It may not be everyone’s idea of an American Dream, but for a young Dublin man becoming a Golden Gloves boxing champion in New York is the path he is destined to take.
Thomas Hardwick, 25, didn’t set out to woo New Yorkers with his fast punches and sharp moves, but he took to the ring like a duck to water and in a short few months has made a name for himself in the amateur boxing ranks in New York City.
Hardwick, from Coolock, Co. Dublin, will fight in the final of the New York Daily News Golden Gloves heavyweight 201 novice division on Thursday, March 25 at Madison Square Garden.
The Golden Gloves has been a stepping stone to professional boxing careers for many amateur boxers. Former National Golden Gloves champions include Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr, just to name a few.
Hardwick is a multi-functional sportsman. When not throwing punches in the ring he can be found kicking a football around Gaelic Park with the New York Football team, playing a round of golf in Yonkers or getting roughed up in a game of hurling.
“I have always had a keen interest in sports like Gaelic football, hurling and of course boxing,” said Hardwick.
Putting sports on the backburner for a short period, the Dubliner decided to try something else. As a keen traveler Hardwick wanted to explore life outside of Dublin. He spent nine months in Australia before moving to the U.S. a little under a year ago.
“I really enjoyed Australia but with work tightening up there I decided to take the opportunity to come to America for the summer with my three friends,” he said.
Hardwick was offered a place on the New York team last year. He first discovered he was quick with his fists during his school days back in Dublin.
“I was always very fascinated with boxing but I first got into it in school when I was young,” he said.
“Then I won the School Boys competition the first year I entered it, fighting in the National Stadium in Dublin. I stopped the other lad in the first round,” he said proudly.
Shelving the gloves for some time when he was older, Hardwick pursued other sports and although he enjoyed kicking a football or getting stuck in a game of hurling, it was the thrill of the one on one fight he longed for the most.
After finding his feet in New York, Hardwick joined the YMCA boxing club in Getty Square in Yonkers.
“I joined the YMCA after my roommate Johnny Mac Nicolas introduced me to his friend Andy Cleary. Andy shared the same interest and passion I had in boxing so I went to the gym with him,” said Hardwick.
The Dublin man isn’t afraid of getting his ruggedly handsome face knocked up a bit if it means he will win the heavyweight title in the amateur competition.
Hardwick has had four great fights, winning them all, in the past few weeks landing him a position in the final.
“I have been learning a lot about myself and about boxing with every fight that I've had,” he said.
Hardwick’s training is intense. While his teammates on the New York team sleep, he can be found pounding the pavements of Woodlawn and Yonkers to keep in shape.
“I've been getting up and going out jogging at half four in the morning running around four miles three times a week,” he said.
“This training is essential coming up to the Golden Gloves final. I feel it helps me build character and not to mention my fitness level.”
When his run is completed Hardwick heads for the city and begins work at 7 a.m. When not moonlighting as a boxer, Hardwick gets paid to lay bricks and mix mortar in the city.
Hardwick credit’s the spirit of his friend, Warren O’ Connor, who was murdered in Dublin in January, for getting him to the final of the competition.
“I decided to fight in New York in honor of Warren. That is why I am winning and that is why I just never give up. I’m doing it for him,” said Hardwick passionately.
Hardwick and O’Connor were best friends since they were children. O'Connor had gone with a friend to complain about noise coming from a nearby apartment late one Saturday night in Dublin when a row broke out and O’Connor was stabbed in the chest. He died later at Beaumont Hospital. Hardwick was devastated when the news reached him.
“I couldn’t go home for the funeral so that was awful hard. I was here by myself and it was not so nice,” he said sadly.
To keep his friend’s memory alive thought this tournament; Hardwick got t-shirts printed up with O’Connor’s picture on the front for his fans to wear.
“I’m dedicating this whole tournament to him. He is where I get the heart and the strength. He gives me the inspiration I need when I’m about to give up and then I just keep at it,” he added.
Hardwick is a big follower of the other Irish boxers based in the U.S. including John Duddy and Andy Lee but his all time greatest hero is 'the greatest' Muhammad Ali.”
“Ali always brings a smile to my face watching him in and out of the ring,” said Hardwick.
“Lately I've also been reading up on the old school Irish fighters like Jimmy 'the gentleman' Corbett, Jack Dempsey and John Morrissey who were tough strong men but they also had the hearts the size of mountains.”
On fighting in the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden, Hardwick said it was “the stuff dreams were made of.”
It is going to be such a great honor for me to fight on boxing’s biggest stage. I am really looking forward to the venue, the fight and the atmosphere.”
Hardwick is becoming a household name in the Irish boroughs and to date has entertained dozens of Irish fans at his Golden Gloves’ fights.
“I’ve had great support behind me coming up to the final and I would like to take this opportunity to both thank my supporters and invite anyone who is interested in coming down to support me Thursday week. It would mean a lot to have an Irish crowd cheering me on,” said Hardwick who is being sponsored by construction company Empire Pile, Everest Scaffolding and O’Casey’s Bar and Restaurant.
Although his concentration is focused on his upcoming fight, Hardwick said he would love a professional career in boxing.
“We’ll just see what happens I guess,” he said.
O’Casey’s is throwing an after party for Hardwick at the bar, located on 41st street between 5th and Madison.
Tickets for the Golden Gloves final can be purchased at the Madison Square Garden box office or at www.ticketmaster.com. The event is schedule to begin at 7.00 p.m.