WINTER HARBOR — Deep inside Warren Harden’s old family farm house attic is a trophy that’s spent years collecting cobwebs and dust.
The decades-old trophy belonging to Harden’s father, Robert, has long been a source of stories in the Winter Harbor family’s household. With his dad boasting a 3-0 record as a boxer from his heyday, Warren and his brother, Brant, would ask their dad to regale them with stories of his exploits in the ring.
“He loved sharing the stories with us; we would sit and listen for hours,” Harden said. “As a kid, all I wanted in the whole world was to be like my dad. I always told myself that, one day, I would get in the ring, too.”
Now in college, Harden has finally made his own foray into boxing. The Husson University sophomore and Sumner Memorial High School graduate is still fairly new to boxing, but after a recent victory in the ring, he’s already given others notice of his potential as a fighter.
Harden claimed a win in his first bout as a boxer recently with a victory in a Northern New England Golden Gloves event. The Winter Harbor native prevailed in a hard-fought match against Nanja Horing of Vermont to begin what he hopes will be a career no less successful than his father’s.
After years of listening to his father’s stories, Harden finally made the commitment to take up the sport last January. That decision, he said, came after rewatching the “Rocky” series as a high school senior.
“I had obviously wanted to do it for a while, and that’s definitely what pumped me up and pushed me to finally do it,” Harden said. “When I got done with that series, I said to myself, ‘OK, I’ve really got to get in the ring now.’”
Harden joined Thunderpig Boxing in Brewer, where he would spend a year and a half training for his first fight. Under coach Levi Sewall, he began training for two hours a day four days a week to ready himself for his fight, even as he knew that moment was somewhat down the line.
Earlier this summer, though, Sewall presented Harden with that opportunity. A spot opened up in the undercard for New England Golden Gloves, and Sewall, who considered Harden to be “beyond ready,” knew it was the right chance for his pupil to enter the ring.
Yet there was one caveat, and it was a doozy: The bout in question would pit Harden in the 178-pound weight class, well below his weight of 213 pounds at the time. Immediately, Harden began intensive dieting and conditioning to ensure he would be in the right weight range come the day of the fight.
“As soon as I heard those words, I went straight to training,” Harden said. “I did the keto diet and a lot of running. … When I would go on my runs, I would wake up at 5 in the morning, dig out a trash bag, cut arm and head holes in it and put it on underneath a T-shirt and sweatshirt.”
On July 17, Harden’s moment of truth arrived. After making the 225-mile trip and making weight, he soon found himself 20 feet away from Loring in the corner of the ring. With his family members and many of his closest friends in the audience, it was a nerve-wracking experience.
“When your whole family is there, and you have people cheering you on, you don’t want to disappoint them,” Harden said. “I kept having those thoughts of, ‘Oh, man, if I go in there and get straight-up knocked out in front of all these people, it’s going to be embarrassing.’”
Harden, though, would not have to worry about such a nightmare scenario. Settling into the fight with ease, he maintained his discipline and used a barrage of quick left-handed jabs and strong rights to win via decision in the 178-pound sub-novice championship bout.
Unable to tell in real time whether he had outfought Horing, Harden was a bit surprised when the referee declared him the winner after three rounds. Yet seeing Harden’s glove raised following the bout came as no surprise to Sewall, who knew his fighter had the upper hand.
“He listened to his coaches, knew the game plan and followed that game plan from the first second until the very end of the fight,” Sewall said. “I’m not saying it was a walkaway by any means — the kid he fought was very tough — but for me, from my eyes, that was one of the easier ones for me to judge.”
Harden, who also plays for the Husson men’s golf team, has familial connections to the sports in which he participates. Whereas Harden’s drive as a boxer stems from his relationship with his dad, he credits his success in golf to his grandfather, Richard, an avid golfer who passed away before Harden was born.
“I never had any golf lessons, and none of my family golfed besides [him],” Harden said. “Without having a real connection with my grandfather, I think what really helped me strive in golf was the fact that golf was a way for me to share this connection with him that I never had.”
Yet while Harden’s connections to both sports are emotional ones, his ringside presence is not one of emotion or vehemence. Instead, he takes a calm, level-headed approach, one that worked to his benefit in last month’s fight.
“He’s honestly quite stoic,” Sewall said. “For a lot of fighters, that emotion comes out in their first fight, and they’ll be flailing, punching and just fighting very undisciplined. Warren didn’t do that at all; he was very disciplined, which surprised me because almost all amateur fighters aren’t in that first fight.”
Just like his dad, Harden now boasts a medal and a winning record to his name. His next fight, which would be part of a United States vs. Canada series, has been tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9.
Should Harden win that fight and a third bout sometime down the line, he’ll have matched his father’s record. His coach believes those goals — and many more — are well within reach.
“He’s a kid that proves himself,” Sewall said. “You’ll be seeing his name again, that’s for sure.”