Five months after light heavyweight contender Jesse Hart suffered a torn tendon and ligament damage in his right hand he was finally able to have surgery to repair the injury on Friday.
On Jan. 11, Hart lost a 10-round split decision to former world title challenger Joe Smith Jr. in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card at Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
During the first round of the bout, Hart badly injured his right hand, which he had already hurt a week earlier in training but did not want to pull out of the fight, when he caught Smith with an uppercut on his forehead.
“I fought Joe Smith with one hand because it happened in the first round,” Hart told BoxingScene.com hours after undergoing the second surgical procedure on his right hand since 2016. “I fought Joe Smith for nine-plus rounds with one hand. He has a hard head.”
Hart, 30, was initially scheduled to have surgery in his hometown of Philadelphia at the end of February. However, he said that his operation was put off until Friday because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many hospitals around the United States were forced to cancel all but only absolutely necessary surgeries in order to free up resources and space to care for those infected with Covid-19.
“Because of Covid-19 they kept pushing my surgery back,” Hart said. “They didn’t want people in the hospital if it ain’t serious or life-threatening. So I finally had my surgery (Friday morning).”
Before hand specialist Dr. Richard J. Tosti performed the surgery, Hart said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum and Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti called to wish him well.
“Carl said they’d do everything in their power to get that rematch with Joe and Bob said, ‘Have a successful surgery’ and ‘I’m praying for you,’” Hart said.
Hart said that Tosti told him he would spend the next two months in the cast placed on his right hand and then another month in rehab before he would be allowed to attempt to punch. That means no contact until at least early September.
Hart (26-3, 21 KOs) said he is still upset that some people thought he was making excuses for the loss to Smith by saying he injured his hand. The surgery, he said, proves he was not exaggerating.
“I’m mad that people didn’t believe my hand was hurt because I am not a man of excuses. I don’t do that,” Hart said. “I kept telling people my hand was hurt. I couldn’t be the Jesse Hart you saw in the ring twice when I fought (for a super middleweight world title) against Gilberto Ramirez. I may have lost those fights but I fought my heart out and I got my respect in those fights. I’m the only credible name on Gilberto Ramirez’s resume besides Arthur Abraham.
“I’m a man who finds a way to win and if I don’t win at least I learn my lesson. I couldn’t give my all against Joe Smith. I had one hand. It’s a shame. All these ex-fighters threw mud on my name.”
Hart singled out ESPN broadcasters Timothy Bradley Jr. and Andre Ward for their negative comments about his performance without knowing how badly injured his hand was.
“Bradley said something like, ‘Jesse Hart will never be a world champion.’ I’m listening to all this and it has put a fire me in me,” Hart said. “I’m coming back a different type of way. I got something to prove. Now I got a chip on my shoulder.”
With Smith headed for a light heavyweight title eliminator against former world titlist Eleider “Storm” Alvarez that is slated to headline the July 16 Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card from Las Vegas, Hart knows he is unlikely to get another crack at Smith at least until the after that bout.
So Hart has an idea for what would make for an interesting ring return for him.
“I’m down for whatever Top Rank presents to me but I think me and Michael Seals would be a good fight,” Hart said.
One week after Hart lost to Smith (25-3, 20 KOs), Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) knocked out Seals (24-3, 18 KOs) in the seventh round of their ESPN main event.
“Me and Michael Seals both lost, so us fighting each other is a fair thing to do,” Hart said. “He lost, I lost. It makes sense. It’s like the losers bracket kind of thing. We’re both trying to get back and Michael Seals has dynamite in his hands.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.