Leading into this fight, Jesse Hart was talking about redemption for his mentor Bernard Hopkins as Smith was the last person to defeat Hart’s mentor. After 12 rounds on Saturday, he failed to make due on his promise.
Joe Smith Jr. used his come forward style and his toughness to get a split decision win over Hart. Two judges scored the bout 98-91 and 97-92 for Smith, and one judge had a 95-94 score for Hart. The bout was clearly in favor of Smith as Hart didn’t do much over the course of the fight. Hart was not that active enough with his hands as Smith came towards him and also got hit a good number of times while backing up to the ropes.
The approach used by Smith gave Hart opportunities to jab and move away, but that was not done as Smith was able to walk through the punches that Hart did throw and land power shots of his own. That was the theme for most of the fight, as there was nothing to deviate Smith from his plan. On a few occasions, Hart would throw a combination to stop the movement of Smith, specifically in the 3rd round. He threw a few uppercuts that seemed to affect Smith. As a response, Smith would still come forward and land right hands when he got Hart to the ropes. He had success at the end of the 4th round with a series of power punches that nearly put down the Philadelphia native but the bell came before Smith could score a knockdown.
Smith resumed his walk down style in the 5th and 6th rounds, as when he got close he threw short right hooks and added short uppercuts to his offensive arsenal. By the 7th round, those shots were enough to break down Hart just enough to be put down on one knee from a short right hook before that round ended. Hart almost was knocked down once again in the 9th and suffered a cut on his left eye midway through the round. Smith stayed consistent with the pursuit in the 10th and finished by throwing left and right hooks to seal the win.
This performance by Smith puts him back in the hunt for a world title shot, as he was unsuccessful against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol last year. He was glad that his hard work got him the win. “This win means everything for me,” Smith said. “I had to make a statement that I belong at this level.”
“(Smith) put up a great fight…mentally I just knew no matter how hard I got hit, I just had to stay busy and keep the pressure on him. That’s what I did and I’m coming home with the win tonight.”
Before this fight, Hart was ranked in multiple boxing organizations. Now with Smith defeating him it will make Smith a contender for one of those champions at 175. He did win a secondary WBO title in this fight, so that could put him in line to fight for the vacant WBO title later this year. We will see how that plays out, but for the time being Smith is enjoying the win.
Cover photo by Mikey Williams of Top Rank