When JOE "THE BEAST" SMITH JR. (now 25-3 20KO's) and JESSE "HOLLYWOOD" HART (now 26-3 21KO's) stepped into the ring at the Hard Rock in Atlantic City on Saturday night, more than a victory and the NABO light heavyweight title was on the line. With the WBO World Light Heavyweight title having been vacated in December, a potential 2020 world title opportunity also looms.
Hart, who entered the ring wearing an executioner mask in honor of his mentor, Bernard Hopkins - who Smith Jr. famously knocked out of the ring and into retirement in 2016 - was not shy about wanting to fight the Long Islander in honor of Hopkins. However, as the exciting main event marched on, Hart had no answer for the brute force and will of Smith.
"My career was on the line," said Smith. "I had to come here and prove I belong.
"I got two Philly guys now and it feels great. It would have been nice to get [Hart] the same way [as Hopkins, via a knockout], but you can't always do that" said Smith Jr. "He's got a lot of heart, he's very tough. He had the will to make it through the fight."
Two judges, and the rest of the ringside observers saw the fight properly, 98-91 and 97-92 for Smith Jr., while third judge James Kinney, ridiculously and disgracefully had it 95-94 in favor of Hart. Smith earned the NABO light heavyweight Title.
What's next for Smith Jr. is yet to be known, however a lot may be riding on the winner of the Eleider "Storm" Alvarez and Michael Seals fight, on Saturday January 18 from Turning Stone Resort Casino.
"Light heavyweight is a hot division," said Smith's promoter and CEO of Star Boxing JOE DEGUARDIA, "We will be there next week. Certainly the winner is a potential opponent for Joe. Whatever happens, this determined, all pressure, common-man has clearly re-established himself as a top light heavyweight, and perhaps one of the most exciting fighters and humbling stories in boxing."
As for what Smith wants next, he stated: "Whatever my team thinks is best I will go with it. I never turn down a fight."