From the rink, to the ring
Page 4 of 4 -- "The girls that are coming up right now are already doing amateur fights. See, I never had any amateur training, so they already have the ring feel that I don't have. I enjoy the training. I don't enjoy the fighting part of it, per se. I'm still a beginner. I've got a pretty quick jab but my strongest punch is a straight right."
Her last professional bout, against Amy Johnson in Edmonton last June 25, ended in controversy.
"I knocked the girl down in the second round and they gave her 26 seconds to recoup," says Harding. "She took her mouthpiece off and waved to the corner people, who came to the top of the stairs, which they're not supposed to do in the first place. Finally they pushed her back out there to fight."
Johnson, who is from Edmonton, won the fight with a third-round TKO. The Edmonton Sun reviewed the tape and confirmed a 26-second count. But a protest filed with the Edmonton Boxing and Wrestling Commission was denied.
"If I fell down, they'd stop the fight at 10," says Harding. "It was a Canadian-vs.-American thing. You think an American is going to win up there? Especially not if your name is Tonya Harding." Her next fight is at the Copacabana in New York City Feb. 25. Don't expect to see her in Boston.
"I would not disrespect Nancy by coming to her hometown and fighting," says Harding. "People will be bothering her for interviews. People bother me anyways. Everything about me is about how other people can make money off me and my name. Look at how many media people made millions off me at the Olympic Games. You think they might at least send me a birthday card or Christmas card."
Being the butt of jokes, she says, no longer bothers her.
"Who cares?" she says. "I've heard them all. The way I look at it, it's pretty damn sad. They're making fun of a situation that wasn't a funny situation.
"Worldwide, everywhere I go, people want my autograph or to say hi. Oh God, it's 98 percent positive."
Harding says good things have come from her troubles with domestic violence.
"I've worked and helped a few women that have had domestic abuse," she says. "As long as I can help one person, I've done something. Everything that I've been through . . . If I could help make one person not make the mistakes I've made, then it's worth it.
"I like helping people. I guess it's because of the way I was brought up -- broken home and making bad decisions and being naive, just wanting somebody to love me. You know what? You've got to love yourself, because if you don't love yourself, nobody else is going to love you. And I had to learn that. I'm proud about me and that's all that matters. It's important to know you can make a mistake. The best redemption is success."
Mixing it up
Despite a snowstorm, the Lagoon is packed on fight night, with ringside seats costing $35 and general admission $25. Most people are rooting for Drake, a local New Jersey woman. Harding enters behind several massive security guards.
She's dressed in black except for a purple "Tonya" logo around her waist. During introductions, she looks straight ahead, never acknowledging the crowd ("I know they're liquored up").
And she looks mean.
"Once I get in there, it's game face," she says.
The response is a mix of boos and cheers. Jerry Nillon, a fight fan, shrugs and says, "She's a world-class athlete trying to redeem herself. I wish her well."
Mike Green, who is not a fan, disagrees.
"I want to see her get the [expletive] kicked out of her for what she did to Nancy Kerrigan," he says.
Patricia Gibbons is more practical.
"This is Philadelphia," she says. "We boo everybody."
The fight lasts just 75 seconds, and Harding doesn't need a collapsible baton to floor this opponent.
She tattoos the spunky but unschooled Drake early and often.
"It was like, boom," says Drake of the right hand that smashed into her nose, knocked her to the canvas, and sent blood spilling onto her chest. "She was so strong she just kept going. I couldn't take a breath."
Harding smiles, hugs Drake, and leaves to meet and greet her fans. She autographs Polaroid pictures of herself with admirers for $10 apiece.
"I like fighting, but I hate hurting people," she says. "I still am a beginner. It keeps my strength, it keeps my sanity, and I don't get in trouble for hitting her."