In the three years since her last Octagon appearance, Veronica Macedo has become Veronica Hardy, set up house in Nottingham with her husband, former UFC welterweight contender Dan Hardy, built a lot of Lego sets, and is basically settled and happy for the first time in a long time.
So why go back to fistfighting?
“Were you talking to my sister,” laughs Hardy, who has apparently gone through this line of questioning before. But on a more serious note, the 27-year-old, who faces Juliana Miller in the opener of UFC 286 in London on Saturday, has a pretty good reason for making her return.
“I never felt like anybody or myself got to see what I'm really capable of,” she said. “I feel like I owe it to myself. And I am now in the position where I have gathered information, I have organized it, I have Dan in my corner - who is the best analyst there is in MMA. And I just feel like I owe it to myself. I have worked so hard and so hard sometimes in the wrong direction, and I look back at my fights and I'm just like, ‘What are you doing? Why'd you make these mistakes?’ And I didn't understand so much, but like I said, I didn't know I didn't understand because I would go from this one gym that would teach me something to this other gym that would teach me something. And that's great, but that's also off-camp, where you're adding things to your game. And I never felt that I really approached a fight the way I should have. I feel like the closest I got was when I was in Canada it before I fought in Uruguay. I feel like that that was the closest thing to an actual training camp I've ever done.”
It was in Uruguay that Hardy earned her lone UFC win in August of 2019, picking up a Performance of the Night bonus for her 69-second submission of Viana, and it seemed like a new page was being turned by the Venezuela native, who showed flashes of world-class potential in a Fight of the Night loss to Andrea Lee and defeats to Ashlee Evans-Smith and Gillian Robertson. But then came an ill-fated move to 135 pounds, where she lost in Brasilia to Bea Malecki in the last UFC event before the pandemic in 2020, the pandemic itself, and the decision that for now, she needed a break from it all.
“I've always been a martial artist, so I don't think that that will ever get away from me,” she said. “I just feel like I was very exhausted. I was having a lot of concussion issues that I didn't realize that's what that was, mixed with a lot of chronic fatigue. So it's taking me this whole three years to get back to a state where I feel like I'm in shape to compete. And I was dealing with that in the last fight I had, which is why I had to go up a weight class. It's kind of the issue when you travel from place to place trying to learn new things and do things that you don't have this team behind you that knows where you're at or what your standard is and is able to make you take a step back when you really should. Because fighters and athletes, we all want to keep going past things that we really shouldn't. And if we don't have somebody there to say, ‘Take that day off’ or ‘Take a month off,’ for example, I just won't do it. And I feel like it took me to be driven absolutely to the ground to put myself in a healthy position and I'm glad I did.”
That sounds easier to fix than it actually is, and as a fighter always searching for the next fight, Hardy was guilty as charged.
“In the beginning it was very difficult,” she said. “I feel like I set back my recovery a little bit because it (fighting) was always in the back of my mind. I'm like, ‘Oh, but I can always take a short notice fight.’ And it took me a little bit to accept that, okay, look, it's not like you are doing great in your career. Seriously, there was something wrong, you need to fix it and take this time to mature and to fix it and to realize that there are things that need to be adjusted and it's not just about having the next flight and going and doing it again. It's about being the best you can be. And right now, you're not even a fraction of what you should be.”
The date says 1995 on her birth certificate, but Hardy has fit a lot of life into her 27 years, whether it was the traveling for training camps, the moving from country to country, or her first year as a pro when she fought a remarkable seven times. But she soldiered on, even when the first word she needed a translation for in a new country was “Advil.”
That should have been the first sign that a break was good thing, and it’s a lot for someone who hasn’t reached the big 3-0 yet. But once she found “The Outlaw,” everything changed, and you get the impression that the couple’s village in Nottingham will be a permanent home.
“This is the first time I have lived somewhere for longer than a year,” she admits. “I was in a really bad spot, to be honest. I was in a really bad spot, and I just didn't even know it, which was the worst part. Dan, in general, has just been such a blessing to me. But the fact that he is so obsessive about fighting and everything, it's helped me take the three years to recover my body and recover my mind, but also to learn so much and so much that I didn't know that I needed to learn.”
So I hate to get all “Bachelor” about it, but is Dan Hardy Veronica’s person?
“Oh, I absolutely found my person,” she laughs. “I absolutely did. I didn't think a love like this was ever possible. Honestly, I wake up and I see him next to me and then I just smile because no matter what life throws at me, I know I just have him. And yeah, it just makes you feel like you can just take on the world.”
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Sounds like trouble for Juliana Miller on Saturday. Hardy isn’t making any predictions, but she does want the world to know she’s back in business.
“I certainly think it's a different chapter just because of how I feel,” she said. “I have matured and see the sport differently. I feel like before, I was kind of a martial arts fan that happened to go in there and fight, which is awesome. But now I feel like I understand things a lot more and it just feels very different. Obviously, you can have a bad night and everything that you trained for and thought was going to happen can just blow up in your face. But I just don't feel like that's going to be the case.”