In an interesting matchup near the summit of the 175lb division, Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart takes on the hard-hitting Joe Smith Jr. in a fight that’ll see the winner on the cusp of another opportunity at world honours.
Both men have challenged for titles and come up short before, with tough New Yorker Smith being outclassed by the technically superior Russian Dmitry Bivol and Hart being beaten twice by now-fellow light-heavyweight Gilberto Ramirez for the Mexican’s WBO strap at super-middleweight.
Joe Smith Jr. gained masses of attention with his breakout win over living legend Bernard Hopkins, knocking “The Alien” out of the ring in iconic fashion. It was this win that has proven an additional spark of motivation for Hart, who has been very open about how much he idolised the Philadelphia Hall-of-Famer. With the majority of Top Rank’s promotion for this fight labeling the bout a real grudge match, it should come as no surprise that both fighters have been very vocal in the lead up.
Hart comes into this fight as a favourite with the bookmakers, who probably see Hart as the slightly more efficient and smoother boxer of the two. He amassed a decent record down at 168lbs in his developing years before putting in a great account of himself against Gilberto Ramirez, so much so that a rematch was made. In the rematch the fight was even closer but still the judges sided with the Mexican. Hart made an impressive start to life at light-heavy back in June of last year, beating seasoned campaigner Sullivan Barrera by unanimous decision. Barrera, of course, holds a victory over Harts’ January 11th opponent.
Joe Smith Jr. will see his way to victory the same as all his other fights. Smith will try to punch a hole through the shrewder, more elusive opponent in front of him, but it is in that quest to land that big shot where Smith can be found guilty of abandoning technical discipline and losing rounds in the process. Hart will look for these openings but cannot afford to leave himself exposed in the process, with Smith being by far the consensus puncher in the fight.
This fight lands under the Top Rank banner, and an impressive win over their opponent will see the winner in the picture to fight 175lbs king Artur Beterbiev, as the Russian is currently in the midst of dispute over his mandatory fight with Fanlong Meng that has wider socio-political factors, making that fight hard to make.
With the future of the belts very much up-in-the-air and Bob Arum and Co. with the best selection of light-heavies out there, a victory for either man will see them almost certainly fight for a title before the year is out.