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Tonya Harding: Infamous ice skater’s ill-fated attempt at pro boxing

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World Boxing News looks into obscure celebrities who dipped their toes into boxing. This installment puts the spotlight on Tonya Harding.

Everyone around in the late 1980s and early 1990s knows the story of Harding. A figure skating prodigy with a move many feared to try.

Harding became the first woman to complete a triple axel maneuver during the early stages of her career on the ice. The most difficult routine of that time, others feared to tread where Harding had amazingly gone.

Winning the National Championships in 1991 at the sixth attempt, Harding was the favorite to land Olympic gold in 1992. But only if she could pull off her famous move.

As it turned out, she failed and finished fourth in 1992.

Nancy Kerrigan

Fast forward two years, and Harding was again in line for a place on the US Team. An injury to rival Nancy Kerrigan allowed her to do this with relative ease.

It then emerged that Harding’s husband was involved in a plot to injure Kerrigan at the Olympic Trials. Subsequently, authorities targeted Harding as a potential suspect alongside her spouse.

Allowed to skate, Harding came eighth in Norway as Kerrigan gained a silver. The medalist had recovered from her ailment in time to compete.

After the closing ceremony, Harding stood trial for her part in Kerrigan’s attack and was banned from skating for life in 1994.

Years of scratching around for a ‘celebrity’ living ensued for Harding until she was asked to participate in a boxing match for charity.

Tonya Harding – professional boxer

Defeating Bill Clinton accuser Paula Jones in 2002, Harding got the boxing bug. She turned pro in 2003 on the undercard to Mike Tyson’s bout with Clifford Ettiene in Memphis that same year.

Harding lost a four-round decision to debutant Samantha Browning in a contest bereft of skill or composure.

Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mike Tyson, who himself was becoming something of a circus – and Jeff Lacy, Harding would never again feature on such a high-profile show.

Due to her skill, or lack of it, Harding had to be pitted against opponents of a similar level. But this kind of thing cannot last long, even if women’s boxing was at a low ebb during that period.

Needing to win to keep up interest in her new-found undertaking, Harding then beat three novice foes in the same fashion as the first fight. Wildy swinging away with no regard for defense.

There was no way Harding could make it anywhere near title level. Therefore, it was a sideshow in a Butterbean’s ilk over four rounds.


As soon as Harding was pitched in with any fighter who’d experienced boxing before, everything began to unravel.

Melissa Yanis, who was 1-1 at the time, did the first load of significant damage with a victory inside 75 seconds in August 2003. It would be ten months before Harding fought again.

Returning in 2004 against two-fight Amy Johnson in Canada, Harding was stopped in two rounds and hung up her gloves for good.

It was undoubtedly a wild six months before the extended period out, and no doubt Harding probably made decent money for her efforts.

Blaming asthma and not her ability for the decision, most were glad to see Harding finally give up the ghost.

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