Harding tells trainer to bow out of ring
Ex-skater sends Jeff Hargis packing, hires his assistant
Tonya Harding, who will make her Oregon pro boxing debut June 13 in Lincoln City, has fired her trainer-manager and hired her assistant trainer as his replacement amid a flurry of accusations about untoward conduct from both sides.
Jeff Hargis, Harding's trainer since before her first pro fight in February, has been relieved of his duties and replaced by Will Massie.
'I had to fire Jeff because I found out a few things about his past,' says Harding, who declined to be more specific because of 'legalities' in the case. 'It is too bad. I liked him as a trainer and a person, but I have to protect myself.'
Hargis laughs when told of Harding's claims.
'She has told people I have past felonies for gun possession and prostitution, which is totally incorrect,' Hargis says.
Hargis says Harding, 32, severed relations with him after Hargis recently dismissed Massie.
'She and I exchanged words over that,' Hargis says. 'She didn't care much for it, because Will lets her have her way.'
Hargis says he had difficulty getting Harding to make important lifestyle changes.
'She needs to cut back on her night-life activity,' Hargis says. 'She wants to eat once a day. She needs to eat five or six small meals a day. Things like that we would disagree on; it's like pulling teeth to get her to do what you need to do.'
Hargis says they also argued over where to train for her next fight. Hargis, who is from Nashville, Tenn., wanted to train there. Harding is training in a suite at a Vancouver, Wash., hotel.
'Training in a hotel room isn't the same as setting up a real training camp with real training facilities,' Hargis says.
The accusations fly
Hargis said there were a couple of incidents that led him to question Massie's honesty and lifestyle. Hargis accuses Massie of using drugs, and of slipping alcohol to Harding.
Massie and Harding deny Hargis' accusations.
'I don't know why he would say that,' Massie says. 'I guess Jeff is upset because Tonya had to let him go. He was trying to keep me from having a professional relationship with her.'
Says Harding: 'We are a little bit laughing' about Hargis' claims. 'It is hard for me to understand why someone would say stuff like that, but when somebody gets fired, of course he will have hurt feelings. I wouldn't have somebody around me doing things like (Hargis) says Will has done. I just believe (Hargis) is being very vengeful.'
Nate Yoder of Prize Fight Promotions, which handles Harding's fights, expressed reservations about Massie's affiliation with his organization.
'We don't know what exactly the fallout between Jeff and Tonya was,' Yoder says. 'We just know he didn't want to go to Vancouver, and she didn't want to go to Nashville to train.
'We do know we would like to have Jeff on board. We are Tonya's promoter. She doesn't have a manager right now. Our fighters' staff members go into the ring with our logo, and we are not comfortable with Will Massie wearing our logo. I am not saying what Jeff said about Will is true. We are not upset with Tonya's decision to use Will as trainer. We just don't endorse that decision.'
Contract questions arise
Hargis signed a four-year deal to serve as Harding's trainer-manager.
'She will have to fulfill that contract,' Hargis says. 'Even if what she said about my past was true, it still would not void the contract. I am sure we will work something out, one way or the other. If we don't, we will end up in litigation.'
Harding says she doesn't intend to work with Hargis again.
'Once I had to let Jeff go, that was the end of our agreement,' she says. 'I wish him well. He is going to be great for some fighter in the future Ñ but not me.'
Massie served under Hargis for Harding's first three pro bouts.
'I have always enjoyed working with Will,' she says. 'I understand him. He is very patient with me. We are working on speeding up my hands and moving and blocking instead of watching the punches come in at my face.'
Hargis says Massie is not qualified to serve as a trainer.
'Will worked for me; he didn't work for Tonya,' Hargis says. 'Will has always been an assistant. I am not even sure he knows how to wrap hands.'
In her last fight, on March 29, Harding broke her nose. That caused her to cancel a scheduled fight May 9 in Iowa.
'It had been broken before, and this time it was fractured in three places instead of one,' Harding says. 'It takes a little longer to start feeling better. We decided to let it heal so it would be ready for the next fight.'
Hargis says he didn't approve of the upcoming bout at Chinook Winds Casino.
'She hasn't trained a lick since her last fight,' Hargis says. 'She entered into an agreement explicitly against my advisement, a violation of our contract. She has not trained, she is not prepared physically, and I didn't think it was a good idea.'
First Oregon fight on way
Harding, 2-1 since turning pro, says she has been working out on her own since shortly after her last fight. She says Massie arrived in Vancouver from Nashville last week to help her prepare for the June 13 bout.
'Tonya looks really good,' Massie says. 'Her training is going well. She is a whole different fighter than you have seen in her first three fights. You are going to see quicker hands, and she is not going to get hit as much. The upper body is a whole lot stronger.'
Hargis says it's not too late to patch things up with Harding.
'I don't think she will ever be a world champion,' he says, 'but she can be among the top-rated fighters in the bantamweight division. For picking up boxing so late in life, she has done real well. That is the disheartening thing about this. She has all the potential to make a good living in boxing the next few years.'
Harding says she intends to do just that, without Hargis' assistance.
'I think my career is going very well,' she says. 'I enjoy the training and the workouts. It is kind of hard when you get in the ring and have to hit somebody, but that's boxing. I don't know if I can ever be a world champion. I don't want to look too far ahead, but that would be totally awesome.'
Yoder confirms that Harding will appear on the Top Rank Promotions card in Lincoln City, against an as-yet unnamed opponent. Harding says she can't wait.
'It's really going to be cool to fight for the first time in Oregon,' she says. 'It's an opportunity for people who haven't been able to fly back East to see me fight. I am looking forward to it, and I am glad I have a little experience under my belt.'