Brit middleweight John Harding Jr releases autobiographical film to urge youths to swap gangs for boxing
JOHN HARDING JR’S early life was an action movie of stabbings, car crashes and a rottweiler attack but those near-death experiences were left on the cutting room floor for his debut film.
The Dillian Whyte-mentored middleweight has released a semi-autobiographical short film, written while in Belmarsh prison facing a six-year-sentence, in a bid to warn the next generation of youths away from crime and gangs.
Harding, 35, served three stints behind bars and wondered if life on the outside would really be worthwhile with such a tainted reputation.
But, with the help of heavyweight pal Whyte, he has now turned his life around, bravely yet unsuccessfully bid for the English title on just three-weeks notice and touched hundreds of lives with ‘Ima Fighter’.
In the backroom of the Peacock Gym in Canning Town, Harding himself sounds a little surprised how far he has come in life as well as boxing.
He told SunSport: “All my life I have just been trying to prove my worth to people, prove I would not go back to prison, could be trustworthy and make it in life and be a good person.
“When I was in prison, running in the yard, I would see a lot of guys who would talk about being a carded amateur with a good record but they are stuck in there having taken the wrong path.
“I was in Belmarsh with lifers and I would sit and talk to them with a little book and they would all wish they could go back in time and not make those mistakes.
“I can remember being in my cell and looking at the tiny window and dreaming of having the outside problems most people deal with, let alone professional fighters.
“I recently spoke to a friend now who is five years into an 18-year-sentence and he called me recently to say he was proud of me and he asked me to keep an eye on his son and to try to get him to start boxing. That’s the aim.
“But the kids on the street don’t see that, I meet as many as I can and try to get it through to them because I can see where they are headed but a lot still can’t.”
In the last few weeks alone, Harding has been invited to English Institute of Sport, where Anthony Joshua prepares for every fight, to spar with Team GB ace Anthony Fowler.
Tony Sims’ Essex gym welcomes him for work with highly-rated fighters John Ryder and Felix Cash and American world title prospect Ammo Williams enjoyed hard Harding rounds on his visit to London in October.
It’s a far cry from the days supposed friends would sneer in earshot that he was not trustworthy or decent enough to associate with.
He said: “After three stints in prison you wonder who the hell is going to take a chance on you and trust you again.
“You go through dark periods when you feel like you might be better off dead but I was so determined to prove myself.
“I would try to be around positive people but then they would have people in their ear telling them not to trust me, that I was sure to go back to prison, I remember people joking saying I lived there.
“When I came out I met with guys like Chris Kongo, Richard Riakporhe, Isaac Chamberlain, Dan Azeez, Lawrence Okolie and later Dillian.
“On my first day in the gym I was thrown in to spar with these bigger and better guys and even when I was taking a beating I was feeling accepted and loved.”
The young boxing protagonist in Harding’s film, freely available on YouTube, tries desperately hard not to disappoint his mum and appears on the right path by the final scene.
But Harding never got the chance to prove he was a reformed character to his own mother, who died five years ago this month, with her eldest son still to serve a year in Brixton prison.
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And the subsequent success does not seem to have healed that wound, he said: “My mum never got to see how I turned my life around.
“To all the neighbours I was always nothing more than the bad son but, somehow, I was always a shining light for her.
“I can still hear her always calling me ‘John boy’. But I never got to have the proper relationship with her that she deserved because I was in and out of prison.
“I know she was proud of me as her son but I regret not being able to make her proud of my actions when she was alive, I will always regret that.
“In the ring I do everything as if she is sitting at ringside watching.”