Heather “The Heat” Hardy has the voice of an angel so it’s not hard to believe that the ferocious BK brawler was once considered quiet and shy. On the flip side, she has the heart of a lion, hands of stone and at times she flosses the tongue of a sailor. But the undefeated fighter and single mom, mega-hustler and adversity repeller delivers her toughness with an underlying cordial tone that makes her instantly likeable and easy to root for.
The Shadow League spoke to the 33-year-old businesswoman, trainer and boxer extraordinaire a few days prior to her fight with Renata Domsodi, scheduled for Aug. 1st. In her last fight on on May 29th, Hardy defeated Noemi Bosques by hard-fought split decision. It was her third fight at The Barclays Center and she fought valiantly through a wicked cut on her eye to win the match by decision on scorecards.
Hardy (13-0) began heating up the boxing ring and really making a name for herself in June of 2014 when the hard-hitting, typically and undeniably Irish-American bolo-exchanger won a split decision over Jackie Trivilino in a scheduled eight round bout on the undercard of a bill headlined by Chris Algieri and Ruslan Prodvodnikov. It was the first ever professional female boxing match at the Barclays.
Saturday's boxing match will be the rising celebrity’s fourth match at The Barclays and a second chance for Hardy to put the whippings on Domsodi, a 40-year-old seasoned vet, who has a professional record of 12-6 in her career.
This time Hardy hopes to get through the bout without the same interruptions that plagued their first junior featherweight fight back in April. That fight was ruled a No Contest because an apparent head butt by Hardy ended the fight without a victor. To Hardy it’s more than just another historical fight in downtown Brooklyn, not too far from where she trains at Gleason's World Famous Boxing Gym. She wants to punish Domsodi for failing women's boxing on that night, as Hardy emphatically describes.
Heather Hardy: Domsodi has a lot of experience. She's lost all of her World Championship fights, so at the very least I know she’s been in the trenches before. I think she prematurely quit last time so I’m really looking forward to kicking her ass. I never say that ...but this is someone I'm really looking forward to hitting.
I was beating her up in the last fight and she was just coming in with her head down swinging over the top and lunging in. I stand up tall when I fight and she lunged in with her face. I think she used it as a way to kind of stop the fight and not make it go. I was disappointed in her because we were fighting as women on the first Premiere Boxing Championship card at Barclays. It marked the first time the Barclays Center hosted a card that could be watched on free television, as it aired on NBC. We had a responsibility to show the world that women can do this too, and Renata kind of conformed to every stereotype out there; That women can’t hang.
Maybe because she’s not from Brooklyn.
Heather Hardy: “Maybe cause’ she ain’t The Heat.”
Maybe Domsodi just wasn’t tough enough to handle the all-out war that Hardy is prepared to endure and happily willing to engage in.
Heather Hardy: All my opponents are really tough in their own way. I think maybe Nydia Feliciano was probably the hardest to prepare for because I know her. We box at the same gym and she was a pro coming up before I even had my first amateur fight so that was quite intimidating.
Hardy says she played soccer and softball and neighborhood sports while growing up in edgy Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Hardy says her hood was a lower-class working area and small community where the kids stuck together. Hardy had it rough growing up, but her trials and tribulations now serve as inspiration to a legion of women boxers and women in general, who are gaining the strength and the audacity to achieve after learning of Heather’s incredible story.
Heather Hardy: It’s nothing that makes me happier than knowing that some women can look to me to find strength. To see that I’ve done things and can still come out on top. I’m a survivor of sexual assault...I've been raped. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been divorced. So many bad things have happened to me but I’ve proven that without a lot of resources, with not a lot of money and without anything other than the help of a hand full of people (my coach, my grandmother, my mother) I did what I set out to do and far beyond what most people think they can do. So if I can be some source of inspiration for women going through hardships to go, “You know what? All you need is your two hands and you’ll be fine." Then that makes me happy.
Heather didn’t grow up in the boxing game or being pushed by someone to become this ground-breaking female slugger. Her road to becoming a prize fighter began with an interest in kickboxing.
Heather Hardy: I was about 28 when they opened up this little gym in my neighborhood and I was living with my sister and she convinced me to do it. I was working so many jobs just trying to keep the four of us alive. Me, my sister and our kids. She was like, “you need a social life,” so it turned out I was pretty good at it. Within three weeks of taking these classes they asked me if I wanted to fight and I won my first kickboxing fight.
When Heather first transitioned to boxing she wasn’t even all of that.
Heather Hardy: I started working with my current trainer Devon Cormack‘s sister Alicia Ashley (current WBC female world super bantamweight champion). Once, she was away and I had lost my first two boxing matches. So I went into his office after my second fight and I was crying. I told him I didn’t want to lose anymore. He just looked me dead in the face and said, “Alright. Come into the gym tomorrow.”
From there he just took me under his wing as a project. I wasn’t even his student at the time and didn’t have any money to pay him, but he always says this about me: "I saw no talent, but lots of heart and you can do a lot with a fighter who’s got that because you can’t teach somebody how to be tough.”
(Photo credit: Melfolio)
Besides for her challenging childhood, the past decade has been a long, winding and at times tortuous mixture of pitfalls and promise. Heather was once a single mother, raising a young daughter on a shoestring budget. She's still on the come up financially but she's a long way from her dark days; Divorce, being homeless, losing her home to a fire and then being flooded out of her home by Hurricane Sandy. Through it all, boxing and family has been her saving grace.
Heather Hardy: Boxing has shown me a hope that I didn’t think I ever had. The first time I’ve ever traveled, been on a plane, seen another country or state was through boxing. Through my amateur and pro career. Being on TV, seeing my name in print...these were things I literally didn’t even dream were possibilities growing up. People from my neighborhood just didn’t do that, so I’m still kind of in awe of everything going on.
I dealt with a lot of traumatic stuff growing up when I was a young kid and my mom, grandma and great grandma taught us that as long as everyone is healthy you can get through it. So everybody else made a big deal about the fire and the flood, but my family was OK, so it wasn’t that traumatic for me. My daughter was with family in Long Island and even though I was living at the gym I felt like we were alive and I live another day to fight.
Fighting for every inch in the ring is the same philosophy Hardy applies to life. She’s a hustler by nature and multi-tasking is her specialty. Balancing family, boxing and her other entrepreneurial endeavors provides Heather with a demanding and frenetically-paced lifestyle.
Heather Hardy: Yeah my life is hectic because my boxing career doesn’t pay the bills. I work full-time as a boxing/kickboxing coach and personal trainer so I’m up at the gym at 5am. I deal with most of my clients between 5am-530am and again about maybe 10am-11am when people start going to work. About 8am I give my daughter breakfast and walk her to school. I come back to the gym, finish teaching and I’m usually in the gym until about 1pm. Then I train myself at that time with Devon doing my own boxing training. I get my daughter about 3pm and try to do some things away from the gym like homework, net surfing, the park, whatever. Then I’m back in the gym from 5pm-8pm working with clients again. Then by the time I get home and lay out my daughter’s clothes for the next day and do household stuff and mom stuff...it leaves very little time for anything else.
I think any entrepreneur spends the first five or six years of their life hustling and really nothing else. If I’m not training I love to eat ice cream and have a glass of wine and maybe go catch a show or something, but if I don’t have a fight coming my time is spent hustling and doing other things to keep other projects moving. Whether you are a fighter or opening your own restaurant the first five years you kind of commit to sacrificing that part of your fun life, same as a parent.
Hardy's hustle has led to her distinguishing herself in a male dominated sport, where women still don’t get a fair shake, or even a taste of the billion dollar pie like the MMA chicks are beginning to do.
Heather Hardy: I think in MMA we are seeing a huge rise in popularity in female fighters, and what the girls did with MMA and what Dana White did with UFC and Ronda Rousey...it’s kind of making a case for female boxers... that people are interested in female fighters and all you have to do is showcase that. I think what I’ve worked really hard at is marketing myself and selling tickets and trying to get into the public eye, but again MMA as a whole is more popular than boxing. I think it's just a matter of exposure, becoming part of the conversation and making people ask about you..you know ?
Despite the success of past women boxers such as Christy Martin and Laila Ali, the outdated boxing promotions hierarchy is still black-on-the back-of-the bus slow in airing women’s fights as a gate attraction.
Heather Hardy: And I wish I had the answer why. There are some really epic female fights that will forever go unnoticed because networks refused to air them. The truth is that when you ask HBO, ESPN or PPV why they won’t televise female fights, the answer is; “It’s policy.” They don’t really have any good reason why they won’t televise a female fight other than they are just saying “no it’s our policy not too." So its really challenging because that’s why we aren’t making any money. We aren't seen as long-term investments because a promoter isn’t going to sink money knowing that he’ll never make that capital back if the networks don’t televise us.
Heather admits she probably gets more love than the average female boxer, but she attributes that to her marketing grind and the fact that she has to do all of her own promotion to even get a sniff on a significant boxing card. Her hustle has allowed her to distinguish herself in a male dominated sport, where women still don’t get a fair shake, or even a piece of the billion dollar pie.
Heather Hardy: I have a really big fan base and I worked really hard on expanding that. My fans are fans of me. If I was going to the Barclays to play the piano, my group of fans...my same exact group of people would buy tickets from me. So I always respect boxing not just for the sport but for the business, because it’s more business than sport. That means selling tickets, promoting myself and I put as much effort into that side of my job as I do being at the gym training and sparring.
On the weekends I’m at different bars handing out my flyers and cards. I offer free services just to attract people and get them to the gym. I give out T-shirts, I try a lot of different marketing things to get people to want to come see me. To want to follow me. To want to do things like that. I think maybe more people need to start following suit (laughter).
It seems to be working. Hardy is not only considered one of the Barclay Center's hidden treasures, but she says people that she looks up to now acknowledge her everyday and it continues to blow her mind.
Heather Hardy: It was maybe two times I was totally star struck. The first time is when I met Andy Lee and we were fighting on the same card together. Andy came and shook my hand and asked to take a picture with me for the guys in the gym back home. He said they loved me. I think it was two days later that the smile finally came off my face.
The second time I was at the boxing Hall of Fame and Sergio Martinez was there. And he kind of turned around and gasped, “Heather.” I just kind of looked over my shoulder and said, “Does he mean me?” He gave me a big hug and we took pictures and I was like, “wow”
(Photo credit: Melfolio)
It’s obvious that women boxers get more support from their male peers than 10-15 years ago. Now, Hardy says, the powers that be have to shed their old school, biased policy and invest some real cash in women’s boxing. Give it a stage it deserves. She doesn’t mind being the mouthpiece for women’s equality in the sport. Her life story makes her a perfect fit.
Heather Hardy: I wouldn’t call myself a pioneer because their are women who have done things like this before me. But I think I am making some noise now. If someone pays attention to me that means they’re going to pay attention to my opponents and my fight schedule. I really worked hard on selling a lot of tickets because I wanted to get these three fights in a row at the Barclays. My first fight, I remember how surprised everyone was at the weigh in when I took off my dress and went to get on the scale. People were like, “Holy Shit. That’s a fighter?” You know..I think most people thought I was either someone’s wife or working at the arena. And then by my second fight people were kinda like, “Yo that’s a girl. She’s a fighter !” I know it will be more recognized this time around because I keep showing my face and putting on a good fight. Staying relevant is so important.
She’s totally relevant. Her next step is finally getting paid like it. She’s admits that she’s not the best in her sport, but then again she just won the Gold Gloves in 2012.
Heather Hardy: I'm still pretty young in the game so I could never stand up and say, “I’m the best fighter in the world,” because I really started late and have a long way to go. But if I can say anything about myself it’s that I’m relentless. I mean...I’ve had to fight for my life before. I’ve had to work so many jobs and still come home and I still didn’t have two eggs to crack for my kids. I know what it’s like to fight for my life and I do that in the ring. I might not be as good as the girl in front of me but my advantage is that you’ve got to kill me to beat me.
Hardy is a super veteran in the game of life, but a new jack still in this world of prized fighting. Her A-list goal right now is to continue to refine her craft and eventually fight WBC World Title holder Jackie Nava of Mexico.
Heather Hardy: Like I said I’m not the best in the world. When I look at the girls in my weight class I really feel comfortable that I can go against 90-95 percent of them, but I know I’m not ready for Jackie right now. I need a couple of more fights under my belt. A little more experience, but ultimately I want to go to Mexico and get that belt and bring it home where it belongs.
If you follow the pattern of Hardy’s life, it’s only a matter of time before she takes Nava down. In the meantime, Hardy continues to carry a torch for women’s boxing. She is focused on being a vocal advocate for eliminating boxing’s discriminatory practices towards its female athletes and demanding equal cash tips for equal butts whipped.