By Keith Idec
LAS VEGAS – Almost anywhere you turn at MGM Grand this week, you can see Tyson Fury’s face on a gigantic poster.
The boxing card scheduled for Saturday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena is centered around the lineal heavyweight champion’s fight against Tom Schwarz. Their 12-rounder will mark the ESPN and Las Vegas debut for the brash British star, who hopes a victory over his unbeaten, unknown German opponent will help get him to the rematch he wants with WBC champ Deontay Wilder.
As much attention as Fury has received recently, Jesse Hart hopes to leave fans with a memorable performance of his own on the Fury-Schwarz undercard. Philadelphia’s Hart went as far Thursday as to predict that his full-fledged, light-heavyweight debut will mark the end of Sullivan Barrera’s run in the 175-pound division.
ESPN+ will stream the Hart-Barrera and Fury-Schwarz bouts beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
“I’m gonna destroy Sullivan Barrera,” Hart said during the satellite television tour. “I wanna destroy him. I don’t want him to fight no more after this. And it’s gonna be legacy fight, where they say, ‘Jesse retired Sullivan Barrera.’ I think it shouldn’t be no more than that. It shouldn’t be no more than me slamming that nail in the coffin. Like I said, Andre Ward put him in the coffin. Bivol shut the coffin. I wanna put the nail in the coffin and put him in the ground, and let him go ahead and fade out. Because that’s what it’s gonna be Saturday night.”
The 37-year-old Barrera (22-2, 14 KOs) has lost only to Ward and Bivol.
The retired Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) easily out-pointed the Cuban-born boxer in their 12-rounder three years ago in Oakland, California. Bivol, the WBA light heavyweight champion, stopped Barrera in the 12th round of their title fight 15 months ago in New York.
“Yes, he was a good fighter,” Hart said. “It’s past tense – was. That’s the key word in my sentence, ‘was’ a good fighter. Yes, he was a great fighter. … I’ve got to go ahead and flush him out and put him down that drain.”
Hart (25-2, 21 KOs) will fight for the first time since losing to Gilberto Ramirez in their WBO super middleweight championship rematch December 14 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mexico’s Ramirez (40-0, 26 KOs) is the only opponent to beat Hart since the son of onetime middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart turned pro in June 2012.
Barrera beat Sean Monaghan (29-3, 17 KOs) by unanimous decision in his last bout, a 10-rounder November 3 in Brooklyn.
“To be honest with you, I think he’s on the brink of his career [ending],” Hart told BoxingScene.com regarding Barrera. “This is a make-or-break fight for him. He’s 37 years of age. He didn’t look that good in his last performance against Seanie Monaghan. The old Sullivan Barrera would’ve dismantled a guy like Seanie Monaghan. So, skill-wise, he’s on a little bit of a downslope. But on Saturday night, I’m expecting the best of Sullivan Barrera that can be offered.”
The 29-year-old Hart decided to move up from super middleweight to light heavyweight because better opportunities exist for him within the 175-pound division. His promoter, Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., works with IBF champ Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs), WBC champ Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) and WBO champ Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs).
“I want Gvozdyk,” said Hart, who’s a 2-to-1 favorite over Barrera. “I was told [Barrera] was the guy to get me to Gvozdyk. So, whoever can get me Gvozdyk, I told [Top Rank matchmaker] Brad Goodman and [Top Rank vice president of boxing operations] Carl Moretti and Bob Arum, ‘Put me in with the guys who can get me to Gvozdyk.’
“I want him because he’s ready to be beaten. I like his skill set. He knocked out the guy who was the king, [Adonis] Stevenson. It was out with the old and in with the new when he won, so that’s the guy I’m focused on. All them other champions [at light heavyweight] are irrelevant to me. I want Gvozdyk. That’s the one I’m pushing for.”
Gvozdyk knocked out Stevenson in the 11th round December 1 in Quebec City, Canada, to end Stevenson’s five-year championship reign. Stevenson suffered brain damage during that fight, from which he is slowly but surely recovering.
Hart sat ringside for Gvozdyk’s first title defense – a fifth-round stoppage of Doudou Ngumbu (38-9, 14 KOs) on March 30 at 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. Ngumbu suffered a calf injury and was unable to continue in that scheduled 12-round bout.
Hart wasn’t impressed with how Ukraine’s Gvozdyk performed prior to the stoppage.
“I didn’t think he looked good,” Hart said. “He’s too flat-footed. He throws one punch at a time. His tempo is not there. He’s clumsy. He tripped over his foot twice I think in the second round. He’s ready to be beaten.”
Even if Hart beats Barrera as convincingly as he expects, he would like to take a second light heavyweight bout before challenging Gvozdyk in what would be his third world title fight.
“If we can get one more fight after this at 175, I would like to see Gvozdyk,” Hart said. “I need to get adjusted. I’m still feeling myself out at 175. The power is still there, but I wanna see how I move Saturday night. I wanna see if I can still throw the same amount of punches at 175 that I threw at 168.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.