By Jake Donovan
Jesse Hart's first fight at home in more than a year took place Friday evening in front of a standing room only crowd at 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, Penn. It nearly resulted in his first loss, as the local favorite was dropped twice - once officially - before claiming a 10-round decision win over durable journeyman Dashon Johnson.
Scores were 95-95, 97-92 and a far too wide 98-91 in favor of Hart, who was decked hard in the closing seconds of the 10th and final round but beat the count to preserve his unbeaten record.
On a day where the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament produced one of its biggest upsets ever, the staff at Top Rank was nearly dealt a bracket buster at several points in the main event. Hart - the fighting son of Eugene 'Cyclone' Hart, an integral part of the famed Philly middleweight scene in the 1970s - came out to a strong start, perhaps trying a bit too hard to impress the local patrons in looking to blow out the serviceable Johnson.
At no point did it prove to be a sound strategy, even as he was racking up rounds on the scorecards. Hart was well ahead through the first half of the fight, but briefly stunned by a pair of power shots upstairs at the end of round five. Lightning struck twice for Johnson, who had Hart badly hurt at the end of round six.
The journeyman boxer landed a clean shot just before the bell, but the referee was too preoccupied in separating the fighters to notice the impact of the blow forcing Hart to hit the deck. As a result, the sequence was waved off as incidental contact. It spared Hart the misfortune of losing a 10-8 round on the cards at that point, but was still groggy at the start of round seven.
Johnson attempted to seize the moment, but in forcing a slugfest was ill-prepared for the incoming as Hart turned the tide towards the end of the round. The unbeaten prospect applied constant pressure in round eight, legitimately hurting Johnson for the first time in the fight as he had him stunned on several occasions.
What was lacking was the home run shot, which nearly proved to be Hart's undoing. He was well ahead on all three scorecards heading into the final two rounds, but Johnson continued to press as if he was a punch away from ending matters.
It came dangerously close to that in the 10th and final round. Hart had expended a lot of energy by that point, perhaps hoping to coast to the finish line. Johnson was never going to allow it, throwing haymakers that started from his California home but occasionally landing. Hart did his best to absorb the incoming, but was trapped along the ropes as he ate four unanswered shots.
Too exhausted to retaliate and also too Philly-proud to clinch, Hart grinned at his opponent, daring him to throw more. Johnson obliged, landing a monster right hand shot flush on the chin as Hart fell down in a heap. Unfortunately for the visiting underdog, the sequence came right around the 10-second mark, meaning if Hart made it to his feet he would survive and likely win. He did just that, beating the count and hoisting his hands in the air as the bell sounded to end the contest.
He remains unbeaten, now 20-0 (16KOs), but the veteran staff at Top Rank will likely slam on the brakes in rushing the second generation boxer towards title contention. As for Johnson, he will continue to find work for any middleweight or super middleweight looking to test themselves while keeping active. His record is now level at 19-19-3 (6KOs), the loss snapping a five-fight win streak.
Given the grassroots success that came with selling out the venue, it stands to reason that Hart could enjoy another homecoming or two while remaining a work in progress on the prospect level.
It took three tries to finally find a fighting home for Mike Reed's 2016 debut. The D.C.-area prospect was due to appear on Top Rank's show in New York City in February, only for his opponent to fall through at the 11th hour. Efforts to get him on a local show in D.C. one week later proved unsuccessful, leading ot his landing a spot on this show, where he scored a six-round shutout over Samuel Amoako, a Ghana-bred journeyman who now fights out out Silver Spring, Maryland.
There was little action to speak of in the super lightweight swing bout shortened from eight to six rounds. Reed did his best to entertain what fans were left in the building after the local headliner Hart was done for the night,
However, in Amoako he had an opponent who is notoriously disinterested in engaging in two-way combat. His survivor style of fighting allows an acitve schedule, fighting for the fifth time since November, though failing to win a single round in any of the bouts. His earmuff defense disallows very many clean shots at his chin, with Miguel Roman scoring a body-shot knockout in their fight last November in Mexico.
Reed followed that blueprint, but was forced to settle for landslide decision in lieu of a spectacular finish. It's enough to remain unbeaten, as the 23-year old prospect improves to 18-0 (10KOs). Amoako suffers his fifth straight loss in falling to 21-9 (15KOs).
Gledwin Ortiz left his Bronx hometown as an undefeated fighter, but fell prey to Philly's own Greg Jackson who claimed an upset split decision win in their four-round welterweight scrap.
Ortiz was in control for much of the early going, only for Jackson to violently turn the tide midway through round three, rocking the Boogie Down boxer into the ropes and then following up with a clean-up left hook to produce the bout's lone knockdown.
Jackson (6-2-1, 2KOs) steadily applied pressure in the final round to secure the victory, with scores of 38-37 twice in his favor trumping a 38-37 card for Ortiz (3-1, 3KOs), who comes up short in his first fight to go the distance.
Ismael "Tito" Garcia survived a stiff challenge from sub .500 journeyman Carlos Garcia, taking a disputed six-round split decision in a tactical battle. There was little to choose from in many of the rounds, presenting the three ringside judges with a difficult task which ultimately produced the split verdict.
Carlos Garcia (10-15-1, 8KOs) - who hails from Aguada, Puerto Rico won 58-56 on one card, but was trumped by the same scores turned in by the other two judges in favor of the South Jersey-based Ismael Garcia (10-0, 4KOs).
It wasn't very long ago when LeShawn Rodriguez envisioned his landing a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic boxing team. The former amateur standout instead moves onto a new dream, getting his pro career off to a strong start following a 2nd round knockout of Jose Cortes in his pro debut.
The super welterweight newcomer from Long Island - who turns 23 next month - jumped out to an early lead versus Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based Cortes (1-1) before closing the show in emphatic fashion. A sizzling left hook by Rodriguez (1-0, 1KO) separated Cortes from his senses, with the fight stopped at 1:54 of round two.
In a minor upset, veteran tough guy Ramesis Gil stormed in to town to stop local super lightweight Victor Vasquez in round two of their scheduled six-round scrap. Dominican Republic's Gil (10-13-5, 6KOs) was relentless from the outset, dropping Vasquez twice - both coming in round one - before pummelling him into submission at 2:01 of round two, A series of punches left Vasquez (19-11-1, 9KOs) defenseless, contrary to his immediate protest in suggesting an early stoppage took place.
The North prevailed over the South in a brief Philly civil war as Scott Kelleher blasted Josue Rivera in just under one minute of action. Rivera (2-7, 2KOs) was decked twice, going down early in the fight from an accumulation of power punches which was punctuated by a body shot. He beat the count, but had nothing to keep Kelleher (4-0, 2 KOs) at bay, with a sweeping left hook producing the second knockdown and thus, the end of the fight at 0:59 of round one.
Jerome Conquest scored perhaps the lone wide decision win in a night mixed with knockouts and tightly contested distance fights. His clean win came at the expense of Jules Blackwell, whose ring return following a three-year absence resulted in a fourth straight defeat. The Phoenixville, Penn,-based comebacker put up a game effort, but was just no match for the cleaner and more effective Conquest (5-1, 1KO), who lived up to his surname in winning by scores of 59-55 (twice) and 60-54.
The evening's curtain raiser saw a pair of Philly debutants throw down in true old-school fashion. In the end, it was Isaiah Wise emerging in a 4th round knockout of Kareem Gladney. Wise (1-0, 1KO) braved a swollen shut right eye to get the job done, overcoming a slight deficit to rock and eventually drop Gladney (0-1), who was lit up by a series of power shots before collapsing to the canvas. The fight was halted at 1:41 of round four.
All fights aired live on GFL.tv, with the card to air via delay on a future date on Philly Comcast Sports Network.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox