It’s fight night for Heather Hardy, the 40 year old single mom from Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn who last stepped in a ring to do battle in May of 2021. It’s impossible to say how many more times that will be the case, because, as the quite candid New Yorker admits, it will be up to her body to determine that.
In memes, 40 is the new 30, it is said, but in reality, 40 is 40. What the body is capable of doing at 40 simply isn’t the same at what one could do at 30, for most athletes. So, the 22-2 Hardy, who battles Calista Salgado in a 132 pound catchweight clash at Sony Hall in NYC’s Theatre District, has been contemplative above and beyond her norm as she counted down the months, weeks, days and hours to this test.
I checked in with the scrapper days before her assignment, to get a sense of where her head is at in what could be, let’s keep it real, her last ever professional boxing match.
“I’ve had over 25 professional fights in two sports and fighters always say the same thing. We are ready to go in there and kill, make a statement,” Hardy told me. “I’ve learned over the years to be a little more humble in my approach. I can honestly say I did everything I could this fight camp, put everything into my training and we are all going to see if 40 year old Heather the Heat is ready to make one more run at a world title.”
Her honesty is what separates her from most beings on the planet, as Hardy is prone to state aloud what most folks keep to themselves, or maybe share with besties during a heart to heart.
That mixture of directness, tempered with dashes of self deprecation, and street-level profundity, is what has made her a fan favorite to a considerable crew of rooters, all of whom are invited to see her in action on this card put together by website founder Larry Goldberg, a New Jersey resident who is to be lauded for sticking his nose out and risking a considerable financial outlay on his vision (more on that down below).
Saying the quiet part out loud is a trademark of hers. At times, she doesn’t volunteer the info, via a witty post. She’s spoken some on her “support team” for this fight versus the 34 year old Colombian native. It came up when I asked about the decision to have OG Hector Roca over-seeing her camp and functioning as her chief second at Sony Hall. Hardy and coach Devon Cormack had partnered up for the duration of her pro tenure. For this one, Hardy turned to Gleason’s Gym fixture Roca, a beloved tutor best known probably for helming Arturo Gatti for a long spell. Yes, it was Roca striding to the ring to “Thunderstruck” for some of those YouTube eterna-classics, like against Wilson Rodriguez.
“This girl, is the only thing standing between me and making the last chapter of my career a happily ever after,” Hardy continued. “If I can walk back to my corner and have papa (Hector Roca) say, ‘Baby, you made me so proud,' then I know I did my job and we are ready for whoever is next.”
The last few years have been “interesting” for Hardy, partly because, really, they have been “interesting” for large portions of the world. The fighter had an upswing when she lobbied to get herself on HBO Oct. 27, 2018, for a rematch with Shelly Vincent. As she looked to gain some momentum via leveraging participation in MMA, which showed itself to be arguably more open to embracing ladies as featured players than was common in the US for female pugilists, Hardy accepted a challenge against top-tier practitioner Amanda Serrano on a Sept. 13, 2019 Matchroom card topped by Devin Haney. She staved off a quick decimation, and in fact had some decent luck smart boxing against the more powerful and younger contestant–click here to watch–but dropped a UD10.
Then came Covid, which affected the high density NYC region heavily. Gleason’s got shuttered, income dropped off, and boxers, being those independent contractors left to their own devices, tried to adapt without a financial net to save them. Hardy’s life stayed the same in that she parented daughter Annie, who looked ahead in the not distant future to applying to a university. Along the way, she proved herself a role model to the rest of us. Like here, when she did a guest column for NYF about coping with Covid-affected living.
Hardy juggled, and worked the circuit, sniffing about for a fight which made fiscal sense. On May 14, 2021, she topped a UFC Fight Pass club show, facing 7-2 Jessica Camara in Tennessee. Camara had her hand raised, and Hardy’s fighting future now looked a bit more bleak than just hazy. Hardy being Hardy, she came clean about some of the hurtful parts of the process, and thus re-purposed her pain into fuel for others in need of an emotional pick me up.
Should I? Is it worth it? Would fighting on benefit me emotionally, physically, financially? Those are unanswerable questions, to a degree, the hurdle would have to be attacked before a disposition would be offered. She accepted an offer to meet Terri Harper, looking to rebound after having her 10 pound title wrested from her by Alycia Baumgardner in November 2021. A wrist injury prevented Hardy from making the March 12, 2022 Harper gig. She has gotten used to facing down frustration, so, after some healing time, Hardy once again sifted offers and plotted out potential paths.
This leg of the journey has Hardy taking instruction from Roca, and one Henry DeLeon, a former amateur who also enjoys photography and media assignments for Boxing Insider. “Henry and I worked with the Boxing Insider podcast for a while together,” Hardy told me. “We became good friends, he volunteered to be a sparring partner for me to try to help me fall back in love with boxing and I did and learned so much from him. The team kind of just came together, and it definitely helps that Hector loves Henry and we all work really well together.”
Her description of the crew hints at the unusual setup which exists, and has come about to offer a rarity in this day and age: a club show in New York City. Prohibitive costs are the main impediment to pulling off a show, such as the one Boxing Insider boss Goldberg is presenting. I reached out to the New Jersey resident and wished him well at this endeavor. He shared a bit about the origins of his labors.
“I did an amateur show and Heather Hardy convinced me to give this a shot,” Goldberg told me.
“It’s been the most stressful and greatest experience of my life. I was a little nervous how I’d be received after having a certain level boxing site for all these years but emails like this made me smile, thank you. Thank you for the nice article and thank you for being one of the real ones in boxing. I have a plan if we get past Thursday without any big fires to take the Metro kids pro and try and do small boxing here,” Goldberg finished. “So much credit goes to Heather for giving me this chance.”
You have to, or should, if you don’t, root for Goldberg to succeed. He seems in decent shape; the A team duo of Randy Gordon and Gerry Cooney of Sirius/XM will call the five-bout presentation.
Back to Roca…His sunny disposition and integrity of character make a building block of the Gleason’s ethos. Born in Panama, bicycle racing stood as his reason for being. Younger Roca hit NYC for a visit before a race in Puerto Rico, but the city touched his heart, and prevented him from going back to his old haunts. He got a job in the garment district, then realized that humping racks of clothing for a minimal wage wouldn’t keep his interest. He upgraded his interest in boxing when he traveled to Gleason’s, then in Manhattan on 32nd St, and fell for the vibe. His dad and brother boxed, he pedaled for Panama at the Olympics, but he contracted an infection, the one which made him into a boxing lifer. They called him “Panama” back in the day, now it’s “Papa,” to Hardy.
Followers of this stuff know Roca lent his time to Arturo Gatti, who’d worked with Lou Duva, George Benton, Panama Lewis, and others, before solidifying a union with Roca. That union lasted an eternity, in boxing years, up until Gatti lost to Oscar De La Hoya, and then had Buddy McGirt in his corner for his next foe, Terron Millet.
Hardy expounded a bit on the reasoning behind the corner switch-up:
“Well, I loved my old team a lot, they brought me so far- but it’s like a marriage,” Hardy stated. “Sometimes love only gets you so far right? Like Tina Turner said, “What’s love got to do with it? I just felt like I needed something different and a change and a new approach heading into the last chapter. Hector has always been by my side and I felt it was time to make him the decision maker, the teacher, the guy I shut up and listen to.”
As is the case with anyone who traffics in truth more than the average being who prefers to keep their head down and go with the flow rather than point out some of life’s aggravating intricacies and pitfalls, there will be some who will be quite happy for this last chapter to be a short one. Hardy’s lobbying for pay parity for female fighters has meant that she is well acquainted with getting “shut up and fight” messages from non fans. Yeah, no, she isn’t about shutting up so much. No surprise, I enjoy and appreciate her approach to the fighting life and damn sure will miss her presence when she decides to hang up the gloves. The sport, and the world, has a deficit of “real ones.” Heather Hardy, in that realm, is an all time great.