As you enter Gleason’s Gym, someone with a lopsided, blond ponytail is spotted
in the back stretching. It is professional boxer and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy. After walking through the maze of male boxers training on elevated boxing rings at the“cathedral of boxing,” you see Hardy wearing her signature black-framed eyeglasses and green ‘Irish’ mouth guard, wrapping up her final training session of the day.
Before Hardy fell into her undefeated boxing career, she experienced several rounds of personal life bouts. Hardy, 36, grew up in the Irish-Catholic immigrant community Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, New York. She played softball and wanted to be a New York Yankee’s pitcher, yet in response to adults who belittled her dreams she didn’t understand why a female couldn’t pitch for the Yankees. Remaining hopeful and a loyal fan of the team she got a tattoo of their logo in her middle teens.
Daughter, sister, aunt, friend, college graduate, employee, sexual assault victim, ex-wife, and single mother– these labels accurately described Hardy by the time she was 22 years old. She was fighting to pay rent plus bills to support her daughter, sister, and nephew in Gerritsen Beach.
Hardy’s now 29-year- old sister, Kaitlyn Hardy, reflects on how tough it was to see her sister constantly working without having moments to herself for self-care.
“When Heather got divorced [in her early 20s] she became the husband and I became the wife,” says Kaitlyn. “We were still living in the same one bedroom apartment. It was rough. She slept on the couch, and the kids shared the bedroom together. She would leave the house at 5 a.m. to work at the light store. Then she would jump around all these trains and deliver testing books to schools and there would be some nights where she didn’t get home until 11 p.m.. I stayed home to watch the kids, cook, and clean.”
Kaitlyn forced her sister to have a social life by giving her a one-month membership gift card to the nearby Championship Fitness Center. That is when Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy found her fire at age 26.
“It was the first time I ever felt like Heather. I wasn’t a mom or someone’s wife. I wanted to get better. I wanted to grow. I knew instantly that this [kickboxing class] was it. It was a way for me to find myself,” says Heather.
She quickly took boxing to the next level. Three weeks later she sold her own boxing tickets worth $12,000 and participated in her first boxing match—and won. She later fought competitors like Noemi Bosques and Edina Kiss over the years during her professional career and won 20 fights including four knockouts-undefeated in the ring.
She is a two-division champion in WBC’s super-bantamweight and featherweight. She was the first woman to fight at Barclays Center, and to have a fight televised on national television in almost 20 years in a matchup against Shelly Vincent. She was the last female to participate in a televised fight.
“That’s the million dollar question. It’s the same guys running the show for decades and they don’t want to do anything about it [televising women’s boxing],” says Devon Cormack, Heather’s boxing coach.
Televised fights means sponsorship deals which results in more income. The largest amount Heather made from a professional boxing match was $12,000, 20 times less than the average of $250,000 made from her male counterparts. “Not only do they get paid more, but they get bonuses upfront. For us [women], we don’t get paid until after the fight. So if for some reason my opponent backs out, I don’t get paid. There’s been so many times where I couldn’t pay my rent for months because I had to spend that money on trainers to prep for a fight. I’ve spent nights sleeping in the gym. It gets expensive to train and you have to see different (types of) coaches,” says Heather.
It was time for a financial change. Heather suited up for a different fight and started MMA on June 24, 2017 to make more money. She’s making relatively the same amount as boxing but she anticipates financial growth unlike boxing. Female MMA fights are televised and there’s more access to sponsorships. She has the potential to develop and play at the top tier where she can make at least $300,000 like Holly Holms and ex-MMA fighter Rhonda Rousey. Heather joins the slowly growing class of recent boxers turned MMA fighters including Holly Holm, Ana Julaton, and Amanda Serrano.
“Transitioning to MMA is like training in a whole different sport after doing something you’re used to for 10 years,” says Heather. Despite knocking out Alice Yauger in her debut MMA fight at Madison Square Garden, she has three fights into the new sport and has come to realize that she cannot enter a fight as if it is a boxing match.
On October 20, 2017 Heather experienced her first-ever professional loss now holding a 2-1 record in MMA. The fight against Kristina Williams ended in the third round where she kneeled into an incoming kick and broke her nose. Blood was gushing everywhere. “I was spitting out bones through my mouth but it didn’t hurt at all,” says Heather. “I’ve gone through a lot of pain throughout my life. But we all have different fights and different pains at different levels. I would rate everything that’s happened to me on a pain scale of 7 out of 10.”
Going back to Heather’s personal life, she was sexually assaulted in her teens, went through divorce without receiving child support, was told by a Gleason’s trainer it wasn’t worth boxing as a female, and raised three family members in her apartment which was burned down on July 4 in 2012, a few months prior to her parents losing their home during Hurricane Sandy. Her sister has witnessed Heather’s resilience throughout her life. However, for Kaitlyn, seeing Heather’s professional loss was a top admirable moment.
“After she finally lost a fight, she wasn’t discouraged,” says Kaitlyn. There was no ‘I’m gonna lay around and be depressed for a week.’ She was like ‘No. I wanna come home and go to the gym. I’m not done with this.’ Surgery and everything she doesn’t want to stop. She is passionate about it. She’s a great role model.”
Pushing for women to feel empowered, Heather lives to fight for her 13- year old daughter, Annie, and everyone who does not think they can achieve something because they are a female.
“My mission for years was how do I turn this around and give boxing to other people to play on their strengths,” says Heather. “To give to women and make them feel invincible through the sport of boxing. Make them not feel sorry that they are a girl.”