Heather Hardy and Shelly Vincent will be featured on an undercard bout on HBO, but they are also fighting against sexism in boxing and the world at large.
The late James Brown famously sang, “It’s a Man’s World.” While his words reflected his era, the attitude they represent still haunts our society. It should be noted that he slipped in the line, “But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl” as a refrain, but it almost comes as an afterthought. Unfortunately, many women in our country are made to feel like afterthoughts every day, and this sentiment is even more predominant in the sport of boxing. Heather Hardy and Shelly Vincent’s rematch will be televised on HBO’s fight card on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 10 p.m. ET, but their paths in the sport and their personal lives were tumultuous, and that’s putting it lightly.
Hardy’s story embodies the spirit of every underdog tale but is darker than most. Many boxers lived lives rooted in poverty, abuse and turmoil. Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are just a few big names that have dealt with all of these circumstances. The difference between their stories and Hardy’s is that they didn’t have the added vulnerability of being a woman in a male-dominated society.
In 2014, ESPN ran a profile on Hardy and her hardships. The story revealed that Hardy was raped as a 12-year-old. She discussed her assault in depth with Vice in 2015. The details of her abuse are horrifying and heartbreaking. Hardy didn’t share her sexual assault with anyone until she was an adult. As a child, she was too scared to tell her story and felt like she was at fault because she was partying. Hardy was forced to live with her pain in secret. She carries the emotional scars with her to this day.
“Rape is a life sentence,” Hardy said to Vice. “I’ll never get over it; I’ll just keeping trying to live with it.”
Hardy has endured a lot of hurt and obstacles in her young 36 years of life. She’s a single parent who has battled hunger and homelessness while trying to keep her dream of being a self-sufficient fighter alive. That’s what Hardy is: a fighter.
Boxing’s history hasn’t been inclusive to women. For a long time, boxing associations didn’t recognize or rank female boxers. The first semi-mainstream female boxer was Christy Martin who caught the attention of the general public because she was an anomaly. She was a female excelling in a sport controlled by men. He knockout prowess made her a fan favorite and helped to expand her audience.
In 1996, Martin appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She had a successful career and made a nice living for herself, but she helped women take a step into a sport that didn’t welcome them with open arms. Several female boxers since Martin like Mia St. John, Ann Wolfe and Laila Ali have slowly helped advance women’s boxing. The problem is that it has taken a long time for women’s boxing to get to where it is today, and it’s nowhere near where it should be in terms of popularity, financial compensation and respect when compared to men’s boxing.
Hardy and Vincent’s predecessors took women’s boxing to a point, but Hardy, in particular, is upping her push for women’s equality in the sport. During a recent interview with Sporting News, Hardy explained how she got her upcoming fight with Vincent to be aired on HBO’s broadcast:
"I was actually walking towards the A train. [Hardy’s promoter Lou DiBella] called me and said, ‘Let me ask you, did you call Peter Nelson?’ I thought I was in trouble. He asked me one more time, ‘Did you call Peter Nelson?’ I told him I may or may not have done that. He said, ‘Congratulations kid, we did it. It came through.’ I just collapsed right there on the stairs. People were walking all around me and I was crying. I couldn’t believe it. My whole career has been for this moment."
Despite all of life’s distresses, Hardy continues to make the insurmountable a reality for her and all the other women that struggle to solidify their place in boxing and all of combat sports. Hardy’s unconventional and brave approach to advocating for her best interests paid off but there’s still a ways to go before women find themselves on equal footing with men in boxing. Hardy recognizes this.
“I would also say you still have only three weight classes of Olympics, girls going to the Olympics,” Hardy said to FanSided. “And then that limits the opportunity with the bigger promoters and on the bigger networks. So, it’s like, we’re doing better but there’s still a ways to go.”
Recognizing that there’s a problem is one thing, but doing something about it is another. Hardy is giving it her best to elevate women’s boxing but she can’t do it alone.
"I think that it’s like all the girls who have a microphone have to shout as loud as they can, tell everybody we’re here, this is happening. I remember when I first turned pro, people were like, ‘Oh my God, they have girl boxers, too?’ This was like, seven years ago people didn’t even know that, that females were boxing and that women were professional fighters and were doing it as their job and stuff. It’s everybody’s responsibility, the fighters, the promoter, the managers to just get the word out there."
Hardy and Vincent will help demonstrate that women’s boxing can be just as skillful and compelling as men’s boxing. Their first fight in 2016 was a brutal affair that ended in a majority decision victory for Hardy. Their rematch should be even more competitive and fiery than their first meeting. The stakes are bigger in this fight with the WBO featherweight title on the line live on HBO.
Hardy and Vincent know how to handle pressure. They’ve done it throughout their lives. It’s unlikely that they will allow a big stage onTV. at Madison Square Garden intimidate them. After all, they’re fighters inside the ring and in life.