NEW YORK – Joe Smith Jr. wasn’t impressed by Jesse Hart’s light heavyweight debut.

Hart beat Sullivan Barrera by unanimous decision in their 10-rounder June 15 in Las Vegas, but Smith was surprised that version of Barrera took Hart the distance. Cuba’s Barrera, 37, had been stopped by Dmitry Bivol two bouts before he fought Hart, thus Smith assumed Hart would’ve beaten Barrera by knockout or technical knockout, too.

“I thought he fought decent, but I don’t think that was the same Barrera that he fought that I fought,” Smith, who’ll fight Hart on Saturday night, told BoxingScene.com recently. “I think Barrera’s past his time now and, you know, I feel he should’ve stopped him to make a real statement in the division.”

Barrera beat Smith by unanimous decision in their 10-round bout in July 2017. Smith suffered a broken jaw by the beginning of the second round of that fight, though, and couldn’t compete the way he had hoped after dropping Barrera in the first round at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

“I had a jaw injury during training for the Barrera fight,” Smith recalled. “I ended up getting a broken jaw. It was pretty much broken at the time [the fight started]. I didn’t wanna lose that opportunity, so I took that fight. Once I got hit, it was finished. I made it through the fight, and I’m glad about that. But I’m not worried about that fight. I’ll redeem myself against Bivol maybe one day. I’ll get past Jesse Hart [Saturday night] and I’m looking forward to a good 2020.”

The 30-year-old Smith (24-3, 20 KOs), of Mastic, New York, hasn’t fought since Bivol beat him by unanimous decision in their 12-round fight for Bivol’s WBA “super” light heavyweight title March 9 in Verona, New York. The hard-hitting Smith buzzed Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) with a right hand at the end of the 10th round, yet otherwise he was out-classed by the Russian technician while losing a one-sided decision at Turning Stone Resort Casino (119-109, 119-109, 118-110).

Philadelphia’s Hart (26-2, 21 KOs), who’s also 30, will fight for the first time since he boxed Barrera (22-3, 14 KOs) nearly seven months ago at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

ESPN will air Hart-Smith as the main event of a doubleheader Saturday night from Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. That telecast is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT with a 10-round super middleweight match between Steven Nelson (15-0, 12 KOs), of Omaha, Nebraska, and Germany’s Cem Kilic (14-0, 9 KOs). 

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.