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Bellator contract allows Heather Hardy crossover in boxing, MMA

When boxer Heather Hardy made her professional MMA debut at Bellator 180, she needed to make an impression. There was no other way to construe a one-fight contract.

On Friday, she makes her second appearance for the Viacom-owned promotion, facing Kristina Williams (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) at Bellator 185. This time, though, it’s not such a do-or-die situation.

After a bloody beatdown of Alice Yauger in June, Hardy (1-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) signed a two-year contract with Bellator. The deal guarantees a minimum of four bouts. But more than that, it also allows her to make a living in boxing.

Rather than be held to one promoter and one sport, Hardy gets to choose.

“I’m pretty much flexible to do whatever makes sense,” she told MMAjunkie in advance of her Spike-televised fight at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. “If it’s a better deal with Bellator, then we do MMA. If boxing has a big opportunity for me, (I do boxing).

“The organizations want to see me do well, and they’re not interested in standing in the way of one another.”

Hardy still holds a contract with boxing promoter Lou DiBella. She estimates she spends 12 hours a day in the squared circle, coaching fighters at gym and training clients at the famed Gleason’s Gym in her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. But at the moment, she sees more opportunity in MMA.

“The way I see it is, the industry is not really willing to pay women moving forward,” she said. “If they can’t offer me a decent enough fight with a good opponent – I’m 20-0 and a two-time champion – I’m not interested in fights that don’t make sense.

“If they can’t pay these girls to come in and give the fans the fights they want to see, then it’s really not worth my time any more,” she said. “I’m really hopeful that, starting next year, promoters will be willing to bring in good competition and put on good women’s fights.”

Money motivated Hardy’s move away from boxing. But it was also expedited by MMA’s passage in her home state. After a nearly 20-year ban on MMA was removed and the sport was legalized, increased insurance requirements forced several New York-based boxing promoters, including DiBella, to cancel events.

Without a place to ply her trade, Hardy, the WBC’s international female featherweight champ, needed a way to provide for herself and her family.

Although she hasn’t quit her day job as a boxing coach and trainer, Hardy is breathing a bit easier now that she knows she’ll be fighting regularly.

“It does help me financially in the long run, knowing that I have certain paychecks coming my way,” she said. “The last month hasn’t been great, because I don’t get paid up front for them all. But it’s nice to know that over the next two years, I’ll be in a better spot financially. The more you work, the more you get paid.”

For her second bout, Hardy wants to put on the type of performance that keeps her phone ringing. She’s working hard to acclimate herself to range and speed of MMA. She grades her debut a C-plus based on a slow start and thinks she’ll be a greater threat with more experience in the gym.

“The first one was really an introduction, trying to cover all the bases just so that I knew what was going on in any particular situation,” she said. “It was like glossing over all the areas, because I kind of fast-forwarded and jumped feet-first into a fight at the Garden.

“I focused less on my boxing (for the second camp), and more on kickboxing and striking and jiu-jitsu, so I’m already acclimated and accustomed to fighting that fight.”

Hardy earned wide recognition from MMA fans for her aggressive comeback in the second and third round of her debut. But her personality also won notice from the MMA media, which caught her off guard after so many years of obscurity in boxing.

“It’s so nice to finally get recognition,” she said. “I worked so hard in boxing, and nobody really knew my name. After that one fight, I kind of skyrocketed overnight.”

She’s still got a long ways to go before she’s a household name. But now, there’s a foundation to build her name as a crossover star in combat sports.

“I’m still working two jobs and taking care of my daughter,” she said. “I don’t have that luxury where I can go away for a six-week fight camp and have a nanny take my daughter back to school. I’m not there yet. So it’s nice (to have the new deal), because it seems like I can be there one day.”

For more on Bellator 185, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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