By Keith Idec
Jesse Hart didn’t really start to feel the overwhelming magnitude of the moment until he stepped into the ring the night of September 22.
That’s when it truly hit Hart that he was about to fight for a world title, that ESPN was to televise the most important moment of his boxing life. Suddenly unsure of himself, the usually confident Hart fought tight, particularly early in his fight against Gilberto Ramirez.
“I got overwhelmed,” Hart told BoxingScene.com. “It wasn’t pressure. I just got overwhelmed – not by him, but by fighting for the title, that whole thing. That kind of got to me, I believe, a little bit. A lot of people don’t let it get to them, but I did let it get to me.”
Just after the midway mark of the second round, Ramirez got to Hart. The contender from Philadelphia made a defensive mistake and Ramirez hit Hart with a left uppercut that dropped him.
Hart reached his feet, yet remained buzzed, appearing as if he was on the verge of getting blown out when presented with the biggest opportunity of his five-year pro career. Ramirez couldn’t finish him off in the second round, but Hart had trouble shaking that overwhelming feeling.
“It’s sort of butterflies, part frustration,” said Hart, who’ll return to the ring Saturday night on Ramirez’s undercard in Corpus Christi, Texas. “You don’t wanna follow your instincts. You don’t wanna follow your heart. You don’t wanna make too many mistakes. You don’t wanna gamble. You just wanna play everything safe and try to win. You over-think it. That’s how I got caught with that shot in the second round – I was overthinking.
“I rolled underneath, instead of catching his shot. I’m 6-3. Why was I slipping and trying to roll underneath? That’s not smart. And that point cost me the fight. After I got knocked down, I was back in the fight. That one mistake cost me. He capitalized on that mistake.”
The 28-year-old Hart still legitimized himself during the final 10 rounds against Ramirez, who won a hard-fought unanimous decision and retained his WBO super middleweight title.
Hart was the mandatory challenger for Ramirez’s championship, but he hadn’t proven himself against top super middleweights. By the time the final bell rang four months ago in Tucson, Arizona, there were far fewer doubts about Hart than when he made his ring walk at the Tucson Convention Center.
Hart, the son of former middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, took everything Ramirez could land through the final 10 rounds. He also drilled Ramirez with right uppercuts regularly and stunned Ramirez with a straight right hand in the 11th round.
Ramirez managed to do enough early in their back-and-forth fight to fend off Hart on all three scorecards. Each judge – Lynne Carter (115-112), Glenn Feldman (114-113) and Chris Flores (115-112) – scored their 12-rounder for Ramirez.
“People thought I was gonna get stopped early in the fight,” Hart said. “A lot of people thought I was a gimmick because I voiced my opinion and the self-belief that I had. People think, ‘This kid is just all talk. We wanna see him get shut up.’ I heard it all. ‘I haven’t fought nobody. We’ll see when he gets in there with a real fighter. We’ll see when this happens. How’s he gonna react to this? How’s he gonna react to that? Does he have guts? Does he have heart?’ There were a lot of question marks on my career. The one thing I did show in that fight is that I have guts, and I have heart and determination.”
Hart (22-1, 18 KOs) wants a rematch. A second shot at Ramirez seems more than realistic because Hart, despite that he hasn’t fought since losing to Ramirez, has again ascended to the No. 1 spot in the WBO’s super middleweight rankings.
Hart hoped to fight Ramirez again Saturday night, but settled for facing Ghana’s Thomas Awimbono (25-7-1, 21 KOs) in a 10-round match.
The Hart-Awimbono bout will be one of two fights televised by ESPN News, starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Ramirez (36-0, 24 KOs) will make an optional defense of his title in the main event Saturday night. The Mexican southpaw will square off against Ghana’s Habib Ahmed (25-0-1, 17 KOs) in a 12-rounder that will air as the second of two fights once coverage switches to ESPN at 10:15 p.m. ET.
“I want a rematch,” Hart said. “I really wanted to fight him again on this card, if I could have. [Promoter] Bob [Arum] said we would get him in two more fights. That’s if he don’t move up to light heavyweight. If he can control the weight, I would love to fight Gilberto Ramirez again. Not only for the title, but because he’s the best fighter in my division.”
Hart doesn’t think Ramirez is as enthusiastic about a rematch.
“I seriously doubt that,” Hart said. “That was too close of a call for him. And now that I’ve got the experience and I know how to fight him, that was too close of a call. I know I can get better and I know that was his best. He can’t get no better than what he showed me September 22nd. He cannot get any better than that. I can exceed that level.
“He thought after that knockdown, he was just gonna stop me. But I survived, I weathered that storm and he said, ‘Hold it. I just put an onslaught on this kid and he’s still here? He’s supposed to be gone. I respect it.’ And now that I know I have his respect, he’s not gonna wanna fight me again.”
Ramirez wants title unification fights more than anything, though he hasn’t ruled out fighting Hart again.
“The fight was interesting for me and maybe the rematch will be even better,” Ramirez said. “But he needs to keep winning, too.”
That, Hart promised, won’t be an issue.
“This is the rebirth of a career for me,” Hart said. “I’ve got a lot more to show. I’m coming to get the knockout against a fighter [Awimbono] that has never been knocked out.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.