Jesse Hart can boast greater success than Joe Smith Jr. against their two common opponents, more notably their separate entries against perennial light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera.
Whereas Smith Jr. suffered a lopsided loss—and a broken jaw— at the hands of the Miami-based Cuban boxer, Hart made his splash in the light heavyweight division with a clear-cut points win over Barrera last June. By his own admission—to the point of insistence—it has nothing to do with how their own head on collision will play out this weekend.
“That’s the past. I’m coming in confident, but more so confident in my boxing ability,” Hart (26-2, 21KOs) said of his mindset heading into his clash with Smith Jr. (24-3, 20KOs), which airs live on ESPN from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “I’m not [just] saying I’m gonna win this fight. I’m saying I have to hurt Joe Smith to the best of my abilities because he hurt me personally.”
The personal side of it for Philadelphia’s Hart stems from his childhood idol and local hero, Hall of Fame former two-division champion Bernard Hopkins suffer a career-ending knockout loss to Smith Jr. more than three years ago. The bout served as the driving force behind this fight being made, with Hart sacrificing a lofty sanctioning body ranking for no other reason than to exact revenge on behalf of his fighting-proud city.
At no point were his two superior performances over Barrera and Tyrell Hendrix—scoring a 1st round knockout against a 10-2-2 version in 2013 who went on to get stopped in three rounds by Smith seven months later—factored into his desire to get the Long Island native in the ring. Much has been made about Smith enjoying success against a proven contender like Barrera, while Smith struggled against Barerra and in general since his breakout 2016 campaign.
For this fight, the only two nights that matter are December 17, 2016 and January 11, 2020.
“It’s not about who won (versus common opponents). I might not fight the way I fought Sullivan Barrera,” points out Hart. “Who knows? I might step to Joe. We both got power. That’s what I want to do. I don’t know how nobody else thinks about this, but this fight.. if you listen to Todd duBoef about how this fight got made, Jesse asked for Joe Smith. This wasn’t about rankings, this wasn’t about politics. This wasn’t about, oh I gotta take a step further to get in line for a title shot. This was strictly my mentality. I want to fight Joe Smith. Let’s go. This is a fight, it’s not a boxing match.
“It wasn’t strategically planned. Strategy would be to fight Eleider Alvarez because we both ranked by the WBO. No, that’s out the window. Joe Smith is who I want to fight. Strategy is out the window. It’s not about he lost to a guy I beat. I’m probably not gonna fight like that come January 11. You don’t know. This was a fight—I want to fight you. You want to fight me? Come on. That Barrera fight was a different thing.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox