Issac Hardman has one thing on his mind ahead of his return to AFC this weekend and that’s to take one step closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming a world champion.
Hardman, who fights in the lightweight division, has been slipping on the gloves since he was a child. His father, a boxer, introduced him to the art of striking in a make shift boxing gym created at the family home. It was within the confines of these four walls that Hardman learnt how to hit pads and put together combos but more importantly he learnt the value of hard work and sacrifice in the pursuit of a goal.
It was these lessons shared between father and son that Hardman would hold close to him in the wake of his father’s passing to cancer when he was just 14 years old. Despite it being a time of hardship in his life Hardman focused on the promise he made on that fateful day.
“When I lost Dad to cancer I remember telling him on his death bed that I would be a world champion one day,” Hardman told Fight News Australia.
Hardman has dedicated his life to doing just that. He even went so far as to quit his job as an apprentice and take up personal training to work around his own rigorous training schedule. He needed to ensure he could put all of his effort into pursuing his career as a world-class fighter. Not surprisingly, his father did the same.
“Dad quit his job and trained full time. He did it properly, not half-arsed. That’s what I had to do. I had an apprenticeship and I remember going to my boss and telling him this isn’t for me.”
It’s a decision that appears to have paid dividends thus far with Hardman stringing together back-to-back victories since making his professional debut in October last year. The fight, which only lasted 11 seconds of the first round, saw Hardman knock out Melbourne based fighter David Lescai and promptly put an end to his two-fight win streak.
“He (Lescai) was a big favourite and he had a huge crowd with him. No one cheered for me. 11 seconds in and I knocked him out. I remember jumping on top of the cage after he was dropped. It was a cool moment,” Hardman said.
The 21 year old is a balanced mix of confidence and humility putting his early success down to the opportunity to train at one of the best gyms in the country, Integrated MMA, for which he says he is “truly blessed.” Hardman trains alongside ONE Championship future lightweight contender Adrian Pang, UFC lightweight Damien Brown and UFC flyweight Ben Nguyen. He even got the nod from Muay Thai legend John Wayne Parr when they sparred together on the reality television show “The Crew.”
“It was unbelievable. I had to spar with the other guys on the show and then with John Wayne Parr which was awesome. It was just another day in the office for him – no mouthgaurd, no shin pads – he’s just the master. I got the nod from him too. John said he liked my style which is a massive compliment to me and very cool.”
Being surrounded by the right people with the right attitude and ambition has been a major boon for the young Queenslander. In particular living with Nguyen, who made his debut for the UFC last year, has provided Hardman with a clear path of travel from the local scene to the big leagues.
“Ben just turned 27 and has been in the UFC for a year, so he was 26 when he was picked up by the promotion. I want to do the same thing. I’ve got five years to put in the hard work and establish myself here in Australia. I’ve given myself two-to-three years and then I want to take a fight overseas. After that I’ll give myself another two years to make it onto the big stage.
“There are guys that are just happy to fight and stay on the local circuit. They like hitting it out and the martial arts aspect out of it which is all well and good, I enjoy that too, but I want to make a living out of it. That’s the plan. I’ve got a notebook where I’ve written out my five-to-six year plan. I want to be fighting for the UFC, ONE, World Series of Fighting or Bellator. People will know my name.”
While Hardman is always looking ahead and keeping his eyes on the ultimate prize he knows that it’s all for naught should he not get a win at AFC FC16 against Kaan Ofli this weekend.
Ofli is currently sitting at 2-0-1 after suffering a draw to Nikos Trepca in his last outing at AFC FC15 in March. Prior to that he finished Bayden Mandich via submission in the first round and took home a unanimous decision victory over Christian Burghartswieser from Germany.
It will be a classic case of striker versus grappler when the two young guns meet on Saturday in Melbourne. Ofli is a purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu while Hardman relies on his striking and ability to stuff takedowns to keep the fight standing. It will be a battle of wills and who imposes theirs first in order to take control of fight. Despite being the underdog yet again, in enemy territory, Hardman is confident he has what it takes to put another tick in the win column.
“He’s the first person I think of when I wake up and when I go to sleep. I’m sure Kaan has put in the hours with his conditioning and on the mat. He’s out there hitting pads but anyone can do that. Anyone can be fit and strong. The real hurdle is mentally being ready. That’s where my advantage is. I wouldn’t say I have no doubts, or that I don’t get scared, there’s always room for improvement but I feel as a 21 year old I’m well on my way to getting there.
“I feel like I’m too long and crisp with my hands. I’ve seen a couple of his fights and when he gets tagged he likes to come forward, bite down on his mouth piece, and wants to get that shot back. I see him walking right onto one of my shots and I’ll be taking home the knockout or the TKO. First, second or third. I’ve got the gas tank and the legs to do it in the third round. I’m going to be too clean, too long and too fight smart.”
Fans can catch all the action live from The Melbourne Pavilion on June 18th at 7pm.