THE storyline going into the Joe Smith Jnr–Jesse Hart light-heavyweight match was that Hart wanted to avenge mentor Bernard Hopkins’ knockout loss to Smith in December 2016. Instead, the son of Philly left hook artist Eugene “Cyclone” Hart came perilously close to suffering the same fate as Hopkins.
The major difference was that Hart lasted the 10-round distance, only to lose a split decision, which should have been unanimous.
If Hopkins had anything to do with the methods Hart employed against Smith, Jesse needs a new mentor. He spent practically the entire first round moving laterally around the ring with his back to the ropes, hardly throwing a punch. It turned to be his modus operandi for much of the fight, but what originally appeared to be a battle plan soon morphed into a survival tactic.
Smith gave chase but couldn’t catch Hart until the second round, when a series of body shots and cluster of chopping right hands to the head hurt Hart.
Still, he stopped running long enough in the third to land a three-punch combination, momentarily slowing Smith’s attack. Smith kept coming and Hart was forced to take few body shots, but then moved away, countering well as Smith surged forward.
Smith almost ended matters in the fourth round. He stunned Hart with a right uppercut to the chin that produced a collective gasp from the gathering of 3,415 at the Mark G. Etess Arena. To his credit, Hart tried to fight back but Smith kept landing right hands until the round ended, albeit, with Hart still standing.
The Philadelphian was in full retreat in the fifth round, but on the rare occasion Smith got close enough, the Long Islander slammed home a hard punch or two before Hart could escape.
Smith applied constant pressure in the sixth, digging to the body as Hart ran and clinched. Hart had grabbed and held from the start but referee Harvey Dock never warned or penalised him. Had Mr Dock enforced the rules, it’s questionable whether or not Hart would have lasted 10 rounds.
A right to the head scrambled Hart’s equilibrium so badly in the seventh he touched the canvas with his right glove in an effort to keep his balance. It was correctly ruled a knockdown.
Smith began to tire in the eighth but continued to apply steady pressure and began to connect on a regular basis again in the ninth. Hart was teetering on the brink when he suffered a cut near his right eye.
Mr Dock, usually a very good ref, had a bad night. He immediately, and seemingly unnecessarily, called a time-out and escorted Hart back to his corner. The ringside doctor examined the wound, which seemed to be minor. You couldn’t even see any blood from ringside.
The fight continued, but the delay broke Smith’s momentum and gave Hart time to take a much-needed breather. He took advantage of it and rallied for he remainder of the round.
Hart finished strongly in the 10th. He never hurt Smith, who was pooped from chasing him, but landed enough punches to take the round. He might not punch like his father but Jesse inherited Cyclone’s balls.
Judges Henry Eugene Grant and Joseph Pasquale scored the bout 97-92 and 98-91, respectively, for Smith. Then came the bombshell. Judge James Kinney voted for Hart, 95-94.
“That judge should be banned from scoring a fight – and I promote Hart,” Bob Arum said. “How can you ever score that fight for Jesse Hart? It was a terrific fight, good for boxing, good action fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up.”
“I thought I had him a few times,” Smith said. “He was a little slippery and he tied me up well. [Hart’s] got a lot of heart. He’s very tough. He had the will to make it through the fight.”
“I hurt my right hand a week ago,” Hart said. “You can see it’s messed up. I don’t want to make no excuses, because Joe fought a great fight.”
Both boxers had rabid support that degenerated into a wild brawl after the fight was over. Security had trouble restoring order and the fighting spilled out of the arena and into the lobby.
The Verdict Smith fights his way back into title contention.
Joe Smith Jnr (174 1/2lbs), 25-3 (21), w pts 10 Jesse Hart (175lbs), 26-3 (21); Steven Nelson (167 3/4lbs), 16-0 (13), w rsf 8 Cem Kilic (167 1/2lbs), 14-1 (9); Jeremy Adorno (121 1/2lbs), 4-0 (1), w pts 4 Fernando Ibarra (121 1/4lbs), 3-2; Sonny Conto (218lbs), 6-0 (5), w rsf 1 Curtis Head (271lbs), 5-5 (3); Chris Thomas (170 1/2lbs), 14-1-1 (8), w rsf 1 Samir Barbosa (168 1/4lbs), 37-17-3 (26); Hector Garcia (135lbs), 14-7-4 (8), d pts 6 Joseph Adorno (136lbs), 14-1 (12); Shinard Bunch (147 1/4lbs), 6-1 (5), w rsf 6 Dennis Okoth (145 1/2lbs), 4-3-1 (2); Xander Zayas (147 1/4lbs), 3-0 (2), w pts 4 Corey Champion (146 3/4lbs) 1-2 (1).