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Joe Smith Jr. wins Philly grudge match

By Robert Ecksel on January 12, 2020


Smith Jr. got right to work and never took his foot off the gas. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

Saturday night at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Joe Smith Jr. (25-3, 20 KOs), the heavy-handed spoiler from Long Island, New York, denied Jesse Hart (26-3, 21 KOs), from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the revenge he sought by winning an incomprehensible split decision to claim the vacant NABO light heavyweight title.


The final scores after 10 one-sided rounds were 98-91 (Joseph Pasquale) and 97-92 (Eugene Grant) for Smith Jr., while a third judge (James Kinney) somehow had it 95-94 in favor of Hart.


Hart said repeatedly before the fight that he was going to punish Smith Jr. for what he did to Bernard Hopkins when they fought in 2016, and more people than not took him at his word. But when the opening bell rang, it appeared he had other ideas, such as running and clinching, which is what Hart often does, and for his efforts got punished in return.


Smith Jr. got right to work and never took his foot off the gas. Stalking, pressing, pressuring his opponent, throwing punches with bad intentions from the start, he dominated the fight, which was not, as many have written, “all-action,” since only one of the two participants was trying to win.


Smith Jr. rocked Hart several times, dropping him with a sweeping overhand right in the closing seconds of the seventh. Hart survived the round, just as he survived the whooping he received. But his questionable balance, faulty footwork, a tendency to square himself up when in close, and to make promises he failed to keep, made the decision a foregone conclusion, notwithstanding the single errant scorecard.


The judge who scored the fight for Hart needs to have his eyes examined. Seeing the fight as close is bad enough. Scoring it in Hart’s favor was still worse. Even Bob Arum, who promotes Hart, lambasted the judge for his incompetence.


“That judge should be banned from scoring a fight,” he said. “How can you ever score that fight for Jesse Hart? It was a terrific fight, good for boxing, good action fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up.”


Since this happens with unerring frequency, maybe the sport’s power brokers should do something about it, instead of just blowing smoke. But the “damn judge,” however ill-equipped for the task, didn’t screw it up. Hart screwed it up, by setting up the public with pronouncements that he failed to implement.


To the surprise of no one, Hart had an excuse after the fight, which only the most gullible were buying. Smith Jr. won the fight by a wide margin, no ifs, ands or buts, and deserves another shot at a world title.


“I got two Philly guys now and it feels great,” he said, as willing to rub it in as punch Hart silly. “I was a little bit nervous when that one judge had it for Hart, but I really believe I won that fight. Jesse said he was going to fight me, but when I went to fight in the center of the ring, he retreated and I said ‘I thought you were going to fight me.’”


So did everyone else, everyone, that is, but hapless James Kinney.

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