A PE teacher at Maltings Academy in Essex is now competing in the UFC International Fight Week at Las Vegas in a bid to become the world champion in his chosen sport.
Joe Harding was crowned the UK Mixed Martial Arts Lightweight Champion earlier in the year when he beat the second highest ranked fighter in Europe at an event watched by 35,000 viewers on line. Before leaving for Vegas, Joe said: "Representing your country at such a huge event is a great honour and that is enough motivation in itself. I am excited, really excited at being there and hopefully coming home with a medal. However," he added, "I am addicted to gold!"
When young Joe was just 10 years old he followed his father's footsteps into kickboxing and his natural athleticism ensured that he excelled in this very physical sport. His secondary school was John Bramston School which became Maltings Academy in 2008.
There he gained enough university points to study Science and Sport in Suffolk and Norfolk which was a preparation to becoming a teacher. At 19 he joined a Mixed Martial Arts club in East Anglia, an activity better known as 'cage fighting.' This demanded patience, strength and discipline, yet after just three weeks practice he won his first fight. Joe is keen to emphasise that the former 'anything goes' sport is today rigidly regulated.
It was hard to maintain his studies and be a good athlete but he graduated in 2013 and took a temporary sports teaching job at the school where he was once a student. Joe admitted: "It was some shock to leave a school which had been in special measures and return to a 'state of the art' £25 million new building and an academy which was soon to become 'outstanding." The temporary post soon became a permanent one.
Joe is not just a teacher but also a role model to students in the Essex based academy. As well as running a number of athletics courses he also runs Boxing Intervention classes for those who struggle with anger management in class, so they can channel their aggression through physical activity. They learn the discipline of fighting, timing, patience and precision.
To get to where he has achieved so far in Mixed Martial Arts takes huge determination and preparation. Before winning the UK title he trained in Thailand.
Good luck at the World Championship, Joe. You have achieved so much to get to where you are today. Maybe, just maybe, you can live the dream in Las Vegas!