Army infantry veteran Joshua D. Hardwick will make his professional MMA debut Sat., May 14 in Bellator 154 in San Jose, California. The 160-pound striker is facing off against Staff Sgt. Jorge Acosta, a California Army National Guardsman.
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Acosta is 1-1 on the professional circuit. Hardwick is 5-2 on the amateur circuit (including three international fights in Thailand).
Hardwick served predominantly as a sniper in reconnaissance platoons. The future MMA fighter had relatively tame ambitions when he transitioned from the military.
"When I got out of the Army, I went back to Washington and started logging and working in a mill with the intent of going back to school," he told WATM. "Then when my girlfriend and I broke up, I decided to move to Denver and chase my dream. It's worked out really well for me."
Hardwick said that he's excited to face off against another veteran chasing his dreams in MMA. While Acosta has more experience on the professional stage, Hardwick said he was sure that he can still control the fight and come out on top.
"I'm very confident in what I'm able to do and in my ability to defend from what he's going to do and establish my game plan and my style in the fight," he said.
"I've been training for my pro debut since I first started," he said. "Every camp, every day that I've been training it's been for this opportunity. I lived in Thailand for 6 months, I train on the best team in the world with Elevation Fight Team, world-class fighters. I couldn't be more prepared for this fight than I am."
While Hardwick prefers to fight a striking battle, he's comfortable heading to the floor if the situation calls for it.
"I think I'm pretty decent everywhere," he said. "I like to strike but I have three first-round submission finishes."
Hardwick has been out of the military for a few years but stays close with his former brothers-in-arms. Their support is part of why he fights.
"So many of them are like family," he said. "But even ones that I've lost touch with, they reach out and tell me that they're inspired by what I'm doing and how hard I'm working."
Inspiring other vets to go after the life they really want is important to Hardwick.
We all fought so hard for freedom, and when we get done fighting for it, we need to fight for our own dreams. Stop doing what society says we need to do and do the things that we think will make us happy.
He hopes that his own story will remind vets that they don't have to come home to desk jobs if they don't want to.
"Like me, I got out of the Army and I worked some jobs that made good money and I was going to go to school because I thought that was what I was supposed to do but that stuff didn't really make me happy," Hardwick said. "And, when I got the opportunity to give that all up and make zero money and move back in with my mom and start chasing me dream, and now it's kind of all coming together.
"This is just the beginning and there's a long, long road ahead but I couldn't be any happier than I am today being a poor MMA fighter."