Women's Boxing Star in the Making Heather Hardy Tries to Fight Her Way to the Top Through Ancient Stereotypes
By Warren Shaw - yahoo.com
COMMENTARY| The phrase "it's a man's world" has slowly started to lose its colossal weight and meaning in most of society. But in sports men still cast the darkest of shadows on their female counterparts. Boxing is one such sport, but ladies like Brooklyn's Heather 'The Heat' Hardy (6-0, 1 KO) compete at a high level in hopes of gaining the favor and respect of fans worldwide.
Heather Hardy stays focused on her goal of putting women's boxing on the map.
I had the opportunity to speak with Hardy in mid-October as she dished on her life, the sport of boxing and some of the inequalities associated within it.
The now 31-year-old Hardy is a single mom who growing up wanted to be the first girl on the New York Yankees. A tomboy in every sense of the word, she recalls her mom putting dresses on her and how she came home with mud on her face and scratches on her body from childhood games and sports despite the lady-like garments. Her love for sports and action never diminished even as she matured, got married and gave birth to a daughter.
She started kickboxing when her marriage began to dissolve and it became a productive outlet to help her through a difficult separation. After the divorce was finalized she still had the urge to fight having had success in kickboxing bouts early on. She found boxing trainer and former kickboxing world champion Devon Cormack at Gleason's Gym where they began honing her skills to feed her insatiable appetite to fight.
In one of their first encounters Cormack asked Hardy exactly what she wanted to do to as a fighter to which she replied "I want to beat up every girl walking around in the whole world at 125 (pounds)."
And so it began.
Despite getting knocked down in her first professional fight, Hardy is living up to her desired proclamation. She is undefeated and heading into her first title shot for the vacant UBF International Super Bantamweight belt. She will take on Ana Laura Gomez (4-3,1 KO) on Nov. 9 at the Aviator Sports and Events Center in Brooklyn.
Hardy implores an aggressive punchers style which has earned her the nickname 'The Heat'. Her influences range from other female fighters like Alicia Ashley and Cindy Serrano to some of the biggest male names in the history of the sport like Arturo Gatti and Mike Tyson. "That's who I want to be…I want people to look at me and think of me as the female Mike Tyson" said Hardy.
When asked why she chooses to be more of a fighter than a boxer, Hardy speaks with sincerity.
"That's a really good question. It's female boxing and the trouble is we just aren't on the map. We do beautiful things and nobody sees us. My coach Devon trained me to fight aggressively because he wanted me to go out there and give the crowd something different. He always said you're such a beautiful girl but I want you to go in there and fight like a man."
She's capable of being a more defensive fighter and practices both styles in her training but understands who she is trying to appeal to.
"There are two types of fans in the crowd. Fans that appreciate the sport of boxing…they love to see the finesse of a Floyd Mayweather and beautiful movement of a great fighter. Then there are the other fans that know nothing about the sport and just want to see the fight and you got to put on a show. We are entertainers at the end of the day. So we got give them a little bit of both, something for the boxing fans and something for the fight fans."
For Hardy and other female fighters they are like starving artists or underground musicians selling their work metaphorically out of the back of their trunks. "I have to promote myself" said Hardy. "I have to sell tickets to fights and constantly proving that I'm worthy to have fans and be part of the show is the hardest part as a (female) boxer."
Hardy continued, "We don't make as much money as the boys. Promoters say we don't have the same potential to grow and be on big fights on ESPN or pay-per-view. Promoters won't put us on the card…Too many girls say you can't make a career out of this and it's not that you can't it's just that nobody has made a difference yet. If enough people want to come and see us they will put us on ESPN or pay-per-view. We just need that one chance--that one person to kick the door in for all of us."
Part of the problem is embedded in the way women are sexually objectified in society and how that monkey stays on their back often times in sports. Hardy acknowledges the stigma and says things kind of lineup for her because she is able to still look like lady out of the ring but fight like a man inside of it. "I'm a chick that can fight but if I was sitting in the crowd you wouldn't know if I was the ring card girl or the boxer" she said.
Things really do lineup for Hardy who is about as well rounded as one could be, even possessing a degree in forensic psychology. Her family supports her decision to box anchored by her little sister who helps put up fight posters and looks after Hardy's 9-year-old daughter when she is training for hours on end. Hardy's story has captured the attention of many including a young film student, Natasha Varma, who is finishing a documentary about Hardy's life as a boxer, the struggles of females in the sport and role as a mom.
It's amazing that after only six fights she has garnered such a buzz but that can be attributed to her hard work and commitment to remain grounded. When she isn't training for her own fights, she still spends a great deal of time at Gleason's working with troubled youth in a program called Give a Kid a Dream. It is a mentoring program that teaches kids how to box and channel their aggression both inside and outside of the gym.
Despite the tidal wave of attention, she has somehow managed to avoid open resentment from other fighters who could wonder why she gets so much of the limelight. "I've never experienced a bad vibe from a fighter" said Hardy. "I'm not an a-hole at all…this isn't my interview talking. Ask anyone who really knows me, I'm like this in real life."
Whether or not Hardy can bring light and carry the torch for women's boxing remains to be seen, but she is doing everything she can to make it happen. Just as her style and nickname suggest--Hardy is bringing the heat.
How many of you are ready to feel it?
Warren Shaw is a NBA contributor to Dime Magazine and co-host of the weekly basketball podcast "The Baseline". He has covered various sporting events live while also conducting one on one player interviews. His passion for basketball is seconded by boxing and his work can be found on shawsports.net.
Follow him on Twitter @ShawSportsNBA