In many ways, John Harding is the archetypal boxer. Born and raised in South East London, friends hovering around trouble and inspired by the Rocky films of the 70s, 80s and 90s. These traits could apply to any number of professional pugilists; however, John is clear to dispel any notion of “gang” life.
“I grew up in New Cross, SE14 on the postcode. It was very normal to be, I don’t want to use the word gang. More of a brotherhood. Meaning you just grow up with friends in an area and there is a historical thing of trouble with another area. You just inherit it.”
Like so many before him, boxing provided the productive route away from any trouble. The old school values that the sport instils are like no other. There will be many all too aware of the potential to stray down the wrong path, and would have perhaps done so without the intervention of the sweet science. For Harding, there were flirtations with the sport. It wasn’t a life dedicated to honing his craft but the indescribable lure of boxing pulled at his subconscious.
“I was on and off from [a] young [age]. Just wanted something to do. I was always back and forth. I really just got into it man. And the Rocky films got me into boxing. I started pursuing it and it kept me away from smoking!”
Where the now Brixton middleweight may differ from many of those who have trodden a similar path is in his heritage. Harding is fiercely proud of his roots, which originate in Sierra Leone. He speaks thoughtfully about the impact his parents’ birthplace has on his life and mentality. The word “lineal” is vastly overused, often disparagingly, in boxing, yet the consideration Harding gives to his own lineage is admirable. He discusses the previous generations of his family with respect and they clearly provide a source of inspiration to the Londoner.
“It [Sierra Leone heritage] is very big because it’s the birthplace of both my parents and I was named after my grandfather. He passed just before my second fight. At that time I should have taken time off… I was named after him so I carry his name. It’s the birthplace. It’s where my parents are from and I now go back twice a year (since last year) and it rejuvenates me. I have to go back. I know, I look and think this is where they came from. If they came from here and pursued their life, what about me? I was born here”
The aim of these trips is far from a selfish source of motivation however. There are plans to get the people of Sierra Leone involved in boxing and football, where John’s brother plays professionally, to enhance the lives of those there. A potential end goal of an official academy suddenly doesn’t seem like such an obscure ambition.
To many onlookers, a 34-year-old prospect with just 7 fights on his ledger may not be top of the watch-list. Yet, this isn’t the cautionary tale of a career halted and interrupted by injuries and out of the ring incidents. Making his pro debut in 2017, and has boxed regularly since, John has high hopes for his future. He is as fresh as it is possible to be so it is no surprise to hear his thoughts on anyone doubting his potential.
“Same thing I always say. Age, age, age, age, age. I have not let that get in my way. I feel 23 years old. I look it (he allowed himself a chuckle at that point). My body responds to it! I’ve boxed the lightest I’ve ever been, including as an amateur when I was 18. That just shows [how] my body [is]. It’s just a number! I’ve still got young life in me. Someone once said I’m like a Rolls Royce that hasn’t been driven. So, my mileage isn’t long, my face hasn’t been punched at. I see myself going far! God’s with me so hell yeah, I’m going for world honours! But I’ve got to take it bit by bit. Step by step and the main thing is opening doors for people who see me. They can be like “He can do it so we can do it.””
And if John’s own self-belief isn’t enough to convince any potential boxing fans, the identity of his new manager just might. For John Harding is one of a number of up and coming boxers under the stewardship of British heavyweight sensation Dillian Whyte. Whyte is gaining attention for his ever growing stable of fighters, as well as his own blossoming career, and the confidence of such a high-profile mentor only serves to give Harding further belief.
“It does give me that confidence. For him to back me, pushing me, to be working closely with me… of course! He’s seeing something in me that he wants to give to the world. That shows what type of person he is. He’s the real people’s champ that’s there for the people. It’s going to cause a good snowball effect for others. There must be something he sees in me. He’s nurturing me and I feel like I’m starting again. It is a beautiful thing.”
“The recent link up started mainly at the Joseph Parker fight. Before that was announced I came down to the gym and it was just me and him there. He asked to spar and I jumped in. Then I was used to help for sparring. Prior to that he would come down Miguel’s [Gym] and I remember before he was fighting AJ he would always come down and talk to us. That’s how it initially came up.”
While we were on the topic of sparring, John gave his thoughts on two other high profile partners that he considers among the best he’s had the pleasure of sharing a ring with.
“I’ve sparred numerous people. Eubank was like “He’s coming to kill you in there!”. One of the best I’ve faced, I think is [unbeaten welterweight] Chris Kongo man. A good friend of mine. It’s just never easy, it’s always exciting when we spar. He wouldn’t feel sorry for me if I’ve come in tired. He’s still going to give it to me! So definitely those two I would say. Definitely Chris Kongo – 100%.”
While many men in his newfound position would likely decree the necessity to sell tickets or boxing politics as their biggest bugbear, Harding is only concerned with what he can control in the ring. It is a credit to him, that he focuses solely on what he can do, and it’s also indicative of the man that his biggest annoyance is not being able to train all of the time.
“My biggest frustration in boxing is the overtraining. You’re not allowed to overtrain. One of the things I’ve learned right now, which is why when you see me now, I’m resting! I ain’t training today, I’m resting! And I had to learn that. This is something I learned this week. I don’t like to be still. I always like to be doing something but I realise you can peak. You can hit a peak and then it kills your body. You’ve just gotta chill off really. So I think the frustration is resting. A lot of people are like “What’s wrong with this guy? He ain’t resting!”
Well, we at BBB are very glad John took enough time to rest and speak to us and we will be keeping a keen eye on him in the future. Starting on April 20th when he takes to the O2 arena for his next outing.