The bright lights overhead illuminated the ring and constant cheers erupted from the crowd as Utah County native Carson Hardman attacked his opponent in a flurry of kicks and punches.
Carson Hardman is a Lehi resident who has been participating in mixed martial arts, formerly referred to as cage fighting, for more than a decade. He believes his training has helped him significantly improve his mental health and lifestyle.
Hardman said he started training in MMA almost by accident. After recovering from a skateboarding injury, he began looking for a hobby that didn’t require another expensive piece of equipment. Kickboxing initially sparked his interest, but after learning that his friend’s gym no longer offered it, Hardman’s friend referred him to an MMA gym.
“That’s where I got to know what MMA was all about. It wasn’t as violent or aggressive as it was perceived to be after I learned about the different respects and mentality of it all,” Hardman explained. “As I continued to train, it just hooked me, and I especially noticed that my mental health was doing better.”
Mental health is a huge reason why the 24-year-old trains in MMA. He said he started struggling with depression at a young age but noticed that training immediately improved his mental health. This new activity gave him purpose and something to live for.
Growing up, Hardman worked every day to help run the family farm by fulfilling his duties in the early morning. His depression didn’t excuse him from pulling his own weight, but it made the work extremely challenging. He credits MMA for the physical and mental benefits that helped raise him out of the darkness that often surrounded him.
“Training created a new connection to my body, and I felt empowered,” Hardman said. “I didn’t feel as negative because it provided a different kind of confidence and drive. MMA was something to look forward to, even adding a new purpose to my life.”
The MMA competitor took a two-year break from fighting to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lubbock, Texas. Although he did what training he could while serving, Hardman was excited to continue his MMA journey when he returned home, finding a balance between God, family, fighting and friends.
Learning to balance everything is tricky for the athlete. His weeks are filled with church callings, family, work and twice-a-day trainings. In addition, Hardman and his wife have a 5 year-old son.
Hardman recognizes his wife, Jamie, and son, Bentley, as his biggest supporters, even deeming Jamie his personal nutritionist. They have been especially helpful during the past few weeks as Hardman recovers from an injury that caused him to pull out of his last fight in September at the Maverik Center.
Despite his injury, he works every day to become a better fighter and accomplish his dreams. Right now, Hardman is mainly focusing on recovery, but he has set high goals for himself for the future.
Hardman is currently the No. 2 welterweight fighter in Utah, according to Tapeology.com.
“I have one big goal: I want to be champion of my weight class for the UFC,” Hardman said. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is an accredited league for mixed martial arts fighting. “I believe that I can be there with these top-level athletes. They have more experience than me, but I believe with a few tweaks and tons of practice that I can be the best.”