Heather Hardy was as shocked by the news that HBO planned to leave the boxing business as everyone else. The unbeaten New Yorker had long sought a fight on the network which once billed itself as “The heart & soul of boxing,” and was crushed when she saw the news.
She has only one more fight planned, an Oct. 27 rematch with arch rival Shelly Vincent for the vacant WBO featherweight title at Madison Square Garden, before HBO walks away from the sport. So she sat in front of her computer and penned a note to Peter Nelson, the executive vice president of HBO Sports.
“I’ve learned my whole career, closed mouths don’t get fed,” said Hardy, who is 21-0 and seeking her first major world title. “When I heard this card could be HBO’s last boxing broadcast ever, I felt compelled to write to him.”
She did it almost as a cathartic exercise as for anything else. She’s long been one of the leading voices, clamoring for equality for women’s boxers. HBO had only broadcast one women’s boxing match in its 45 years of covering the sport, a May bout featuring women’s pound-for-pound champion Cecilia Braekhus.
Hardy, though, is determined and figured reaching out to Nelson was worth a shot.
“I kind of wrote to him not as a boxer proposing some big number, but more in a human sort of way,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m not asking you to write me a check for $1 million.’ I’m not making a lot of money. I’m actually making not a lot of money. There’s a difference between I’m not making a lot of money and I’m making not a lot of money. And so I said, if you would televise this for me, it would at least dramatically increase my potential for sponsorship money. In women’s boxing, we can almost double our purses with the sponsorship money, so it’s very important to us.
“I told him, ‘Look, you have known me my whole career and you know how hard I work. I’ve worked my ass off at a time when women’s boxing wasn’t taken as seriously as it is now.’ I just made the point, ‘I’m really asking you to help me out here. I know you have the power to do it.’ ”
Hardy never heard back from Nelson.
“I thought maybe it went into his spam or he just ignored it or maybe his secretary had read it and threw it away,” she said.
Nelson had seen it. And on Wednesday morning, she learned that for sure when promoter Lou DiBella called her and told her that the rematch with Vincent would serve as the opener for the Daniel Jacobs-Sergey Derevyanchenko bout for the vacant IBF middleweight title.
“Lou called me this morning and said, ‘Congratulations you pain in the ass,’ ” Hardy said. “I was walking out of the A train station and I just collapsed on the steps, crying. I couldn’t believe it. It was like, ‘After all these years, after hard those hard rounds and all of the blood and sweat and injuries and everything, here I am, fighting on HBO.’ It’s amazing, man.”
Hardy and Vincent first fought in 2016 on Coney Island in a bout televised on NBC Sports Network. The main event that day was a welterweight bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Leonard Bundu that drew more than 5 million on NBC, given it aired immediately after the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team’s gold-medal-winning game.
Hardy and Vincent was the walkout bout and was televised on NBC Sports Network. It was, DiBella, one of the great fights of recent times.
“It was outdoors and it was a rainy day at the beach, but I’ll tell you what: Not a single person left after the Spence-Bundu fight,” DiBella said. “Hardy-Vincent was the fight that sold the tickets and brought the people to the arena. And it was an incredible fight. It was the [Arturo] Gatti-[Micky] Ward of women’s boxing. It was the Ring Magazine fight of the year in 2016 and anyone who watched it can’t forget it. It literally was a female Gatti-Ward fight.
“HBO is on its way out, but it is doing a great thing by doing this. I believe they’re going to step up and put on another amazing fight, and that’s just going to help women’s boxing in general. I believe this is going to be another war and a fight people are going to be talking about. HBO is doing some special by putting this fight on.”