(Photo Courtesy of Getty)
Prior to Saturday evening, Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy had not competed inside a boxing ring since toughing out a televised majority decision win over Shelly Vincent in Coney Island last August. Impassioned shouting resounding throughout the fistic community about an obvious rematch against Vincent began to eerily quiet down and whispers of a world title eliminator against Shannon O’ Connell fell totally silent.
The same could be said for boxing as a whole throughout the Empire State thanks to a clause couched within the bill passed by New York legislators, sanctioning mixed martial arts requiring promoters of all combat sports to insure each participant on their bills for $1 million in the event of death or permanent disability. Dana White’s deep pockets could easily sustain such a hit, especially given how much revenue his shows generate in terms of ticket sales, PPV buys, and merchandising, which would more than make up the difference.
For boxing promoters like Lou DiBella and Joe DeGuardia, however, the inability to find underwriters to satisfy these well-intentioned but ultimately stifling requirements spelled indefinite doom for regularly produced events at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, B.B. King’s in Times Square, Turning Stone Casino in upstate Verona, Huntington’s Paramount Theatre, and Five Star Banquet Hall in Astoria, Queens for example. In short, it worryingly paved the way toward the possibility of a UFC monopoly over the bruising business in New York State.
While the rumors of the death of New York boxing fortunately proved to be greatly exaggerated, it was badly maimed for many months during which Heather Hardy, among many others, became increasingly fearful of what their futures held in store now that their primary source of income had evaporated. With the holidays approaching, landlords coming around to collect rent at the first of every month, and families to provide for, things looked particularly bleak.
Hardy, a resident of Brooklyn and mother to adolescent Annie, fights and trains clients out of Gleason’s Gym. Because her combat sports background began with kickboxing, she fell back on that experience to refocus attention on once again utilizing her lower body while also learning and perfecting grappling techniques for a shift over to MMA. For how long, who knew? What Heather did know was that was where the opportunities and, hence, the money was. The logic was easy to follow, even if it meant traveling all the way to Kansas City, MO to make her debut on the January 21 Invicta FC21 card. Hardy remained grounded in Brooklyn after all when her opponent, fellow MMA novice Brieta Carpenter, pulled out of the fight on four days notice after sustaining an injury.
Though it must have seemed that way at the moment, all was not lost. Far from it. The dark clouds began to disperse, allowing for the restoration of boxing to the New York landscape in January, supplemented by the fulfillment of a long-standing promise made by Showtime Sports general manager Stephen Espinoza to prominently feature women’s bouts on his network.
Amanda Serrano’s successful WBO Super-Bantamweight Title defense by way of unanimous decision over Yazmin Rivas at Barclays on January 14 (which also earned her the newly minted WBC Diamond belt) headlined the Showtime Extreme program which preceded the primary broadcast of the Badou Jack/James Degale super-middleweight championship showdown. Claressa Shields will be the next beneficiary of the premium cable channel’s exposure when she takes on Szilvia Szabados in Detroit as the main event on the March 10 reprise of its continuing series, Shobox: The New Generation.
In addition to the fact that Heather’s title fight (with her WBC International featherweight belt on the line) would not be televised when CBS took to the airwaves for the Danny Garcia/Keith Thurman welterweight unification match on March 4, Hardy was looking to scour off more than six months worth of accumulated ring rust in her return to the Barclays Center. This despite her tireless training regimen which allows her to constantly circle the perimeter of peak condition between fights. To compound matters even further, she would have to adjust with little forewarning to the reality of facing a new adversary.
Hungary’s Edina Kiss (13-2, 8 KOs) stepped forward as a late replacement for the Nigerian ‘Iron Lady’ Helen Joseph, posing every bit as credible a threat to disrupting Hardy’s homecoming party. Maybe more so, seeing as though Kiss, appearing stateside for the very first time, rode a three-fight knockout streak into Brooklyn and had put 53% of her opponents out of their misery well inside the distance. Twice in the first round to be exact, against fellow Hungarian nationals Erika Kalderas and Agnes Nick, respectively.
The 27-year-old resident of Budapest has stayed unbelievably busy since making her professional debut on Halloween night 2015, competing in fifteen fights in as many months prior to Saturday.
Edina’s pair of losses are nothing to be embarrassed about, occurring as they did against the aforementioned WBC Silver Super-Bantamweight Champion Shannon O’ Connell last October in the belt-holder’s hometown of Queensland, Australia and then-WBO Featherweight World titlist Amanda Serrano who scored a 4th round TKO in their non-title affair, the first female main event to take place in Serrano’s native Puerto Rico.
Kiss found herself venturing once again out of Eastern Europe for a high-profile fight on foreign soil against a local fan favorite, albeit before a regrettably scarce assemblage of Hardy’s constituency that unfailingly turns out in great numbers to throw its considerable support behind Team Heat. The problem this time around was that the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, decided to put Brooklyn Boxing’s ticket-selling powerhouse and her Hungarian challenger in the dual role of curtain raisers for the evening’s proceedings. Mere moments within the 6:30 opening of doors into Barclays Center to be precise. An apologetic Heather took to social media after learning of these circumstances early in the afternoon to spread the word that her fans would want to arrive as early as possible and haul ass to their seats or risk missing the bout. The lengthy lines snaking around the barriers outside the arena’s front gates more than an hour beforehand, even with the temperature struggling to remain on the plus-side of 20, made this a legitimate and unfortunate concern.
Sure enough, I could hear Hardy’s ring-walk music, “This Girl is on Fire” by Alicia Keys, echoing through the lobby as I hurriedly shoved my personal effects inside various pockets after passing through the security checkpoint and the ring introductions were underway while I made my Everest-like ascent to the summit of Mt. Barclays.
With St. Patrick’s Day less than a fortnight away, Heather marched into battle outfitted in traditional orange, green, and white in homage to her Irish forebears. If the younger and supposedly more heavy-handed Edina Kiss sought to impose her will on the defending champion, Hardy made it quite clear from the outset that this would not be permitted.
Charging ever forward, Heather walked Kiss back behind a persistent left jab which often had a right hook whistling in just behind it. Coupled with well-timed head movement, Hardy presented several pieces to a puzzle that was simply impossible for a befuddled Kiss to put together. Hardy introduced some increased body work into the equation throughout the third round and landed combinations seemingly at will, the effects of which were written all over Edina’s face.
Kiss was able to land a nice overhand left in the fourth, her best shot not only of the round, but of the entire fight but, owing to Heather’s relentless pressure, she was unable to sustain any measure of momentum whatsoever. The investment in body blows continued to pay dividends for Hardy, particularly one brutal right to the ribcage, the thudding impact of which could be heard even from the high altitude of my bird’s eye vantage point. Kiss slipped to the canvas in the sixth round out of what appeared to be sheer exhaustion, her braided locks coming undone to the same extent as was her physical composure.
Holding her aggressor in smothering embraces to dubious effect, Edina’s head was rocked to and fro by a one-two punch from Hardy to close out the seventh and a belated second wind carrying her through the eighth and final round proved futile as every move forward was halted by Heather’s left glove smacking her right in the kisser. One official scorekeeper saw fit to award a single round to the visiting Hungarian, while the other two judges handed down similar verdicts of a shutout victory for Heather Hardy who retained both her title and undefeated record, which stands now at 19-0.
Next up was a struggle for relevance in the increasingly crowded light-heavyweight rankings. With young guns Joe Smith Jr. and Artur Beterbiev providing crowd-pleasing firepower and dominating the recent conversations within the division, neither Chad Dawson nor Andrzej Fonfara, who was smoked by Smith in the first round on PBC last June, wanted to be muscled out of the picture. If there was a questionable aspect to ‘The Polish Prince’s’ 9th round knockdown of ‘Bad Chad’ (which looked as though it may have been a push or slip), there was no doubt about a Fonfara left jab which set up a straight right that sent Dawson stumbling into the corner where he was finished off in the 10th and possibly relegated to the unenviable realm of ghosts of light-heavies past.
Sergey Lipinets notched win #12 with a 7th round TKO over Clarence Booth when a straight right delivered by the ascending Kazakh star put Booth down on his back pocket.
Brooklyn native and Haitian representative of the 2016 Olympics Richardson Hitchins looked impressive in his professional debut by taking out fellow welterweight Mario Perez in just over 90 seconds, sending the now 1-1 Perez to the canvas twice in the process.
In the co-feature and WBC Super-Welterweight Title eliminator, fourth-ranked Erickson Lubin earned his shot at Jermell Charlo with a 4th round knockout of #7 Jorge Cota with a stunning overhand left.
And, of course, in the main event that a record-setting crowd of 16,553 at the Barclays Center paid to see, Keith Thurman took away Danny Garcia’s WBC welterweight belt, which now accentuates his own WBA strap, as well as the ‘0’ on his previously immaculate record. Despite the indignant reaction of the partisan Philadelphians in attendance, the split decision was a generous concession to Garcia who allowed Thurman to dictate the pace and style of the fight.
Here’s to hoping that we see Heather Hardy back in the ring, and on national television, sooner than later.