Jesse Hart: Where does he go from here?

By Thad Moore on March 30, 2016
Jesse Hart: Where does he go from here?
"I give him a C-. I tell you what Jesse needs to do." (George Jimenez/GeoIMAGEZ)

Someone who is more than qualified to offer his perspective on Hart’s performance is former seven-time world champion Bernard Hopkins…

Going into his bout with Dashon Johnson, Jesse Hart had a lot riding on the outcome. His undefeated record, a sold-out hometown crowd cheering him on and the potential of a WBO super middleweight title fight were all on the line. The pressing question after Hart’s unanimous ten-round decision win is, does his performance improve or diminish his standing in the division and alter his chances of getting a title shot?

Hart dominated the first five rounds by landing left jabs, straight right hands, and left and right uppercuts. Johnson offered very little resistance in the way of his own offense. We appeared to be on the way to an easy unanimous decision win with Hart carrying every round. Then came the sixth round and the complexion of the fight was about to change. Johnson became more aggressive and started throwing wild, yet at times effective shots with both hands. At the end of the stanza, Johnson landed a right hand to the back of the head almost simultaneously with the sounding of the bell. Hart went down a couple of seconds later and was noticeably hurt. The referee did not rule it a knockdown. Rounds seven through nine featured Hart having the upper hand, but had Johnson throwing and periodically landing, making for competitive rounds.

At this juncture of the fight, Hart was standing more flatfooted and largely abandoning his boxing skills. He was dropping his hands more frequently and becoming less reliant on his left jab. This would prove to be costly in the tenth and final round. Hart began the round using movement, but Johnson was able to close the gap, at times mugging Hart. As the round drew to a close, Johnson landed two big right hands that sent Hart down to the canvas in a heap. Watching from ringside, it was unclear whether or not Hart was going to beat the count. Hart got up at the count of eight and before the action could resume, the bell sounded signaling the end of the bout. Hart won by scores of 98-91, 97-92, and 95-94.

As he was climbing down from the ring, I interviewed Jesse Hart’s father, the legendary Philadelphia boxer, “Cyclone” Hart, who worked in Jesse’s corner. “Cyclone” did not pull any punches when discussing his son’s performance, no pun intended.

“He needs to use more jabs and double up on those punches. I was agitated because he wasn’t using his jab, doubling up on the hook and the right hand uppercut. Jesse got to the point where he thought he could take him out with one shot. Now, he knows everybody he fights, he’s not going to take out with one shot.”

While dripping heavily with sweat, “Cyclone” felt that Hart was not hurt badly when he was on the canvas and “knew” he would get up. “Cyclone” was yelling in Hart’s corner in between the eighth and ninth rounds imploring him to use his arsenal of punches in combination.

“He was too overconfident with his punches. I don’t want to take on nobody big right now that’s over his head. We’re not ready for someone who is number one or number two. Once he gets his balance right, ain’t nobody going to stop him.”

Someone who is more than qualified to offer his perspective on Hart’s performance is former seven-time world champion Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins, who, at the age of 48 became the oldest fighter ever to win a world championship, has some advice for the super middleweight.

“I give him a C-. I tell you what Jesse needs to do. He needs to improve everywhere except for the heart. He shows too many emotions. Jesse needs to understand where to put your emotions and where to use them.”

Hopkins, who holds the record for consecutive middleweight title defenses without a loss at 20, knows that it is difficult to be in complete control at all times in the ring, but it is necessary. 

“Jesse has to figure out a way to unravel the puzzle in the ring. He didn’t really find a way. What he did is the clock and the rounds helped him. Not all fights are going to be that way.”

Hart believes that that this fight will prepare him for the next step in his career. He feels that he encountered challenges in the ring that he never had before and still managed to emerge victorious.

“I dominated every round and hit him with everything. I had him hurt and I just couldn’t finish him. In the last round, I got careless and I got caught. I went to sleep.” Hart continued, “I’m not going to say I’m glad it happened because I’m not. It was a learning experience. That’s what true champions do.”

Hart, who shared with me that he cut his lip several days before the fight during training, also suffered a cut above his left eye during this fight. He feels like he was able to get over this hump, one that needed to take place in order to advance his career.

“Now they can’t say I’m inexperienced. I got knocked down and got back up. Hopkins was knocked down, Mayweather got hit by Mosley. They handled adversity. Everyone wanted to see how I handled adversity and I showed them.”

Carl Moretti, Vice President of Boxing Operations at Top Rank, sees a bright future for Hart in the super middleweight division. He feels that we learned about Hart against Johnson, but still have more to find out.

“There are pluses and minuses with Jesse Hart’s performance. You have to take out Johnson’s record. He was a tough guy and he came to fight. The fact that Jesse got through it was a positive. The fact that he got hit in the sixth and tenth rounds wasn’t ideal. Jesse is someone people find appealing in the ring.”’

Moretti points out that Hart has a better chance of receiving a title shot going forward if Gilberto Ramirez defeats Arthur Abraham for the WBO title on April 9th. The fight will be easier to make because both Hart and Ramirez fight under the Top Rank banner. Moretti states that if the championship bout doesn’t happen, they will be happy to take part in other fights and plan on seeing steady ring improvement by Hart.

“Jesse’s going to try and knock the other guy out. If that means getting hit in return, that’s what happens. We still see a positive future from Jesse. We see the Northeast as Jesse Hart territory. We want to put Jesse in a position to be successful. Anybody can fight for the world title. The question is can you win the world title and can you defend it?”

Iran Barkley, who won titles at middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight suggests that Hart should gain more experience in scheduling future bouts.

“I thought it was a good fight. Hart did a good job. His weakness is that he didn’t pressure [Johnson] enough. He should’ve stayed on top of him. I think he needs more fights before taking a title shot.”

Hopkins perhaps summarizes best where Hart is at this stage of his career. “How do you take the good and the bad out of a win? You might have won the fight, but did you learn the price you paid? if you are unable to correct it, does it get better or does it get worse?”

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