By Jon Uddin✏
Top Light-Heavyweight contenders 🇺🇸Jesse Hart (26-3-0, 21KO) and 🇺🇸Joe Smith Jr. (25-3-0, 20KO) kicked off their 2020 campaigns in a 10 round headliner at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Fight Review: This one didn’t quite become the action fight many hoped for, but Joe Smith Jr. made Jesse Hart regret ever calling him out for battle Saturday night. After a first round where Hart used the ring to avoid the Long Island native’s power, Smith began to lock in on him, cornering the Philly native while landing power shots repeatedly (115 of 350). It was clear Hart had no interest in standing toe to toe and fighting Smith’s fight, but it was also clear he was unable to execute the gameplan effectively, and Smith was able to do significant damage throughout. Smith put Hart down late in the seventh round, and had there been more time he may not have survived to the end. Smith coasted fairly easy the rest of the way, nothing exciting happening until ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. uttered the words “We have a SPLIT decision”. Thankfully two of the judges got the scores right, giving it to Smith 98-91 and 97-92, while the third had it 95-94 for Hart.
It’s a major setback for Hart, who may have a big rebuild ahead of him. As for Smith, he will have options as there are quite a few fighters at 175 on the rebound such as Anthony Yarde, Sergey Kovalev and the winner of Eleider Alvarez and Michael Seals. Gilberto Ramirez could also be in play. Smith will most likely find himself as the underdog in all of these matchups but he is back in the fold.
Fight Analysis: Philadelphia’s Hart is coming off of a unanimous decision win over longtime Cuban contender Sullivan Barrera in June, which was his only fight of the year. The win over Barrera was Hart’s debut at 175, and though it was a good win over a respected veteran, the fight wasn’t a pretty one to watch, filled with plenty of holding roughhousing tactics from both men.
Now Hart looks to continue his climb in the division, this time facing Long Island native and title challenger Joe Smith Jr. Best known for being the feel good “Rocky” story of 2016, Smith made a name for himself after he delivered explosive knockout wins over Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins. Since then, he has dropped two of his last three bouts, including his only fight of 2019 where he challenged WBA Champion Dmitry Bivol, dropping a one sided decision to the highly touted Russian.
Fight Outlook: Both fighters need this one. A win for Hart (#3 WBO, #4 WBA) draws him closer to a title shot, while a loss drops him down the ladder of contenders. As for Smith, he is in even more dire circumstances as a loss will send him into total rebuild mode. He doesn’t find himself rated in the top ten of any of the alphabet groups at this time, and beating Hart is essential to getting back into the game.
Plenty is on the line between these two, and their styles should make for some good action. Hart brings the patented Philly toughness and some solid pop to the ring, but Smith is known for the cannon that comes in the form of his right hand that Hart will have to prove he can stand up to.