Eric Harding scared? Forget it. It will not happen. “I've been shot twice and stabbed three times,’’ Harding, 33, of West Hartford, Conn., via Philadelphia, said. “I wasn't intimidated by the guys that shot me or stabbed me. Why would I be intimidated by anybody I ever fought in the ring?’ The World Boxing Council (WBC) No. 10/International Boxing Federation (IBF) No. 9 contender, the fearless Harding performed brilliantly when he defeated Antonio Tarver and also when he fought three other former world champions -- Roy Jones, Glen Johnson and Montell Griffin.
A boxer with high hopes and even higher expectations, Harding expects another superb performance Friday, June 2, when he risks his North American Boxing Federation (NABF) light heavyweight title against unbeaten WBC No. 7/World Boxing Association (WBA) No. 15 contender, Chad Dawson, on “ShoBox: The New Generation” (11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast).
“I give Dawson credit for stepping up,” said Harding, who captured the United States Boxing Association (USBA) and NABF 175-pound belts in his last two starts. “But Dawson is stepping up against the wrong guy. This is like a man against a young kid, David versus Goliath but without a surprise ending. I am willing to fight winner-takes-all. Every fight is a must-win for me.”
Harding is coming off two solid victories in 2005 and feels things could not be better as he heads into the Dawson fight.
“It is Eric Harding time,” he said. “Everything is perfect. I have a great manager and promoter and I am in great shape. I was just a baby when I fought the best guys. Now, I am a man. I feel I am the No. 1 light heavy in the world.
“I will go anywhere to fight for a world title, but the champions won’t fight me. They know they will lose.”
A tough, durable, confident, slick-boxing southpaw known for a big chin and heart, speed, overall skills, and counter-punching ability, Harding is at his best when he can frustrate opponents and outwork them. He even insists he has some pop, despite just seven knockout victories in 27 fights. “Everybody who’s been hit by me, they say to themselves, ‘They said this guy couldn’t punch.’ ”
“Eric is the best light heavyweight in world,’’ said manager Roger Levitt, who once guided the career of Lennox Lewis. “Both Tarver and the WBC champ, Tomasz Adamek, have specifically avoided Eric since his comeback began 16 months ago. Eric has the tools to dominate the division. Nobody can deal with him.”
Harding overcame a lot growing up in a tough neighborhood in Philadelphia, where every day was a hustle and any confrontation could be deadly.
“Where I was from, if you had a problem with certain guys it was going to lead to somebody getting hurt,” said Harding, who dropped out of school at 16. He was shot twice: once in the hand when he slapped away a gun aimed at his head, and once in the leg. In what he refers to as his “numerous” jail stays, he was stabbed three times.
Resilient enough to survive the streets must make stepping into the ring easy, right? “It doesn't give me incentive, because just winning and raising my family and being able to support my family is incentive enough,” he said. “But it makes me mentally tough. I've been through so much adversity. I can come back from anything.”
The father of six, Harding spends much of his time outside the ring with his kids. “Eric looks after his children with tremendous enthusiasm,” Levitt said. “(And) he is as vigorous towards his training as he is with his kids.”
“I go to the PTA. I help them with their homework,” Harding said. “I do all the things I can to help them grow up right. My life has changed a lot. I understand that boxing is my job and not just something I do that I happened to be good at.”
The person most responsible for helping Harding through all the years of trials and tribulations when he was younger was Howard “Moses’’ Mosley.
“I have always loved him like he was my own,” said Mosley, who taught Harding to box when he was 12 and has been a trainer, confidant and father figure ever since.
One of Mosley’s most commended moves was to get Harding out of Philadelphia and move him to Connecticut the morning after Harding's best friend was shot in the head. After that he had no trouble keeping Harding on track.
Harding started boxing at the age of 13, and compiled a 78-6 amateur record. He won three local Junior Olympics tournaments, and was a two-time Philadelphia Golden Gloves champion. He boxed a draw in his pro debut on Aug. 28, 1991, won his second start the following Sept. 27, then didn’t fight again for three-and-one-half years.
After resuming his career on Feb. 10, 1995, the slippery eel-like Harding won 18 bouts in a row. In a match he took on four day’s notice, Harding outpointed Griffin on Nov. 13, 1998. Harding, to that point, had never fought a scheduled 10-round bout and never gone past eight rounds.
On June 23, 2000, Harding scored a 12-round decision over the then-unbeaten, IBF No. 1 ranked Tarver in a WBC eliminator in which he fractured Tarver's jaw and broke two of his ribs. Tarver won the rematch with a fifth round knockout July 20, 2002.
“I underestimated him a lot,” said Harding, who went down three times against Tarver. “I lost that fight before I got into the ring. I had a lot of personal problems. I showed up in camp six weeks before the fight at 215 pounds. Losing 40 pounds took something out of me.”
The victory over Tarver earned Harding the right to face Jones on Sept. 9, 2000. A 42-1 underdog against the undisputed 175-pound titlist, the “Fighter of the Decade” in the 1990s and the man regarded as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Harding did well until his corner stopped the bout in the 10th due to a bicep injury.
After losing a 12-round decision to Johnson on May 20, 2003, Harding did not fight for 21 months. But he came back sharp. In a bout he dedicated to his beloved cutman, the late Al Gavin, Harding won his return to the ring with a solid 12-round points triumph over David Telasco on Feb. 11, 2005. In his most recent outing, Harding won a 12-round decision over Daniel Judah.
“I am a Philly fighter so fighting to me is like walking,” said Harding, who is trained by Joey Rivera. “I hope Dawson is ready on June 2 because I am ready now.”
In the June 2 “ShoBox” co-feature, undefeated Mario Santiago (14-0, 9 KOs) of Puerto Rico will box Lenny DeVictoria ((8-3, 2 KOs) of Philadelphia in a 10-round featherweight match for the vacant USNBC, a minor title of the WBC. Gary Shaw Productions will promote the doubleheader from Chumash Resort Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.
The telecast represents the 77th in the popular, critically-acclaimed “ShoBox” series, which debuted on SHOWTIME in July 2001. “ShoBox” features up-and-coming prospects determined to make a mark and eventually fight for a chance at a world title. A number of fighters who have appeared on the series have gone on to become world champions, including Kermit Cintron, Juan Diaz, Leonard Dorin, Joan Guzman and Scott Harrison.
Nick Charles will call the action from ringside, with Farhood serving as expert analyst. The executive producer of the telecast is Gordon Hall, with Richard Gaughan producing.
For information on “ShoBox: The New Generation” and SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecasts, including complete fighter bios, records, related stories and more, please go the SHOWTIME website at http://www.sho.com/boxing