Philadelphia's Jesse Hart wanted revenge. Joe Smith Jr. didn't let that happen.
Smith, who knocked out Hart's mentor and fellow Philly pugilist Bernard Hopkins in 2016, was dominant but had to settle for a split decision in the Top Rank on ESPN main event in front of 3,415 fans at Etess Arena at Hard Rock Live.
While it appeared to be a clear decision for Smith, one judge scored the bout 95-94 for Hart, while Smith prevailed on the other cards by scores of 98-91 and 97-92.
"I knew no matter how hard I got hit, I just had to stay busy," Smith said. "That's what I did tonight, and I am coming home with the win.
"This win means everything for me. I had to make a statement that I belong at this level."
Smith (25-3 20 KOs) played the role of pressure fighter throughout, while Hart (26-3, 21 KOs), who attempted to box on the outside, could not keep the Long Island native at bay. For Smith, it was a rebound win, as he lost a title challenge to WBA light heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol last March. Hart, a two-time world title challenger at super middleweight, is now 1-1 as a light heavyweight.
Said Hart: “I hurt my right hand a week ago. You can see it’s messed up. I don’t want to make no excuses because Joe fought a great fight. I hurt the hand in my last sparring session and thought I could overcome that. Credit to Joe for doing what he had to do.”