HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday night's light heavyweight bout in Atlantic City between undefeated rising star Dmitry Bivol and former world champion Jean Pascal.
Cecilia Braekhus and Roman Gonzalez make their respective returns at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA. on Saturday, December 8 for an action packed doubleheader. Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs), will face two-time world title challenger, Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes, (18-4-3, 1 KO), a native of Gilwice, Poland, now based in Marshfield, MA in the ten-round main event. Meanwhile, Gonzalez, (47-2, 39 KOs) will face off with Pedro ‘Jibran’ Guevara. The event will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark beginning at 10:20 PM ET/PT.
“I’m thrilled to be announcing my next title defense against Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes,” said Cecilia Braekhus, currently training in Southern California with the renowned Johnathon Banks. “I know Aleksandra very well and this will be a very tough challenge for me.”
“It’s great to be back in Los Angeles, it’s starting to feel like my second home now. Right now, it’s pretty cold now in Norway so the sun and warm weather are treating me very good and I expect a lot of fans from Norway to come to my fight and experience the Southern California sunshine. My trainer Johnathon Banks and I have already started working very hard in the gym.”
“A big thank you to Tom Loeffler and 360 Promotions for putting together this great event. Thanks very much to HBO for putting me on the network again. I promise to deliver another big fight, my last fight was very exciting and this one will be as well, I don’t do boring fights.”
‘I’m defending all the belts as you see in front of me. They represent a life-time of hard work. Hopefully when it becomes time to retire I can do so undefeated, that is my dream, that is my goal. I thank you for all your support and to the fans here in the United States and those attending the fight internationally.”
“It’s been my dream to fight Cecilia and I can’t wait to fight her,” said Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes. “She is the best women’s fighter in the world and has been for many years but on December 8 I will be up to the challenge and come out victorious with her titles.”
Stated Roman Gonzalez, “Thanks very much to God, Mr. Honda, Teiken Promotions, HBO Boxing and 360 Promotions. I know Pedro Guevara very well, he’s a very tough fighter and I will have to be at my very best to continue my pursuit of a fifth world title.”
“It’s an honor to be on the same card as Cecilia Braekhus, we’re very blessed to be here. I was very happy with the knockout victory of my last fight and look forward to fighting in Los Angeles again in front of my fans.”
“Chocolatito was the best fighter in the world not too long ago and that is the fighter I am preparing for,” said Pedro Guevara. ‘It’s an honor to share the ring with him but on December 8 it will be another victory on my path to again becoming a world champion.”
Said Tom Loeffler, “This card truly is a tribute to HBO where the biggest stars in boxing have been made for decades. As we have seen with the ascent in popularity with Gennady Golovkin and as we continue to see with Cecilia and Roman their international popularity and marketability continues to increase with each appearance on HBO.”
“We’ve promoted some outstanding and record-breaking memorable nights of boxing at the Stubhub Center and we look forward to another great event on Saturday, December 8. We hold the record for the 3 largest gates at StubHub Center with GGG in his two fights at StubHub and Chocolatito with his sold out fight there last year.”
“Thanks to Dan Beckerman at AEG and everyone at StubHub Center for their support and for working on this show with us and to the California State Athletic Commission who have always been very fair while keeping the health and safety of the fighters as their number one priority.”
Fighting for the first time in Russia, Cecilia Braekhus won a 10-round unanimous decision over junior middleweight world champion Inna Sagaydakovskaya on July 21, 2018 in Moscow. The victory took place in front of over 25,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium and an international televised audience. Prior to that, Braekhus was victorious in the first women’s bout televised by HBO in their 45-year history on May 5, 2018. Defeating Kali Reis by unanimous decision at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA, the fight drew an average of 904,000 viewers in the United States, the second highest viewership by the network for boxing in 2018.
Braekhus is currently ranked the #1 Pound-for-Pound Female Boxer by Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. She was presented with the first women’s Ring Magazine Pound-for-Pound Title belt in Las Vegas on September 15, 2018. Since September 2014, Braekhus has held the WBC, WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO Welterweight World Titles and was just awarded 3 Guinness Book of World Records Awards this year at the WBC Convention in Kiev, Ukraine.
Magdziak-Lopes has twice previously challenged for world title. On September 17, 2016, she traveled to Gdansk, Poland to face Ewa Piatkowska for the vacant WBC Super Welterweight World Title, losing a hard-fought ten-round decision. In 2014, Magdziak-Lopes battled Mikaela Lauren in her hometown of Rocklunda, Sweden for the vacant WBC Super Welterweight World Title. At the end of a highly competitive ten rounds, Lopes would come up just short losing a majority decision to Lauren.
Magdziak-Lopes is unbeaten in her last 3 fight, including victories over Paty Ramirez and Lisa Noel Garland.
Returning to battle less than three months after a knockout victory, Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez looks to continue on his path towards a fifth world title. On September 15, 2018, the hard-hitting Nicaraguan dismantled Moises Fuentes with a ‘Knockout of the Year’ stoppage in the fifth round on the HBO Pay-Per-View®Undercard of the World Middleweight Championship between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
Gonzalez has held world titles in four weight divisions; minimum weight, junior flyweight, flyweight and super flyweight. From September 12, 2015 to March 18, 2017, he was the Consensus #1 Pound-for-Pound Fighter in the World.
The 29-year-old Guevara first became a world champion on December 30, 2014 with a seventh-round knockout of Akira Yaegashi in Tokyo, Japan, winning the vacant WBC Junior Flyweight World Title. After making two successful defenses in Mexico, Guevara would return to Japan losing a split-decision to Yu Kimura on November 28, 2015.
In 2018, Guevara has recorded two stoppage victories, an eighth-round knockout of Angel Guevara on May 18, 2018 followed by a tenth-round stoppage of Roberto Sanchez on September 1, 2018.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (4-0, 3 KOs), age 24, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and accomplished amateur originally from Uzbekistan, will make his American television debut in the co-main event featuring Dmitry Bivol vs. Jean Pascal fighting for the WBA World Light Heavyweight title. The doubleheader takes place Saturday, November 24 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City and will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10 PM ET/PT.
Akhmadaliev will face Isaac Zarate of San Pedro, California, (16-3-3, 2 KOs) in a 10-round fight with the WBA Intercontinental Super Bantamweight title at stake. Zarate, age 27, is hot off his upset split decision victory over Horatio Garcia in September.
Akhmadaliev lives in Brooklyn, New York and trains in Indio, California with Joel and Antonio Diaz. “It’s been my dream to fight on HBO where Roy Jones, Manny Pacquiao, and many other great fighters have fought. I can’t believe that I’ll have this opportunity,” said Akhmadaliev. “I’m grateful to my promoter World of Boxing, to Dmitry Bivol for this chance, and of course HBO.
“Don’t miss my fight. I’ll bring the New Drama Show on HBO on November 24th,” promised Akhmadaliev.
“We are very excited that Akhmadaliev will be featured with Dmitry Bivol’s HBO appearance,” said Vadim Kornilov, Akhmadaliev’s manager. “This should be an exciting night of boxing. Akhmadaliev really knows how to get the fans out of their seats. I promise you’ll be sorry if you miss this debut on November 24th.”
As an amateur, Akhmadaliev won the 2012 and 2015 World Championship Silver Medal. In the 2015 final, he knocked down Michael “Mick” Conlan of Ireland, but lost the gold in a controversial decision. He won a Bronze Medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and closed his amateur career as a 2017 Asian Games Gold Medalist. His amateur record stands at 300 wins with 80 knockouts, against just 15 losses.
After turning professional in 2018 and signing with Andrey Ryabinsky and World of Boxing, Akhmadaliev has now fought four times, with three knockout wins and one decision. A southpaw with power in both hands, it won’t take long for American boxing fans to discover “MJ’s” fan friendly, aggressive style, which should suit him well in the professional ranks and quickly make him a star.
“Every time MJ steps in the ring it is a spectacular show,” said Kornilov, who co-manages Akhmadaliev with Oleg Frolov. “His favorite fighters are Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin and Vasyl Lomachenko, exceptional role models. He wants to become undisputed champion and a major star in his division in the first three years of his career. He is one to watch.”
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney reflect on Saturday night's HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader, featuring Daniel Jacobs' hard-fought win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Alberto Machado's explosive first-round knockout of Yuandale Evans, and Heather Hardy's grudge match victory over Shelly Vincent.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
NEW YORK -- Daniel Jacobs knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“Sergey Derevyanchenko is a true competitor,” he said after he battled his way to a hard-fought split decision win over twelve hard-fought rounds. “I knew it would be hard and I had to dig deep. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.”
What he got into was a bruising, draining encounter with former training partner Derevyanchenko, who recovered from a first round knockdown to pressure Jacobs constantly, ensuring the American could not relax for even a minute and pushing him all the way in a contest that displayed the defensive acumen of both men as well as their explosiveness.
It briefly seemed as if they would act out a different script as Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) backed Derevyanchenko to the ropes in the first round, unleashed a pair of right hands to the body and then landed a huge right to the top of the head that caused the Ukrainian to tumble forward and touch his gloves to the canvas. Derevyanchenko beat the count, and Jacobs sought to press the advantage, but with just 10 seconds remaining in the round the moment had passed.
Indeed, it was Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10 KOs) who came out for the second round showing the greater purpose, closing the gap on the taller New Yorker and firing fast combinations in close. Jacobs, showing poise and skill, slipped and parried much of the Ukrainian’s assault, as he did in the third; but Derevyanchenko was warming to his task now and by the fourth was flying at Jacobs with relentless abandon. Jacobs, though, remained calm, and it was he who landed the biggest shot of that fourth round in the form of a big right hand that made his opponent’s legs do an involuntary dance.
This now was the pattern of the fight: Derevyanchenko pressing, advancing; Jacobs slipping, blocking, watching, and landing fierce blows as his foe came forward. This was boxing of the highest level, exemplified by a sixth round in which each man launched bombs at each other even as they both slipped under the artillery that came their way. The seventh and eighth saw both men digging in deep and fighting in the trenches, throwing and receiving hard, punishing blows; but by the ninth, Jacobs seemed to be settling into a comfort zone as he smothered the Ukrainian’s attacks and kept him at range.
Derevyanchenko was not finished yet, however, eking out the tenth courtesy of a left-right combination that landed cleanly. Back came Jacobs in the eleventh, blasting his opponent with massive right hands. And both men emptied their gas tanks in a furious twelfth that an exhausted Derevyanchenko shaded from an equally gassed Jacobs.
Judge Julie Lederman saw Derevyanchenko as the winner, by the slimmest of 114-113 margins, but was overruled by Tom Schreck and Steve Weisfeld, who scored the bout 115-112 for Jacobs.
“He’s a strong competitor,” said Jacobs. “He’s as tough as it gets. He worked the body tremendously, but I showed true grit. He is as tough as it comes. He is one of the most skilled competitors I’ve ever been in the ring with, and that includes Gennady Golovkin. But now we absolutely want to fight Canelo. That’s what the fans want. Let’s make that fight happen.”
In super featherweight action, Miguel Cotto protégé Alberto “El Explosivo” Machado lived up to his nickname by dropping Yuandale Evans three times and finishing him in the very first round of a scheduled 12-rounder. Evans (20-2, 14 KOs), whose only previous defeat was also a first-round knockout, started brightly as he worked behind fast combinations, but about halfway through the frame, Machado calmly threw out a southpaw jab and followed it up with a straight left that sent Evans onto his trunks.
Evens beat the count and willingly re-entered the fray, but a Machado hook stiffened him and sent him staggering backward. Machado (21-0, 17 KOs) plowed forward and unleashed a torrent of punches with Evans against the ropes, sending him tumbling forward and casing his gloves to touch the canvas for a second knockdown.
The fight could easily have been stopped then, but referee Ricky Gonzalez allowed it to continue. It did not do so for long, another Machado right hook detonating on Evans’ jaw, sending him crashing on to his back and prompting Martinez to wave a halt to proceedings. Official time was 2:25.
In the opener, Heather Hardy repeated her 2016 win over Shelly Vincent; but, unlike their first encounter, which went her way by majority decision after a close contest, the verdict was this time unanimous. It was also relatively comfortable – if that word can rightly be applied to a tough 10 rounds in which Hardy had to repel the constant onrushing advances of Vincent (23-2, 1 KO) and picked up a nasty gash over her left eye, courtesy of an accidental head butt, in the process. But Hardy (22-0, 4 KOs) simply had too much skill for the determined but limited Vincent, taking advantage of superior footwork, punch variety, and boxing fundamentals to strafe Vincent as her opponent charged forward. Hers were the cleaner, sharper punches throughout, and the 97-93 verdicts of Glenn Feldman and Kevin Morgan were accurate representations of the action, although Alan Rubenstein’s 99-91 card might have been closer to the mark. Even so, Vincent never stopped coming, and Hardy would have ended the evening feeling the effects of a tough fight.
By Kieran Mulvaney
NEW YORK – Sometimes, it’s personal.
It was always personal for Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, who loathed each other for a variety of reasons before they exchanged a solitary punch and detested each other ever more with each blow they swapped. It was personal for Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas, for reasons that years later still seem oddly trivial and petty. If it wasn’t personal between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez the first time around, it certainly was during the build-up to their second meeting, a boiling geyser of resentment, anger and accusation.
Sometimes, though, it is not.
Most of the time, in fact, personal antipathy is not part of the equation. Hard as it may be for lesser mortals to truly comprehend, professional boxers rarely enter the ring with any deep-seated animus toward the person in the opposite corner. Even as they seek to remove their opponents from consciousness, they see them not as hated enemies but merely as rivals: obstacles who must be overcome on the road to success.
It isn’t personal, in other words. It’s business.
It’s the phrase that’s uttered more frequently at pre-fight press conferences than any other except, “Camp was great,” “I’m in the best shape of my life,” and “I’d like to thank [insert promoter/manager/TV network/deity].”
“This isn’t personal. It’s just business.”
Rarely has that aphorism been more appropriate than for Saturday night’s main event, when Daniel Jacobs takes on Sergiy Derevyanchenko in middleweight action from the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (HBO, 10 PM ET/PT). When Ukraine’s Derevyanchenko came to the United States and elected to base himself out of New York, he was introduced to Andre Rozier and Gary Stark, who train fighters together out of a small basement gym in Brooklyn. Among the boxers who had long been a part of that setup was Jacobs. The two men have sparred 300 or so rounds, by Jacobs’ reckoning, and as they both moved up the middleweight rankings, they knew that the day may come when they had to face each other.
That day will come on Saturday, and once it became clear that it would, trainers and fighters had a decision to make. The decision was that Rozier would stick with Jacobs, whom he’s known since the boxer was 14; and that Stark would work the corner of Derevyanchenko. Rozier has made no effort to hide the awkwardness of the situation, confiding that he speaks to Stark most days and that he has, on occasion, confessed to Derevyanchenko that, “You know I don’t like this, right?”
As if to discourage any concerns that the contest might devolve into a lovefest, Jacobs has emphasized that his relationship with Derevyanchenko is primarily professional – that, in his words, “We’re not friends, exactly.”
But if such concerns do exist, they are misplaced. The ability of boxers to compartmentalize their emotions is borderline superhuman; the risks inherent in their business are substantial, and opportunities to be at the top of the tree come by far too infrequently to allow any relaxation or dropping of the guard. Even friendship has rarely prevented pugilists from beating each other to a pulp.
After all, few uttered the “It’s not personal, it’s business” line more frequently than Manny Pacquiao, who would smile benevolently at his opponent, giggle at the fake antagonism during the ritual face-off, and then leave that same opponent poleaxed, with senses scrambled, on the ring canvas. Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti did not become the best of buddies until their trilogy was completed, but they were friendly even as they battered each other.
For Jacobs and Derevyanchenko, the stakes are too high for either to be less than fully committed to being as effectively violent as possible: possible matchups with Golovkin or Alvarez, or any number of high-profile, lucrative and career-defining fights in the upper echelons of the middleweight division. Jacobs underlined as much at the final pre-fight press conference, even as he acknowledged the unusual circumstances of the matchup.
“To see these guys on the opposite side of the ring come fight night, it’s going to be bittersweet,” he conceded. “We all knew each other for a very, very long time, so it’s almost like we’re family. But this is why we do it. For the love of the sport: for you guys, and your entertainment. You’re not going to want to miss this fight. It’s going to be a stellar fight.”
Weights from New York City:
Daniel Jacobs: 159.6 pounds
Sergiy Derevyanchenko: 159.4 pounds
Alberto Machado: 130.0 pounds
Yuandale Evans: 129.4 pounds
Heather Hardy: 124.6 pounds
Shelly Vincent: 125.4 pounds
Everyone knows that in sports -- and especially in boxing -- money often forces people who are otherwise friendly with one another to toss aside the personal in favor of the professional and compete for the biggest prizes on the biggest stages for the biggest purses. That certainly will be the case with the fight between Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko, men who have reportedly sparred more than 300 rounds and call Andre Rozier his chief second.
Because Gennady Golovkin chose to fight Saul Alvarez in a big-money rematch instead of facing mandatory challenger Derevyanchenko for far less money, GGG was stripped of the IBF belt and this fight was foisted on Team Derevyanchenko as well as Rozier. Rozier was presented with the same quandary as Angelo Dundee when Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Ellis signed to fightj in mid-1971. Ali solved the problem by granting Dundee permission to work with Ellis. The reason: As Ellis' manager, Dundee stood to make a bigger share of the purse and he wanted his loyal friend to maximize his pay check. Meanwhile, Ali hired Harry Wiley (who worked with Henry Armstrong and Ali's hero Sugar Ray Robinson) on a one-fight-only basis. Meanwhle, Rozier opted to work with Jacobs because he regarded Jacobs as a son while he saw Derevyanchenko as a nephew. For the record, Derevyanchenko's chief second will be Gary Russell Sr., father of WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr.
How will this intramural match turn out? Will they fight like brothers who place love over competition or will they fight like brothers who want dearly to earn bragging rights for the rest of their lives? Let's hope it's the latter.
Life After Golovkin
Jacobs has fought twice since losing to Golovkin over 12 rounds, and, in light of his 12-round decision wins over heavy underdogs Luis Arias and Maciej Sulecki, one must wonder if Jacobs has lost his vaunted KO touch. That would be nit-picking, of course, because Jacobs was in control throughout most of those 24 rounds, control that included one knockdown each in round 11 against Arias and in round 12 against Sulecki. Arias produced plenty of pre-fight bluster but failed to back it up in the ring as he averaged a meager 26.5 punches per round and reached double-digit connects in only two rounds while Jacobs, who averaged a mild 48.4 punches per round, out-landed Arias 184-88 overall, 44-18 jabs and 140-70 power, produced a 12 rounds to zero sweep in terms of total connects and landed power shots, and led 45%-32% in power accuracy. In the end, the Arias fight was the perfect way for Jacobs to begin the next phase of his career.
Against Sulecki, however, Jacobs experienced more difficulty, mostly because Sulecki decided to engage Jacobs before Jacobs' hometown fans in Brooklyn -- and for those Polish fans who were there to cheer for him. Sulecki produced better output (54.8 punches per round to Jacobs' 52.6) and he had flickers of success that Arias never produced. But like the Arias fight, at least in a macro sense, Jacobs was in control throughout most of the contest as the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown had Jacobs up 11-0-1 in total connects and power shots, and ahead 205-143 overall, 39-37 jabs and 166-106 power as well as 33%-22% overall, 19%-12% jabs and 39%-30% power. Better yet for Jacobs: He produced the better finishing kick in both fights. In rounds 8-12, Jacobs out-landed Arias 107-43 overall, 21-6 jabs and 86-37 power while, against Sulecki, he prevailed 81-57 overall and 69-43 power during that same period. That's pretty impressive for a man who, before his current string of 12-round fights, had fought past round eight only once in his first 29 pro fights. In a nutshell, the evolution of Daniel Jacobs continues.
Playing the Numbers
Derevyanchenko is a statistician's dream because he blends excellent volume, exceptional jabbing and enviable accuracy no matter what target he spots. In nine CompuBox-tracked fights between March 2013 and August 2017, Derevyanchenko averaged 70.4 punches per round to his opponents' 47.4, more than doubled their total connects per round (26.1 to 11.5) as well as their power connects per round (18.9 to 9.1), dominated the battle of the jabs (30.5 attempts/7.2 connects per round to his foes' 18.1/2.4) and connected with far more precision in all phases (37%-24% overall, 24%-13% jabs, 47%-31% power). A good sign of Derevyanchenko's progression (and talent level) is that many of these gaps were maintained as he elevated his level of opposition. His most recent outing was against Tureano Johnson, who had secured a fight with GGG but had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. Derevyanchenko scored a 12th round TKO win in this IBF title eliminator, and the numbers match up well with his previous profile: An activity gap of nearly 25 punches per round (72.9 to 48.1), dominant jabbing despite his 5-foot-9 stature (32.4 attempts/8.3 connects per round to Johnson's 9.6/1.2), connect gulfs of 336-170 overall, 93-13 jabs and 243-157 power, and accuracy differences of 41%-31% overall, 26%-12% jabs and 54%-36% power.
Like Jacobs, Derevyanchenko had plenty in the tank despite the demanding pace he set; in fact, it was Johnson who hit the wall in round 11 and who fell from a devastatingly precise combination early in round 12. If Derevyanchenko can perform at this level against strangers, how well will he perform against someone with whom he sparred hundreds of rounds?
Inside The Numbers
The selective Jacobs (47 punches thrown per round in last 6 fights), landed 41.8% of his power punches and landed/threw slightly below the middle. avg. for jabs. As a result of his selectiveness (and power), Jacobs opponents landed just 9.8 punches per round and just 6.2 power shots. Derevyanchenko, making a huge step up in class, landed nearly 40% of his total punches and a whopping 51.9% of his power shots (18.7 per round). Dere opponents landed a noticeable 34.5% of their power punches (10.6 per round/middle avg.: 11.8). The body attack, to this point has not been a factor for either fighter, as just 21.5% of Jacobs landed punches are body shots to 24.5% for Derevyanchenko (CompuBox avg.: 25.8%)
Derevyanchenko is the toughest opponent Jacobs has faced since Golovkin, and, unlike the GGG fight, Jacobs can't ignore the IBF-mandated morning-of-the-fight weigh-in to prevent fighters like himself to abuse the system (he reportedly rehydrated to nearly 190 pounds against Golovkin, a factor that likely helped him survive the fourth-round knockdown and absorb GGG's fire for the remainder of the bout). While Derevyanchenko is a natural middleweight, Jacobs is a cruiserweight masquerading as a middleweight. And, at age 31, the strain of managing his weight overnight following the first weigh-in is magnified.
Three factors will help Jacobs greatly: His talent level, the fact that this fight will take place in New York City and his familiarity with Derevyanchenko. The Ukrainian, starving for a title bout for years, will bring his best, and that best will test Jacobs like he's seldom been tested. But Jacobs is the bigger puncher of the two -- and the much bigger human being. Size does matter in boxing, and so does elite talent. Jacobs has both, and because of that he'll win on points.
By Sarah Deming
The last time Heather “The Heat” Hardy and Shelly “Shelito’s Way” Vincent brawled, it was Ring Magazine’s 2016 Women’s Fight of the Year. Hardy won a hard-fought majority decision that night that Vincent still disputes.
Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, they will do it again, this time for the vacant WBO world title. The ten-round featherweight contest kicks off a tripleheader televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing at 10 PM ET/PT.
“We’re gonna steal the show,” Vincent (23-1, 1 KO) said. “I can’t wait. I just want to prove I’m the better fighter. Because I just don’t feel it in my heart that I lost.”
Although the Garden is Hardy’s backyard – she won the New York City Golden Gloves there in 2012 – it will be stocked with New Englanders wearing Vincent’s signature V for Vendetta mask.
“Shelito’s Way” will take her signature ring walk wearing a straightjacket to symbolize the way women athletes are tied down. She will hold up a photo of her late mother, and lead an entourage of little kids who follow her everywhere like the pied piper.
“I walk out with the kids because it symbolizes what I’m fighting for and what really matters to me,” said Vincent. “The boxing, I never even got into it to make money or to even turn pro. I just got into it to channel my depression and my anger. It was an outlet for me to use my voice.”
Hardy (21-0, 4 KOs) is the sole blemish on the 39-year-old Vincent’s record. Their 2016 showdown was one Vincent angled for since her early days as a pro, when she started to hear about a New York featherweight who sold a lot of tickets. Vincent crashed Hardy’s early fights at Roseland Ballroom, calling her out, and laid siege to her online.
“It actually became personal, which it was never meant to be,” says Vincent. “And then we genuinely hated each other.”
The trash talk centered on the difference between their personal styles: Vincent is gay, tattooed, Cape Verdean-Italian, with a technicolor Mohawk and a cultivated chip on her shoulder. Hardy is a blonde Irish single mom who wears lipstick to weigh-ins and smiles for the camera.
Team Shelito suggested Hardy’s success was handed to her because of her looks. The Heat’s fans countered by accusing Vincent of using steroids. The back and forth sold the fight. Promoter Lou Dibella signed Vincent and made the match on just three weeks’ notice.
The two women battled for ten thrilling rounds, the stocky Vincent bobbing her way inside on the 5’4” nonstop brawling Hardy. The fight was rain delayed until after the main event to keep fans in their seats, yet shunted to another TV channel, where it attracted fewer viewers. Hardy and Vincent received inconsequential purses. They were used to it.
Despite their differences, Hardy and Vincent are allies in a common battle. Both are rape survivors who found solace through fighting. Both broke through boxing’s glass ceiling via their ability to generate live gate. Both are humble in the face of the rising generation of women who have had the benefit of inclusion in the Olympics. The same night they slugged it out in Coney Island, Claressa Shields was making history in Rio, becoming the first American boxer – male or female – to win two Olympic golds.
Since then, Vincent has racked up five straight wins. She had eight full weeks to train for this rematch. Her girlfriend has been away filming a reality show for Telemundo, and trainer Pete Manfredo Sr. said, “Shelly has been very focused, no distractions.”
Manfredo is a Rhode Island institution who brought up some of the best fighters in the area: Olympian Jason Estrada; Toka Kahn Clary; and his son Pete Jr., who appeared on the Contender.
When I visited them in Manfredo’s sunny storefront gym in Cranston, his 83-year-old father had just died. In between comforting his mother, feeding his cats, and making funeral arrangements, Manfredo had come in to train Shelly.
“She’s difficult, but I love her,” he said, tearing up. “She’s always there for me. She’d do anything for me. So I gotta give her my full attention now.”
After a few rounds of pads, his mood lifted.
He said, “Shelly’s gonna stay in her face. This time we’re not gonna take our foot off the accelerator.”
“Last time I hurt her like three times,” Vincent added. “Heather knows I hurt her. And I’m gonna hurt her this time, too.”
Hardy laughed when I repeated that.
“Shelly knows that her two little hands ain’t gonna knock me out. My mamma blessed me with one thing, and that’s my tough Irish chin.”
Heather was in Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, waiting for her trainer and boyfriend Devon Cormack to finish playing reggae drums in his office and watch her spar.
“I have to ask him the right way,” she said. “Women always have to ask for things the right way.”
It is an art Hardy has perfected.
Frustrated by the business side of women’s boxing, Hardy had switched to MMA, where the money and exposure are better. She is 2-1 in Bellator now and seems unfazed by the brutal first loss she suffered last year, which left her nose broken and brought her career stitches count to forty. She describes the experience as akin to the last scene in Braveheart, where they cut the hero open and pull out his guts.
“I fight like I live my life,” Hardy said. “I’m not technically the best fighter. But when I go in there, I use what I got, and I use it to the max. I use every tool I have in the shed as hard as I can and I never quit.”
She climbs in the ring with Ronica Jeffrey, a stylish featherweight with fast hands, and they spar while Cormack keeps up a steady stream of critique, like a Jamaican mother hen.
“Other people have trainers, but I have a teacher,” Hardy says. “I’m still learning. I’ve only been boxing for eight years.”
She knows she is getting better, because there was a time when Ronica used to toy with her, and now they go eight hard rounds. Hardy soldiers through the fatigue. At 36, cutting weight has been getting harder; she’s been on an all-liquid diet for a week.
When I ask if she still hates Vincent, she sighs.
“When you have a fight like we had, a piece of your soul comes out in the ring. For a little while, she tried to be hard and talk trash, and I was just like, you can’t fool me!”
“You gave me a piece of you that ain’t nobody ever had before, and I ain't never giving it back. We exchanged souls. And you can say whatever you want, but you got no choice but to respect me.”