'Katie's an Olympic gold medallist who unified the belts but is not getting paid like a man'
"Boxing really is like my bad boyfriend."
The day before Katie Taylor won gold at the London Olympics, in August 2012, Heather Hardy struck out as a professional boxer.
Heather Hardy was 30 years old, unemployed and had just been through a divorce. She had majored in Forensic Psychology at College of Criminal, Manhattan but had struggled to find work in that field.
From, as she describes it, a working-class Irish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, Hardy's first fight was 'in the street'. She was 'a lost soul until I found boxing' and knew she had found her calling as soon as she linked up with coach Devon Cormack (Gleason's Gym).
Hardy impressed in some amateur bouts and turned pro in 2012 with a win over Mikayla Nebel. Over the next six and a half years, she won every fight she contested, going 22-0, and becoming first the WBC International female super bantamweight and featherweight champion and, in October 2018, winning the WBO female featherweight title.
Hardy became one of the most recognisable faces in women's boxing and forged a path for the likes of Taylor and Clarissa Shields. Still, she was earning a pittance.
On the latest episode of TKO, Hardy joined Chris Lloyd and Carl Frampton to talk about her boxing career and find out why she had left boxing behind to become a Mixed Martial Artist.
"When I came up in the amateurs," she says, "girls didn't get to box in the Olympics. We weren't allowed to box in the Olympics. I turned pro and when I did that, it was when the first class of girls were competing.
"Those are the girls you hear of now, right? Like Katie Taylor, Clarissa Shields and Nicola Adams. There are a handful of those girls that people are paying attention to. But in my day, nobody cared about us.
"So, the only way that I broke onto the seen was that I sold a bunch of tickets. I used to tell my promoter, 'Lou, put me on the show and I guarantee you $10,000 in ticket [sales]. Hand them to me and I will sell them for you'.
"And I was making an $800 purse for these fights and selling 10 or 15 grand worth of tickets. And I did it all the way until I reached 15-0, and that was kind of what prompted my switch to MMA.
"I was 15-0 and I was defending my WBC title at the Barclays Centre, and I sold $40,000 worth of tickets, right. That's like over 250 seats filled for this fight. And they put me on first, before the doors even opened. I was defending my title, I was doing a 10-round fight. I made under $7,000 and I had sold $40,000 in tickets. And I had to make my ring walk with nobody there t clap their hands."
Hardy realised that it may be time to see if there was another way of making a living from the fight game. She was supposed to make her MMA debut with Invicta but eventually did so with the higher profile (and paying) Bellator, in June 2017.
Hardy is 2-2 in her professional MMA career and lost her most recent bout to Taylor Turner at Madison Square Garden during Bellator 222. She is determined to press on with MMA but is still the WBO featherweight champion and has not entirely ruled out a return to boxing.
Her foray into MMA has helped raise Hardy's profile but she still laments the gulf in pay - particularly in boxing - between male and female fighters. Katie Taylor may be earning good money but, she feels, the undisputed lightweight champion should be getting equal pay to the top male stars.
Frampton admits how "upsetting" it is to hear how tough Hardy and many female fighters have it. Taylor is a hero in Ireland, he notes, and earns more than 'most men' in boxing but Frampton believes she is a "one-off". Hardy says:
"I don't think anyone is getting paid like Katie but, in the same hand, she is... [unifying] all the belts in her weight division, she's an Olympic gold medallist and she's not getting paid like a man.
"And it goes back to what you said - that women should be grateful [that the situation is improving]. I'm sure she has this blanket over her head, of feeling, 'I'm still making more than every other woman'. But it still isn't right. No freedom 'til we're equal, man."
Frampton says that were a male fighter to have a record like Taylor, his purse for a unification bout would have been anywhere between $3 and $5 million.
Taylor earned a reported $100,000 for her November 2018 victory over Cindy Serrano but would have earned twice that purse for the undisputed title victory over Delfine Persoon. Anthony Ruiz, the heavy underdog that defeated heavyweight champion on the same night, took home a purse of $7 million.
Taylor, both Hardy and Frampton, agree would have got 'in the hundreds of thousands'.
Good, but still nowhere near good enough.
CHECK OUT THE FULL HEATHER HARDY INTERVIEW HERE: