WOONSOCKET --- Joe Gardner is going back to the future.
No, heâ€™s not going to jump in a DeLorean with Doc Brown and head back to 1955, but the Woonsocket Boxing Club boxer is going to go back to 2002 and â€™03 and return to the weight class he fought in during those first two years of his career.
After absorbing stoppages in all three of his fights as a light heavyweight last year, Gardner will storm into 2012 as a super middleweight, where he posted a 4-0-1 record before taking a 7Â˝-year sabbatical from the sport.
And Gardnerâ€™s large following of local fans wonâ€™t have to wait long to see his return to the 168-pound class. He will appear on the undercard of Big Six Entertainmentâ€™s â€śWhoâ€™s Next?â€ť card on Friday, March 9, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.
Gardner (7-4-1, 1 KO) will pursue his first victory since he decisioned Keith Kozlin to capture the EBA New England lightweight championship on Nov. 12, 2010 at Twin River when he contests battle-tested Borngod Washington (3-10, 1 KO) of Queens, N.Y. in a six-round super middleweight bout.
And while that title stands out as the No. 1 highlight of Gardnerâ€™s career, the entire 2011 unfortunately turned out to be one big lowlight for him.
The first of Gardnerâ€™s three losses came last April in the form of a stoppage to New Haven, Conn.â€™s Elvin Ayala in front of an ESPN2 â€śFriday Night Fightsâ€ť audience at Foxwoods Resort Casino that saw Gardner unable to answer the bell for the fifth round after enduring a rocky fourth.
That was followed by back-to-back opening-round knockout losses -- to 2008 U.S. Olympian Shawn Estrada last May in Carson, Calif., and Brian Barbosa two months ago at the West Warwick Civic Center -- and Gardnerâ€™s decision to move down a weight class.
â€śI thought I was hanging okay with those big guys, but the last two were just too overwhelming and I had no chance in the strength department,â€ť he said. â€śMy game seemed to be better than ever, but I just got blown out by those guys.â€ť
Dropping down to 168 pounds shouldnâ€™t be a problem at all for Gardner. In fact, less than a week before his fight with Barbosa, Gardner found himself only tipping the scales at 168 and devouring a steady diet of Weiderâ€™s 3,000-calorie shakes right up until the weigh-in to put on an extra three pounds.
â€śIâ€™m almost there now, so itâ€™s not really a problem,â€ť added Gardner. â€śRight now, I feel pretty good, and I should be ready to go in a few weeks.â€ť
A few fans on the â€śCome see Joey Gardner fight at Big Six Entertainmentâ€™s: Who's Nextâ€ť Facebook page are already guaranteeing an easy victory for the local fighter, and they have one good reason to do so -- Washingtonâ€™s record.
But Washingtonâ€™s record may be a bit deceiving. His career got off to a shaky 0-7 start, but over the past seven months, heâ€™s been quite busy in the ring and won three of his last five bouts.
One of those wins was an eyebrow-raising fourth-round TKO of previously-unbeaten super middleweight prospect Ricky Dawson of New Haven, Conn. (the younger brother of former two-time world light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson) last Nov. 11 at Mohegan Sun.
And even one of his defeats during this stretch was respectable. He took on another unbeaten super middleweight prospect, Pawtucketâ€™s Thomas Falowo, on Oct. 7 at Twin River, and went the distance with the hard puncher before suffering an unanimous decision loss.
â€śIâ€™ve seen a few YouTube videos of him,â€ť said Gardner. â€śHe moves forward and heâ€™s aggressive, but heâ€™s doesnâ€™t seem to be too tricky. Heâ€™s gone the distance with a couple of local good guys, Keith Kozlin and Thomas Falowo, and he beat Ricky Dawson, so it should be a good fight.â€ť
And Gardner hopes to give a good fight in front of his many loyal supporters, who crammed a large chunk of the Twin River Event Center during all four of his fights there in 2010 and were strong in numbers in his last fight.
â€śIâ€™m hoping to have an even better turnout than last time,â€ť admitted Gardner. â€śAnd I had a good turnout then. I had 70-75 people there and some other fans that didnâ€™t get tickets from me.â€ť
A resounding victory in front of those backers would be just what the doctor ordered for Gardner and an excellent way to kick off a new year and erase the sting from 2011.
â€śIâ€™d like to get a few wins back,â€ť offered Gardner. â€śThere are no such things as an easy fight, but Iâ€™d like to have a couple of confidence builders. But even fighters with bad records, it doesnâ€™t mean that theyâ€™re going to come and not fight. You still have to train for a full-distance fight and be ready to go.â€ť
â€śJoe is working hard in the gym and this is a great opportunity for him after a couple of tough defeats,â€ť added Gardnerâ€™s trainer, Bob Moreau. â€śJoe is not afraid to take the tough fights. He fights anyone. He is ready for this fight and will come home with the win.â€ť
As many as eight fights are scheduled to be on the â€śWhoâ€™s Next?â€ť card, with Providence heavyweight and 2004 U.S. Olympian Jason Estrada fighting in the main event and another local fighter, Pawtucket light welterweight Diego Pereira (6-0-1, 2 KOs), also appearing on the undercard.
Ticket prices for the event are $35, $45, and $75 and can be purchased by visiting the â€śCome see Joey Gardner fight at Big Six Entertainmentâ€™s: Who's Nextâ€ť Facebook page, calling (401) 241-3490, or visiting any TicketMaster outlet.