When the fight between Jesse Hart and Joe Smith, Jr. was made, not many had an idea of the reason why. On Tuesday during the conference call, Hart made it clear as to why he wanted to fight Smith.
“It’s been rough on me since 2016 since that Joe Smith-Bernard Hopkins fight happened,” Hart said. “This is not business. This is not for bragging rights neither. This is something that my family put on me. This is not for myself. This is (for) my big brother, Bernard Hopkins.”
Hart is from the northern part of Philadelphia, the city where Hopkins is from. In 2016, Hopkins fought Joe Smith and ended up losing by technical knockout as he fell out of the ring. It was the last fight of Hopkins’ professional career. That result stuck with the world title challenger at super middleweight and was the major factor as to why this fight is taking place in Atlantic City on Saturday.
“When I saw that, I was really really hurt because like how Todd just explained it. He was the poster boy, but he inspired me, he inspired the little kids to be great, not to be average, not to be good, but to be great. And it’s very hard to do that in the poverty-stricken area of North Philly that we come from.”
“My dad is Cyclone Hart, but he’s my coach. My dad is telling me (Hopkins) did it right, how Bernard handled things. How he takes care of his body, how he fights, how he models himself. What he came from, just because you come from the poverty-stricken area of North Philly doesn’t mean you lay down. It doesn’t mean you stop fighting.”
That motivation is what fuels Hart at this point of his career. He is looking to be a world title contender at light heavyweight after starting his campaign at super middleweight, where he had two chances of being a world champion but was unsuccessful.
On the flip side, Smith is trying to rebound from his loss last year to WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol. It was the second loss in his past three fights, as he was on the short end of a decision to Sullivan Barrera after defeating Hopkins. He knows that a win would immediately boost his status in the division.
“(A win) will mean a lot,” Smith said during the conference call. “I believe it will prove I belong with the top guys in the division, and I believe I can get another title shot out of it.”
Hart is present in the rankings for all four major sanctioning bodies while Smith is not. As a result, Smith feels that he has to gain some respect as it looks like he has been written off as a major contender in the light heavyweight division.
“Yeah, I definitely believe I’ve been overlooked. People always go back to the Barrera fight, but no one ever thinks about that I fought 10 rounds with a broken jaw in that fight and made it through the fight against a top contender with a broken jaw. Not many people do that.”
“I want people to talk about me like Jesse’s talking about Hopkins.”
Some may say that it would take some time for Smith to be viewed in the same light as the man he defeated in 2016, but with a win in Atlantic City on Saturday, Smith could possibly be on his way there.
Cover photo by Steve Marcus of Getty Images