For five years, Heather Hardy has slept on the couch in her tiny New York apartment. Rents in New York are high and the incomes of women’s boxers, even the best of them, are painfully low.
Hardy is raising a 15-year-old daughter, holds a full-time job, and is an unbeaten world champion boxer preparing to face an opponent who is not only regarded as one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, but who has world titles in seven weight classes.
Women’s boxing is a losing proposition for just about everyone who takes part in it. Promoter Lou DiBella is the leading proponent of the women’s game in the U.S., and promotes both Hardy, the WBO featherweight champion, and Amanda Serrano, whom she’ll fight Sept. 13 on a DAZN card in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
No network has any interest in televising women’s boxing as an ongoing concern. Showtime does business with Claressa Shields, and ESPN airs fights involving Top Rank’s Mikaela Mayer, but neither network is regularly buying fights involving other women. He said UFC Fight Pass has asked for women’s fights, and it now provides an outlet for women, but the license fee isn’t enough to pay them the kind of wage their talent would suggest they deserve.
And so the reality is that established, popular veterans like Hardy don’t make much money, and often wind up not bringing much if any money home after they pay all of their expenses.
Hardy, 37, sleeps on her couch because she hasn’t been able to afford her own bed. Her dream is to be able to buy a bed with the money she makes from this fight.
She wouldn’t say her purse and the New York State Athletic Commission hasn’t received the contract yet. She is expected to make between $50,000 and $100,000 along with sponsorship opportunities on her trunks and 15 percent commission for the tickets she sells on consignment. Hardy told Yahoo Sports she believes she’s sold roughly $20,000 worth of tickets at this point.
“You don’t go in and fight someone like Amanda Serrano for pennies,” Hardy said. “They’ve got to pay me, right? So it’s OK what I’m making. I’m not making six figures, if that’s what you’re asking, but it is a step in the right direction. Am I making anywhere near what a guy who is 22-0 fighting a seven-time world champion would be making? Hell no. Hell no! Nowhere near it, but it’s a decent paycheck. I ain’t complaining.
“We’re heading in the right direction. In most professions, women are making 80 cents on the dollar. The pay gap in my sport is just blatantly disgustingly bad. But it’s a pay gap in all occupations across the country, and it’s going to be a constant fight for women, and not just in boxing.”
DiBella promotes a large stable of top women and said he’s mounting a fight for wage fairness, because while he’d like to see wage equality, he knows that’s an almost insurmountable task in the current environment. There are few, if any, professional sports in which women are paid equally with men.
He promotes women’s shows where he gives nearly all of the money paid in license fees to the fighters and routinely winds up taking a loss. Until a broadcast entity is willing to pay license fees to acquire top women’s fights, this is going to be the reality.
“It’s only been in the last couple of years that Amanda could concentrate fully on boxing, but if she didn’t live with her sister and brother-in-law, I don’t know that she could,” DiBella said. “I have intellectual conversations with my female fighters about what I’m about to say because I’m on their side but I don’t think they fully get what I’m saying. They all go out there and talk about wage equality. I would love to see equality, but that’s not happening anywhere in sports and that’s very difficult to fight against. So I am pushing for wage fairness. If a woman’s fight is able to rise to the level where it’s a co-feature of a card and it is getting a lot of the attention, then their purses should be on par with the average male world champion.”
He said there are no networks providing platforms for women and as much as he sounds the horn, it’s not having much of an impact.
So even while she’s training for what is the biggest fight of her life, Hardy awakens before the sun rises and gets to the gym, where she is a personal trainer, to work with her clients. She also has some amateur boxers she’s training and then she goes and has to do her own boxing training to prepare for Serrano.
She’s had a difficult life. She was raped when she was 12 years old. She had a bad marriage which ended in divorce and she’s been a single mom since she split with her husband.
She took three MMA fights because the opportunity to make more money was there than there’s been in women’s boxing. She went 2-2 fighting for Bellator and was stopped in each of her losses.
Hardy was kicked in the face at Bellator 185 by Kristina Williams and broke her nose. She was stopped, but didn’t give up. And even though she took vicious taunts about her losses on social media, she’s not embarrassed and wasn’t about to quit.
“I’m the toughest girl I know,” she said. “How many people do what I do? How many people get their nose broken like happened to me and say, ‘Aw, [expletive] it, let’s try again.’ You know? You could never break my confidence. Somebody asked me after that fight where I broke my nose, ‘Because you failed at this, how does it make you feel?’ And I was so insulted. Failed? Just because you lose doesn’t mean you failed.
“I went in and did the best I could. I had fun and I made some money. I gained some fans and I had some great experiences. If that kick couldn’t take me out and make me quit, tell me what two hands are going to do.”
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