator 180 fights. At one point during the Bellator 180 main event between Phil Davies and Ryan Bader, fans started chanting “Hardy, Hardy!” in recognition of her ability to deliver an exciting match.
Hardy’s victory appears to have inspired Bellator CEO Scott Coker to consider two-sport crossovers. He said he may work with DiBella if there are MMA fighters who would like to box, and work with the New York boxer promoter if there are boxers who would like to fight in MMA.
Follow Sheila Oviedo on Twitter @sheila_uncut