Ready to devote herself solely to mixed martial arts for the time being, Heather Hardy appeared at a news conference last month and committed to fighting at Bellator 222 before the promotion could even line up her opponent.
Now, nearly a month later, the boxer-turned-fighter knows exactly who will be across from her on June 14 at Madison Square Garden.
Brooklyn’s Hardy will face Taylor Turner of Tennessee in a flyweight bout on Bellator 222’s main card, the promotion announced Tuesday. Hardy’s return to the cage will be broadcast on DAZN.
Hardy, 37, said Turner was the first potential opponent presented to her management team, and they didn’t take long to make their decision.
“Usually they’ll give me two or three names at once and I’ll give them to the team and they’ll weigh out the options,” Hardy said. “Like Bellator will testify to, I’m not really picky about who gets put in front of me, they gave us the name and we said, ‘Let’s do it, if she wants to fight let’s go,’ so I trust my team is training me right to beat this girl.”
The 36-year-old Turner is just 3-5 in her professional career, but already has two first-round victories this year. She last competed on April 5, when she won in just 49 seconds against Anastasia Bruce, who was making her professional debut.
Taylor trains at Knoxville Martial Arts Academy, home gym of UFC light heavyweight Ovince Saint Preux, and is married to the gym’s owner, Eric Turner.
“I don’t overlook any of these girls. It doesn’t matter what their records are, how many wins or losses,” Hardy said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve got more experience than me, it’s a battle of will, of heart, of guts. I’m going out there and I’m going out there to beat somebody up.”
Hardy, who became a boxing world champion last year when she took home the WBO featherweight title, is 2-1 in mixed martial arts since making her Bellator debut at MSG in June 2017. Hardy hasn’t competed for Bellator since last February as she focused on her quest for a boxing world title, but she shifted back to the cage in recent months and not long ago began training at LAW MMA in Garden City to keep her preparation diverse while she awaited an opponent.
“My team is really well-rounded,” said Hardy. “They have an even balance of pro boxers, pro kickboxers, pro MMA fighters and every time I go out there and train, I’m getting the circuit.”
Hardy said she’s fortunate to be working with LAW co-owner Ray Longo and taking classes with UFC bantamweight Aljamain Sterling, among others, ahead of her return.
“I’ve been blessed for all of my fights to have such a great team, I worked at the Renzo Gracie’s in Brooklyn and then the Renzo’s in Manhattan, but with my work schedule and time with my daughter, it’s hard for me to commit to one certain location or coach for a prolonged period of time,” Hardy said. “It’s hard for me to kind of find someone to take my MMA career seriously, you know? I took a whole year off to go into boxing, but Ray was happy to take me in and he has the time for me, so I’m just fortunate.”
While a world championship was her focus in the boxing ring — and despite the championship-caliber gym now behind her — Hardy is taking her MMA career one fight at a time.
“They’re going to put me in with someone with like experience, we’ve said from the beginning. I’m not going for a title on this one, we want to make it a fair, fun fight."