(Dennis Andries, left, slams a jab toward Jeff Harding in their first bout; via)
At the time this fight was made, nobody really knew that putting WBC light heavyweight titlist Dennis Andries in with Jeff Harding would be like aiming two high-powered jackhammers at each other. But the punches rarely stopped, and they carried punishment with them.
Andries was to have squared up against Canadian hunk Donny Lalonde. About three weeks out from the June 24, 1989 date, Lalonde announced his retirement from boxing, saying that he couldn’t even handle beating up sparring partners, much less opponents during a paid bout. The revelation, though strange, was right in line with Lalonde’s eccentric mannerisms. It should be noted, however, that Lalonde went back to boxing in 1991.
As Top Rank’s Bob Arum remarked before the fight, Lalonde’s oddball personality was a draw, though, and his pullout left a gap in the schedule that ABC needed to fill, and quickly. Unheralded Australian prospect Jeff Harding, who hadn’t yet gone 12 rounds — and hadn’t beaten any ranked contenders — was given the opportunity. Harding’s trainer Johnny Lewis would later remark that it was a chance he felt they needed to take.
But Andries, unimpressed and aggravated that Lalonde wouldn’t be his opponent, said of Harding to George Kimball of the Boston Herald, “Never heard of him. I wanted Lalonde.” Indeed most of the promotion centered on Lalonde, with Arum saying Donald Trump intended to sue the Canadian, but Harding did his best to market himself to the local gentry — like by displaying a wallaby to children at the Cape May Zoo in New Jersey. As Harding would later say in an interview with Ray Wheatley of Fightnews, Arum had been looking for ways to incorporate Australian fighters into his promotions in order to piggyback off the popularity of “Crocodile Dundee,” and the wallaby episode played into that.
Though the bout was contested at the Atlantic City Convention Center, the “Wide World of Sports” billing shone through, with a U.K.-based fighter born in Guyana and trained in Detroit defending his WBC belt against a man aiming to be the first Australian light heavyweight champion.
Adries’ Kronk gauntlet with trainer Emanuel Steward was apparent in the opening rounds as he mechanically thwacked Harding with an unpleasant jab, after which would occasionally come a rusty, barbed hook. Meanwhile, Harding stayed content, if you could call it that, to jet out a jab of his own and concentrate on Andries’ body, to unknown effect. But already in round 1, Harding’s left eye was cut and swelled, and that was beside the fact that a breakneck pace had already been set.
In round 3, the effect of Harding’s body work became known, and Andries was jolted a few times, and the 4th round saw Harding wobbled by the incessant facial bomb runs. But Andries was being made to work hard for his points, and with each passing round, the legend of Harding’s chin grew — as must have Andries’ discouragement. A small boost for Andries came in the form of a cuffing left hand that somehow put Harding down, kind of, in round 5, but the Australian rose to scrape back into the action. Steward seemed to sense a subtle momentum shift between rounds, imploring Andries to not let Harding get the upper hand, while most observers seemed to relish the bludgeonry and score minutes at a time for his fighter.
Indeed, as Andries grew more stationary and trenches became occupied in the middle rounds, Harding worked in a counter left hook over Andries’ right hand, and the body work only served to tie Dennis Andries to a stake in terms of mobility. Harding was bleeding from the mouth, though, and a catalyst was needed. In the 8th stanza, Harding got two: a combination halfway through rocked Andries, and out of nowhere, the Guyanese champion was arm-weary. Still bearing fangs, Andries continued to peg Harding with wild right uppercuts and nice jabs here and there, but his spirit was dissolving with every shot absorbed.
With each subsequent round, Andries visibly wilted — not completely out of the fight, but his punch resistance dipped and his output waned. He wouldn’t let Harding’s salvos go unanswered, but results fell short of intent, and an exhausting 10th round would be his last serious stand. With Harding’s nose spouting a monsoon of crimson in round 11, Andries fired off a succession of right hands, only to be driven back to the ropes and repeatedly stung by Harding’s up and down barrages and forced to survive the round.
Jeff Harding stiffened up Andries’ legs with a double jab at the start of round 12. Andries clawed his way out of a corner with a few combinations, but his mobility was nonexistent, leaving and opening for Harding to deck him with a series of punches. It didn’t take much for Andries to go down again, and though he rose, the business day had concluded, and a few punches later, referee Joe Cortez waded in to end matters.
Alcoholism and high-spending would soon sink its talons into Jeff Harding, but that specific moment was his. He would go on to have two more fights against Dennis Andries, losing the rematch and winning the rubbermatch, but basking in his role as a national hero for a brief moment.