Heather Hardy once was married with a child. She was in love and the union provided her everything she could possibly have wanted.
It wasn’t enough though.
“Women are often shamed when they don’t feel fulfilled by just parenthood,” Hardy said. “I felt that. I felt like, when I was a wife and I was a mother, I loved being a mom, but I just needed more. The fact that I was married and had health insurance and a pension and got to go to Target every weekend and buy all this crap I didn’t need, I would never trade sleeping on my couch but living my dream for the comfort and security and safety for the life that everyone says you should have.”
Hardy is still a mother, and raises her soon-to-be high school-aged daughter by herself while holding down two jobs and also competing professionally in boxing and mixed martial arts.
She’s a fighter in the truest sense of the word, fighting back after being raped when she was 12 by a 29-year-old man who lived in her neighborhood to become an outspoken voice for women.
The fury she shows in the cage and in the ring has made her a star and an in-demand fighter. She’s 20-0 in boxing and 1-1 in MMA heading into her fight Friday at Bellator 194 against ex-boxing champion Ana Julaton at the Mohegan Sun in a bout that will be televised by the Paramount Network (formerly Spike).
The rape she endured isn’t why she began to fight. She grew up in Brooklyn and said she’s been knocked down frequently in her life and left to pick up the pieces.
But it no doubt helped make her a strong woman who chased what she wanted with a single-mindedness rarely seen and who took a leading role in a movement to help others who were once victims no longer feel it was somehow their fault.
“What is the point of the #MeToo movement?” Hardy said. “One of the worst parts of being raped, being sexually assaulted, or being violated, being abused, is that you feel so isolated and alone. You feel like, ‘This happened to me because I’m bad. I’m wrong. Something is wrong with me and that’s why this happened.’ That’s a very common feeling for women and men who go through that. The #MeToo movement doesn’t just stand to say, ‘Hey, this guy is bad. This is what he did to me.’ It’s to say, ‘I’m not bad,’ and ‘You’re not bad, either,’ if this happened to you.
“[#MeToo] encourages people to talk about it and be vocal about it. When you have all these women standing up and talking about these men in Hollywood who are just horrible humans, it not only frees them, but it prevents other men from thinking, ‘Now, who is ever going to know?’ because the old ‘It’s your fault, you’re bad,’ isn’t going to work any more.”
Hardy and Julaton will box later this year as part of the unique deal they agreed to in which they’d fight in both sports. So far, both have been better as boxers. Hardy is unbeaten and is a strong ticket-seller in New York on local boxing shows put on by promoter Lou DiBella, while she’s 1-1 in MMA and coming off a one-sided beatdown loss to Kristina Williams at Bellator 185.
Julaton is 2-3 in MMA, but is 14-4-3 as a boxer with two knockouts.
Despite her boxing success, Hardy said she’s learned more in MMA and it has made her an even more entertaining fighter to watch. In boxing, she’s content to win on points. In MMA, she’s always out for the finish.
Part of her issue in boxing is that she coaches amateurs and knows she has to take it easy on them. That then impacts her style in boxing, but she has no such issues going all-out in MMA.
“Sometimes, I box girls where I have to bite down and save my life,” Hardy said. “That’s against some of the world champions, but sometimes, I box girls in the amateurs who just want me to help them out. It’s a game of movement, a game of chess. I’d stick my glove out and say, ‘Touch my glove,’ because I know I can move and you can’t hit me. I think sometimes when you get conditioned to that kind of boxing, you lose that mean streak. It’s the same kind of want to win, like, ‘I do want to win. I do want to beat you. I do want to humiliate you,’ but with MMA, it’s different.
“With MMA, it’s like, ‘I want to break your arm, cut off your oxygen so you can’t breathe so the ref has to jump in to save your life.’ It’s a different thing, for me anyway.”