Carden Wagner wanted to prove them wrong.
During the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves finals at the Genetti Manor in Dickinson City this past October, Wagner found himself squaring off against Dantae Santiago, who Wagner boxed against a month prior.
In the first meeting between the two, Wagner lost in a narrow split decision to Santiago. Wagner felt robbed. He had a chip on his shoulder. But at 14 years old, Wagner still felt the nerves kicking in on the big stage.
“I was pretty nervous because I knew this was a really big tournament, one of the most well-known boxing tournaments, so I was nervous,” Wagner said.
He tuned it all out.
Locked in and focused, he was ready to rewrite the script against Santiago. And that’s exactly what he did in three rounds, taking the Golden Gloves title to punctuate what he felt he deserved before the tournament.
For Wagner, it’s just another addition to an already lengthy resume.
This past year, he also won a state wrestling championship in Greco Roman, took second place in freestyle wrestling at the Pennsylvania state championship and made the blood round at Keystone state championships for Folkstyle wrestling. The 14-year-old is also a three-time USA wrestling PA national team member.
Since the age of 4, he has been all about combat sports.
“I just love getting punched and punching people,” he said.
Carden’s father, Micah, added, “He’s not joking. It’s what he loves. He loves competition, loves winning.”
Micah has been his son’s primary boxing and wrestling coach over the years. A USA certified boxing coach and official, as well as a USA wrestling bronze and copper coach, Micah also sits on the USA wrestling board of directors.
He serves as the director of the Buffalo Valley Wrestling Club in Milton too, and has coached in Selinsgrove and Shikellamy, as well as the RTC at Bucknell.
Over the course of Wagner’s life and young career, Micah has seen the development of something special. Something different.
“I see a lot of great talent. And what separates great talent and great success is the unwillingness to quit, and literally never give up under pressure,” Micah said. “And that’s Carden’s greatest attribute. It truly is.”
Both Carden and Micah can be found making the one hour, 30 minute trek to the Capital Punishment boxing club in Harrisburg two to four times a week, where Carden primarily trains.
And he trains hard. He trains against opponents one would assume should be out of his league. Opponents who would make Santiago or anyone else in his class look out of their league.
“He’s a lion. He spends a great deal of time, because of his talent level, only sparring adults,” Micah said. “It’s an odd thing to see a skinny 14-year-old, 114-pound kid knocking out a 185-pound, 24-year-old man.”
For the immediate future, Wagner plans on wrestling at Montgomery with the hopes of placing in states, as well as making the national team once more. World team would be a nice bonus.
His ambition doesn’t end there.
“I would like to hopefully fight at least once in Muay Thai or MMA. My long-term goal is probably UFC and a boxing world championship,” Carden said.
For all the raw talent Carden possesses, he only got serious about wrestling the year before COVID-19 struck the world. His first boxing match wasn’t until September, 2020.
The Golden Gloves title was his first year competing in the tournament, where he fought four weekends in a row to reach that rematch against Santiago for the crown.
Should Carden once again feel that chip on his shoulder in the ring or on the mat, feel the decision didn’t go the right way, one thing is for certain.
The Montgomery prospect won’t be afraid to back it up.