Bellator MMA President Scott Coker and veteran boxing promoter Lou DiBella are adding a wrinkle to the boxing-MMA crossover triggered by the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight by arranging a special doubleheader between Heather Hardy and Ana Julaton starting at the Feb. 16 Bellator 194 event.
The first meeting will be fought under MMA rules. The second will be a pure boxing match at an unspecified later date.
Hardy is 20-0 as a boxer and 1-1 in MMA after suffering her first loss to Kristina Williams when the Oct. 20 Bellator fight was stopped because of Hardy’s broken nose.
Bellator 194, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., will he headlined by the second leg of the organization’s heavyweight tournament, a main event between former UFC contenders Roy Nelson and Matt Mitrione.
Julaton (14-4-1 in boxing, 2-3 in MMA) is a former super-bantamweight world champion and former protégé of Manny Pacquiao, training under Freddie Roach.
Julaton, from San Francisco, started competing in MMA for the ONE Championship organization.
“I’ve been asking for a fight against her because ever since she signed with Bellator she has been saying that she is the first women’s fighter to do both MMA and boxing, but I had actually already done that a few years back,” Julaton told The Times while watching Saturday’s Bellator 192 event at the Forum.
“I have a following in boxing and she has a following in boxing and we both fight under the same fighting promotion, so I figured it would be a great opportunity for a big fight between us, and something like this has never been done before.”
Holly Holm was a champion professional boxer before dethroning Ronda Rousey to become the first woman to hold titles in both professional boxing and MMA, but this will be the first time that both combatants will compete against each other in both sports.
Julaton has fought in MMA since 2014 and trains with former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who now fights for Bellator and is entered in the heavyweight tournament.
Contrasting UFC President Dana White’s disdain for co-promotion, Coker has an outside-the-box philosophy. He previously hosted a hybrid kickboxing/MMA event a few years ago featuring fighters from the Glory organization, with a boxing ring placed next to the MMA cage.
“This is a great opportunity — especially in the Scott Coker regime, he’s very familiar with combat sports and particularly with women,” Julaton said.
“Scott Coker is the originator of women’s MMA altogether [in Strikeforce]. He was telling my coach, Angelo Reyes, how he was the first to ask the California commission to license a woman to compete on one of his cards, but it was denied since no woman had ever competed in something like that at that time. So it’s cool to be fighting for the originator of women’s MMA.”
Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano, Miesha Tate and current UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg all gained prominence fighting under Coker for the now-defunct Strikeforce organization before it was purchased by the UFC.
Julaton has been adamant that Hardy has been ducking her and she relishes the opportunity for this doubleheader.
“They were both already two-sport fighters, so it a natural thing for both to meet in both disciplines,” said DiBella, who will stage several of the Showtime-televised cards at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center that were officially unveiled at a Wednesday announcement.