UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Heather Hardy stepped off the scale at the Bellator 194 weigh-ins on Thursday at Mohegan Sun after a brief moment of despair.
She returned to her coaches with the impression she had made the weight limit for Friday’s flyweight bout against Ana Julaton after the hardest weight cut of her career.
According to the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation, however, that wasn’t the case.
The commission penalized Hardy 20 percent of her purse and potential win bonus for Friday’s bout, which will go to Julaton, after Hardy was officially weighed in at 126.25 pounds by MTDAR president Mike Mazzulli, 0.25 pounds over the one-pound allowance.
Hardy believed she was told she was good to go for the fight.
“I got on the scale and I weighed in at 126.2 and the commissioner said to me, ‘you’re .2 [overweight],’” Hardy told Newsday on Thursday night. “I looked at him and he looked at the guy behind him with the clipboard and said, ‘would she be able to strip down?’ And I said, ‘well, for the two [tenths], fine.’ ”
Hardy said she was prepared to remove her bikini to shed the extra weight, but she said the commissioners chose to forego that process.
“She basically didn’t respond to me the way that I thought she should,” Mazzulli said Friday. “I explained to her I wasn’t going to allow her to lose weight. Then, I explained to her that I wasn’t going to take her bikini off or any clothing. I felt at that point, she made me very nervous. At the end of the day, fighter safety is No. 1 at Mohegan and I basically said to her, ‘you’re .25 over.’
In a recording of the weigh-in, however, Mazzulli spoke to another person about using a towel, saying “she’s not losing any more [weight].” He then said they could do the weigh-in in a closet to avoid cameras.
“In the past because of the cameras we’ve gone into a closet and used a towel, but after I said that I looked at her and she looked at me and her lips were completely cracked, her face was drawn,” Mazzulli said Friday. “It was just, just horrible and I said, ‘OK, I’m not even going to go that far.’ She got off that scale and drank before she could put her clothes on, and then I lost her. I guess she said to her manager, ‘Hey, I made weight,’ and I never said that, and that just tells me she was disoriented because I didn’t even come close to telling her that.”
After another brief discussion, Mazzulli then told Hardy it’ll take a few minutes but soon after, the weigh-in ends with Hardy walking off saying, “I made it.” Someone is then heard off-camera saying, “She’s good, I’ll deal with the opponent.”
“I said, ‘You’re good, I’ll speak to your opponent about the bout,’ or something, I don’t recall exactly, but it was relating to after I already told her I wasn’t going to let her [lose more weight],” Mazzulli said. “I said, ‘You’re good, I’ll speak to Bellator and I’ll talk to your opponent to amend the contract,’ because that’s what we do or the fight’s not going to happen.”
Bellator declined to provide a statement, saying it was the commission’s decision.
Said Hardy: “He looked at the guy with the clipboard, I wish I knew who he was, and he said, ‘we’re not doing all of that. One ounce, one ounce,’ pointing to my top and bottom and he said ‘126.’ So the guy said 126 and I was like, ‘Oh my God, we made the weight,’ which is great because I had a really [expletive] weight cut.”
If a fighter is ruled overweight, the MTDAR typically gives them two hours to complete their cut. Mazzulli was clear in the recording that he wouldn’t let Hardy lose any more weight.
Hardy said she remained for more than an hour in the Mohegan Sun Arena concourse, where weigh-ins were conducted, to handle a few media obligations, including an interview with Newsday. In that time, nobody from the commission approached her about trying to make weight again. She finally went to eat, but soon after received text messages asking for comment on the commission’s decision to issue a fine.
“It came as a super surprise,” Hardy said. “Had I been told on the scale, ‘you don’t look like you’re in any shape to wait for the towel to come, then I would have acknowledged it right there and at least let me plead my case, right? But he said, ‘you are fine.’ ”
Hardy said she has no hard feelings toward Mazzulli about the incident, saying he always has the fighter’s safety in mind and they’ve discussed what happened.
“Mike said, it was for fighter safety and we all want a good fight,” Hardy said. “He said, ‘I’d rather see you hydrate than wait around for a towel because we didn’t have a towel on hand.’ And I said to Mike, ‘all that is all well and good, high five, much respect — but you should have told me.’ I walked away screaming, ‘we made it, we made it,’ drinking my Pedialyte, hanging out for an hour not thinking there was any problem.”
Mazzulli apologized for any miscommunication between himself and Hardy.
“There may have been a miscommunication, I apologize to her on that, too, but at the end of the day, a contract was 125-plus-one, which is 126 and they were over,” Mazzulli said. “Like I said, she’s been very, very professional with me and I commend her on that and I deal with this every month and been doing it for 20 years. I do make mistakes and if I came across incorrectly, I apologize to her, but my rules are my rules and the rules are there for her own safety.”
Hardy, who began her fighting career in boxing, said it’s typical for boxers to be allowed an ounce or two of leeway in lieu of removing clothes during a weigh-in.
Mazzulli said that’s not something that would happen under his watch.
“That’s not a thing at Mohegan. I’ve never in my 20 years of doing this have ever even said that. That’s just crazy,” Mazzulli said. “What that would do is give the opponent a reason to dispute the weigh-in. And then you guys would rip me apart, right? Let’s be serious. Absolutely not, even in boxing or Muay Thai or kickboxing, anything I regulate, amateur or pros in all sports, I would never do that, because that opens me up to liability.”
Julaton’s coach Angelo Reyes said Hardy “has no excuses” for missing weight. He said Julaton learned of Hardy’s weight issues earlier in the week and was concerned about fighting someone struggling to make weight. Her trepidation came from an experience fighting in ONE Championship in December 2015 when another fighter on the same card, Yang Jian Bing, was rushed to a hospital during his weight cut and was pronounced dead the day of the event, Reyes said.
“Ana actually saw a guy die doing it the wrong way,” Reyes said. “It’s about safety, which is why she got nutritionists and people to help her do it correctly.”
Reyes said Julaton made a point to get down to the contractual weight of 125 pounds after already hitting the 126-pound allowed weight, spending extra time cutting weight Thursday morning.
According to Reyes, Mazzulli approached Julaton to see if she’d agree to keep the fight on the card. Over lunch, Julaton consulted with Reyes and another one of her coaches, former NBA player Ronny Turiaf. The trio decided the fight was too good to pass up.
“I think after the two of them talked and Ronny was just explaining, ‘look champ, it’s up to you, but in all honesty, you’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. You asked to do this fight even before you signed with Bellator,’ ” Reyes said.
Julaton eventually said yes. She will receive the full 20 percent of Hardy’s purse, but Reyes insists that wasn’t Julaton’s request and it played no part in her decision to take the fight.
“It’s not about the money for her, it’s about being the best,” Reyes said. “That’s the difference between the two fighters. Heather’s fighting for money, Ana’s trying to fight to be the best in the world.”
Mazzulli said Hardy rehydrated and passed her pre-fight physical.
Heather Hardy and Liam McGeary help an open workout at Modell's in New York City to promote their upcoming bouts at Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun on Feb. 16, 2018.