Heather Hardy is one of boxing's most popular female fighters. She has a dedicated fan base in her hometown of New York and is coming off her biggest win -- yet she has no idea when she might fight next.
The reason is because of the new insurance law that recently went into effect in her home state and caused her promoter, Lou DiBella, to cancel the remaining cards he was planning there this year on Friday.
In a nationally televised fight, Hardy won a majority decision over then-unbeaten rival Shelly Vincent at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island in Brooklyn. That card was on Aug. 21 and there has not been a professional boxing show in New York since, and there are none scheduled, putting a major dent into the careers of boxers who fight in New York and promoters who put on cards there.
Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia already canceled his Oct. 14 card at the Paramount in Huntington on New York's Long Island, where he has been doing regular club cards for years. On Friday, DiBella announced that he has canceled the remaining cards he was planning for the year, including a Dec. 16 date he had on hold for a show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn - a show Hardy was supposed to box on.
The reason is because of the recent law (the one legalizing MMA in the state) that went into effect in New York that included new insurance regulations, including dramatically increased premiums that promoters must pay in order to run a show. Premiums went from $10,000 to $50,000 for general medical coverage per fighter on each card, a change most promoters had no issue with and conforms to the norm in many other states. But the law also requires a new unprecedented $1 million minimum requirement for each fighter in the event the fighter suffers a traumatic brain injury, a very rare occurrence.
And even if promoters could take on the added financial burden of the increased insurance premiums - they are expected to only impact the smaller club shows - there has yet to be any insurance company authorized by the state to offer such a policy and it does not appear that, despite the efforts of various promoters and the New York State Athletic Commission, a policy offer is imminent.
The NYSAC said it expects at least two companies to soon begin offering policies, but it is unlikely to happen in time to salvage any boxing dates in the state for the remainder of the year and it could stretch the state's boxing blackout into 2017.
The issue is a serious burden for Hardy (18-0, 4 KOs), and many other fighters who are basically out of work since they fight primarily in New York, where they earn money from their base purses in addition to a percentage of the tickets they sell.
"These new insurance restrictions are not just destroying the sport of boxing in New York, they are destroying my livelihood," Hardy said. "Do you have any idea what life looks like for a professional boxer, especially one who is a female and a single parent? With these new laws, fewer shows and dates being moved or canceled, I don't know how I'm going to survive at all, let alone the upcoming holiday season. I'm going to have to go back to delivering books and answering phones to try to cover the bills."
September marked the first time in more than 11 years since a full calendar month went into the books without a professional boxing card in New York.
DiBella has moved his "Broadway Boxing" series, a staple of the New York fight scene, out of state. He has a card on Nov. 19 at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut and on Dec. 2 at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, but that is of little solace to the fighters he promotes who call New York home and earn a portion of their purse by selling tickets to their hometown fans.
"There is such a rich history of boxing in New York," DiBella said. "And now the sport has, for all intents and purposes, been evicted by a legislature willfully ignorant of both the boxing and insurance industries. The actions of the powers that be in Albany and their political appointees are depriving New York state residents in the sport of boxing from their livelihoods. This is hitting boxers very hard, as most struggle to pay their bills and need to be active.
"Small businesses are being put at jeopardy with no recourse or ability to continue plying their trade. This is a disgraceful abuse of legislative and state power." The NYSAC could modify the law, which reads, "The commission may from time to time, promulgate regulations to adjust the amount of such minimum limits." But the law went into effect in September with the commission declining to modify the $1 million minimum for coverage requirement, which promoters call arbitrary. The commission said at the time it did not plan to make any changes.
"The New York State Athletic Commission voted to approve the final regulations governing combat sports in New York State. NYSAC's primary objective is to ensure the safest environment for combative sports in the nation so that combat athletes competing in New York State incur the fewest and least severe injuries possible," commission spokesman Laz Benitez told ESPN in a statement. "While some combative sports industry professionals expressed concern over the premiums for the $1 million coverage, these amounts are as yet determined.
"However, from discussions with insurers about to enter the market, we believe the costs will be reasonable. Ultimately, the frequency and severity of life-threatening brain injuries incurred in New York State will drive the premiums. NYSAC believes the best way to keep premiums down is to keep injuries to a minimum."
DiBella said he had no choice but to cancel shows because of the law and the lack of a policy even being offered yet.
"It is incumbent upon either the legislature or commission to take a long look at what they've done and fix it," he said. "If there is an honest intention to continue boxing in the state, there must be a modification of the required limits. I have had endless conversations with insurance brokers and underwriters and any narrative being spun suggesting that a policy with an affordable premium will be in place soon is flatly wrong and not helping restore boxing in New York.
"I have several dates on hold with the New York State Athletic Commission in January 2017 and beyond and I look forward to bringing world class boxing back to New York, but I must have both the assurance that it is legally possible to satisfy the insurance requirements and proper time to promote a show."