by B.A. Cass
The fight between Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido, which seemed to be just about everyone’s pick for 2016 fight of the year, was certainly a good fight. But thirty seconds into Round One and the two men were already in their first clinch, something that turned into a bizarre twirl. A minute later, Vargas was walking Salido back as if they were partners in an intermediate ballroom dance class. Yes, there were moments of intense onslaught by both men, and yes, the majority of the fight was brutal and entertaining. However, it was nowhere near as thrilling as the best fights of the past.
Over the week I watched nineteen fights, both female and male, from 2016. I had originally intended to watch twenty-four, but five of the female fights were not available online. (Click this link to get the full list of the fights I watched: http://bit.ly/2x65wKk.) I had two criteria for judging these matches. The first was that the opponents had to be well matched, meaning no early round knockouts or clear domination. The second was that that the fight had to be thrilling from beginning to end. This, unfortunately, disqualified Amanda Serrano, who KO’d Olivia Gerula in the first round of their fight. And while it was a pleasure watch the skilled Jelena Mrdjenovic, she was the more talented fighter in both her fights that I watched. On the male side, I was impressed by all of what I saw except by the Dillian Whyte vs. Dereck Chisora fight, which seemed to me just like two really big guys punching each other in slow-motion.
And while I was deeply impressed by the Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santo Cruz bout (I gave it runner up), one fight stood out from all the rest. And that’s Heather Hardy vs. Shelly Vincent, my pick for “2016 Fight of the Year.”
The public animosity between these two fighters has been well-documented. Vincent spent years trying to secure a fight with Hardy, going so far as to show up at Hardy’s fights to taunt and ridicule her. Their fans exchanged vicious words. Hardy’s mother may have even been involved in a physical altercation with Vincent at The Roseland Ballroom, though that has not been confirmed. In other words, this was the real deal, an epic fight three years in the making.
But put aside all that, and put aside the historic nature of the fight. (It was the first female boxing match televised in the US in over 20 years.) In fact, put aside everything and anything that didn’t take place in the ring that night at Coney Island’s Ford Amphitheater because it was, from beginning to end, a spectacular fight. There was no clinching, not a single moment when either fighter tried to save energy. Hardy and Vincent simply gave everything they had from the first bell to the last.
The New York based Hardy won by split-decision, which didn’t surprise Vincent, who had traveled from Providence to take the fight. “It being in New York, I knew from the gate that unless I knocked her out, I wasn’t going to get a W over there,” Vincent recently told me. “I had it six rounds to four. And two rounds she beat me. I admit that. She beat me those two rounds. But clearly I dominated. I kept moving forward.”
Devon Cormack, Hardy’s trainer, obviously doesn’t agree with Vincent’s analysis: “At no point did I feel Heather was losing the fight,” he told me over the phone. “She made the adjustments as the fight went on, more than Shelly did.” Still, Cormack acknowledges that it was close. “It wasn’t a perfect thing having a split decision, but I didn’t think it was that far removed, which is why I thought it made for an excellent fight.”
Vincent’s trainer, Pete Manfredo Sr., can’t figure out why there hasn’t been a rematch. All he knows is that it should have been done already. “It was the fight of the night, and it even had Errol Spence on the card that night. I thought Vincent/Hardy was a much better fight for the crowd, even the television crowd.”
Let’s be honest, though: if a rivalry like this occurred between two male boxers and their much-anticipated, widely-viewed fight ended in a close, split-decision win, the rematch would have already happened.
Still, Hardy remains hopeful for the future of women’s boxing. “If you put Holly Holm with someone like a Katie Taylor, or one with Cecilia Brækhus, that would be a huge money fight—maybe not in America but it would be a huge money fight because so much of the country follows MMA. Even when I had my first MMA fight, I got tens of thousands of new followers. I was on the MMA radio show with Ariel Hawani and like a hundred people had tweeted it out. And so the more public demand, the more popular it gets, the easier it will be.”
Let’s hope Hardy is right. Let’s hope that the gods of the boxing world come together and align the stars to make this rematch happen. In the meantime, you can see Shelly Vincent fight in person at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on September 15th. (Buy your tickets here: http://bit.ly/ShellyVincent). And, though her opponent has yet to be announced, Heather Hardy is set to return for her second Bellator fight on October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Follow B.A. Cass on Twitter @WiththePunch
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