Shelly Vincent: ‘Hardy’s everything that’s wrong with women’s boxing’
The opportunity Shelly Vincent had been waiting for since turning pro finally came to her at the most unexpected of moments.
As she left the ring following her majority decision win over Christina Ruiz on July 21 at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut, the 37-year-old featherweight was told she had a standing offer to face heated rival Heather Hardy in exactly a month.
The timing – she’d have to return right to training two days after a close eight-round fight – was not ideal but the chance to fight on a nationally televised “PBC on NBC” card was one she couldn’t pass up.
“I couldn’t pass up this opportunity, especially who it is, the circumstances, the television. You gotta do it. It’s not for just me and Heather; it’s for women’s boxing in general,” Vincent (18-0, 1 knockout) tells RingTV.com.
The fight, scheduled for 10 two-minute rounds, will support the Errol Spence Jr.-Leonard Bundu welterweight fight at the Ford Ampitheater in Coney Island, New York this Sunday.
Vincent’s road to the national spotlight comes after five years of building a career under the radar in her native Connecticut and other New England states. It comes many more years after she found the sport, which serves as an escape from personal pain.
Vincent grew up in New London in the southeast part of Connecticut. At age 13, she was raped. She and her mother experienced physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather. She lost her mother to leukemia and then her grandmother, seven months later.
At the time she was offered the Hardy fight, she was planning a trip to Bolivia to undergo therapy sessions to deal with her sexual abuse, a trauma she says never completely heals.
Boxing was for her a way to channel feelings she had no means of understanding.
“I used the boxing more as therapy. There’d be times I’d be in there crying. It was just something that made me feel better. It was the only time that I wasn’t depressed.”
Boxing was in and out of her life but was never something she took seriously. She says she learned initially by watching videos of Mike Tyson and Vinny Pazienza on YouTube, and being a diminutive (she stands 5-foot even) and aggressive fighter has earned her the nickname “Mini Vinny.” She did three stints in prison for fighting, she says, and it wasn’t until her final stretch when she saw the sport as a way to bring direction to her life.
“I said ‘I’m gonna come out and take it serious because I feel like I’m really good. I’m gonna be a world champion.’ And everyone laughed at me,” she remembers.
The laughing ended when, at age 32, she won the 2011 National Golden Gloves 119-pound title (Hardy competed that same year at 132 pounds) and she turned pro that year. She’s now trained by Peter Manfredo Sr.out of Providence, Rhode Island and managed by Mike Criscio.
“Shelly is a girl who had a tough childhood. She brings all that anger to the ring with her when she fights,” says Criscio, who says the vision is a trilogy between Vincent and Hardy (17 -0, 4 KOs).
Since the beginning of this year, she’s been promoted by DiBella Entertainment, a New York-based promotion run by Lou DiBella, who has routinely featured women on his Broadway Boxing club show series.
Breakthrough for women’s boxing
This fight, the first to ever be showcased on a Premier Boxing Champions broadcast, is a rarity in women’s boxing. Female fighters almost never get television time, having lost the momentum Christy Martin created when she first captivated audiences on Tyson undercards in the mid-1990s. Afterward, women’s bouts were often booked as sideshow attractions and suffered from a lack of marketable matchups.
This fight has been building since at least January, when DiBella had Hardy and Vincent meet at center ring after at BB King’s in New York after Vincent shut out Renata Domsodi in a six-rounder.
The two jawed at each other before DiBella promised: “You’re gonna see it soon. And I’d like to see it for a title and I’d like to see it on television.”
Hardy’s story of dealing with abuse and depression rings similar to Vincent’s and, like Vincent, she’s primarily an aggressive fighter. But Vincent is content to see herself as completely dissimilar to Hardy, who has become a media darling in New York City. Hardy stands five inches taller and dreamed of being the first female pitcher for the Yankees.
Vincent likens herself to the Boston Red Sox.
“I feel like (Hardy)’s everything that’s wrong with women’s boxing,” Vincent stated bluntly.
“She’s a way better fighter than she was a few years ago but she’s not what they say she is. They built her up. I watched people get robbed by her. I might bring some cops up to prepare for a robbery.”
Hardy, for her part, tells Bleacher Report she intends to “beat the s–t out of this girl.”
Their personal animosity aside, they share a common mission as ambassadors of women’s boxing. An entertaining showing, regardless of the outcome, could open doors for more television coverage for females. Television equals higher pay, which would be a boost to the sport across the board.
However much Vincent dislikes Hardy, she understands they’re both fighting for something greater than themselves.
“That’s what me and Heather both are fighting for, for women’s boxing and women empowerment and women equality, especially fighting in front of television. We don’t like each other. There is a genuine dislike and we do want to fight but we’re both fighting for the same things. It is a step forward in the right direction and it feels amazing to be one of those women,” says Vincent.
“We’re gonna be in there trying to take each other’s heads off. Who’s not gonna love that?”
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.