He’s come a long way, John Harding Jr. (Pest). His journey has seen Belmarsh Prison, on to Bethnal Green’s York Hall and yesterday (20th April) the ex con turned boxing prospect appeared on a big Matchroom card at London’s huge O2 Arena.
There’s potentially miles of scenic road in front of Harding still to savour. Having signed with Dillian Whyte, the Team Southpaw Jab man was featured heavily in the media build up to the David Allen versus Lucas Browne card, which was live on Sky Sports, and he handled the interest with aplomb. The important part for a fighter though, is fighting not talking. There was fighting to be done, in a new environment with added interest and pressure- a factor many forget as an onlooker.
A six round fight against 1-2 (1) Czech Miroslav Juna was a big opportunity for Harding, 7-0-1 (1), to show why Dillian Whyte and his Blvck Box Management company have taken charge of his career. It began bizarrely as Juna entered the ring and then had to have his groin guard adjusted. Clearly not the shy and retiring type, Juna whipped his shorts off and had his team fiddle with his midriff for a few minutes in front of the O2 crowd.
The fight was at middleweight, which Harding is huge for, though he aspires to fight a weight below. John was the obvious bigger man as the two faced off, and began boxing off the back foot, letting Juna do the hard work. In the second Miroslav walked face first onto a right hand, and looked stunned, his legs dipping. There was not quite enough time for John to approach with caution and finish, knowing Juna was not spent completely.
However, the third saw Harding attempt to seize the initiative, holding the centre of the ring, growing in confidence. That same straight right down the centre was sought time after time, with success, but eventually Juna wised to it. It was obvious from this point that our man was able, and willing, but also aware that his foe was no fool.
As if to prove it, Juna had his best round of the fight in the fifth, perhaps trying to fend off a stoppage. With the bell looming he tired and was rewarded for his effort by Harding crashing another two solid rights off his head. Part of the beauty of live boxing is knowing a good shot more intimately; though not as much as poor soul it has thundered through. The seat sprayed from Juna as the noise of John’s punches sounded around the arena.
Knowing he was close to that sought after early win, John pestered Juna in the final stanza. His eagerness perhaps slightly suffocating his work. The angles and accuracy were ever so slightly off, which Harding acknowledged afterwards saying, “I felt confident but I just wanted to get him out… I knew I could get him out and was being patient, but I just couldn’t capitalise on it when I hit him”.
Having heard the final bell John went home a deserved shutout victor with a 60-54 decision.
Talking after the fight, Harding was quick to thank pretty much everybody, testament to his humble character.
“The occasion was great and the support was crazy. Eddie seems to have taken a liking to me, which is nice; I’m very excited for the future. Thank you to Southpaw Jab for supporting me, from the small hall to where I am. I’ll always be back at York Hall, showing love for the fighters.”
It is obvious, but everyone at Southpaw Jab is delighted that John’s hard work and ability are paying dividends. There is no hyperbole in saying that the man is a role model. A big stage to perform on, taken at ease. A man with a message and an offering of hope. Here’s to many more big nights.
FULL REPORT TO FOLLOW
John is on Twitter and Instagram: @PesterSuperstar