Light heavyweight contender Jesse “Hollywood” Hart (26-2-0 21KOs) will have more than just rankings on the line when he takes on Joe Smith Jr (24-3-0 20KOs) on January 11th at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. Hart, a Philadelphia, PA native has a special reason on motivation for his bout against Smith.
Smith Jr. rose to prominence with a stunning defeat of Bernard Hopkins. The Philly legend and decorated champion fought the promising contender in the final fight of his career and was punched through the ropes by the incredibly powerful Smith Jr. For many fight fans it was an incredibly upsetting moment, and one made even more painful by knowing Hopkins had never been stopped until that moment.
One Philadelphian who took the loss especially hard was Jesse Hart. Hopkins was a mentor to Hart, and he considers this fight an important step in his journey to a light heavyweight title. “This is personal. Bernard inspired me to be what I became,” Hart said. “I wouldn’t be right if didn’t avenge that defeat. I can’t move forward unless I beat him. This is a Philly thing. It’s more personal than business for me. I want a world title shot at light heavyweight, but I have to get through this guy first.”
Hart twice challenged for a middleweight title, falling short both times to Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, dropping two razor close decisions to the undefeated champion. Smith Jr. took Dmitry Bivol to a decision, losing on the scorecards but fighting hard, and his power makes every punch dangerous.
“When you have two fighters who can punch like heck, anything can happen,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “We believe Jesse Hart has everything it takes to become a world champion, but Joe Smith Jr. can turn the lights out at any moment. This is a sensational main event to kick off the Top Rank schedule in 2020.”
Arum sums up the fight well, and a win for either should vault them into title contention. For those interested in boxing math, they do share a mutual opponent in Sullivan Barrera. Smith fought him in 2017 and Hart in 2019. Barrera is a former light heavyweight challenger himself, and handled Smith Jr via a unanimous decision. Hart then in turn won against Barrera by a wide margin of his own.
If you’re interested in going to the fight be sure to check out Hard Rock Casino & Hotel to find some tickets!