Tomorrow night on ESPN, Jesse Hart and Joe Smith Jr meet in a big light heavyweight main event from Atlantic City, with Hart looking to get some revenge on behalf of fellow Philly fighter Bernard Hopkins, while Smith aims to let Philly down one more time.
Our staffers make their picks.
I like both these guys as fighters. Hart is an athletic guy, good jab, tall and rangy, but can fight if the chips are down and has power, too. Smith is a slugger, pure and simple. I really think Hart’s a better all-around fighter and that if he avoids Joe’s power, there’s not a ton for him to worry about with this matchup. If he stays controlled and at distance, he wins comfortably.
But I’m also not sure Jesse will stay controlled and at distance here. He’s got a lot of emotion coming into this fight, and while some guys fight well like that, some make mistakes. A mistake against Smith can be lights out. I was the biggest gambler of our staff picks quartet in 2019, and in 2020 I see no reason to stop. I think we see Hart leading late and getting caught. He gets hit a fair amount anyway, and Smith’s power is no joke. He’s a limited guy overall, but he can really thump. Yeehaw, y’all, let’s root and toot! Smith TKO-9
Joe Smith Jr is a tough, blue collar kind of fighter out of New York who appears to have peaked with his 2016 stoppage win over legend Bernard Hopkins. Yes, Hopkins was plenty old by then, but I don’t recall anybody predicting Smith to straight up knock Hopkins right out of the ring in spectacular fashion. Since then, however, Smith has fought three times, dropping two of those three against good opponents in Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol. Those fights exposed the limitations of Smith’s style for those who may not have otherwise known.
Against Hart he’ll be facing another competent boxer. Hart beat Barrera, who previously beat Smith, and although triangulation doesn’t work perfectly in this sport, it can provide some insight as to what to expect from a style matchup. I fully expect Smith to bring his workmanlike approach to this fight, but I don’t think he has the technical nuances to outbox Hart over the distance. In this fight I really think it’s knockout or bust for Smith, and I’m going with bust. Hart UD-10
Patrick L. Stumberg
Hart’s decision to move to 175 pounds when there was another shot at the WBO super middleweight title waiting for him, one against an opponent far more beatable than Zurdo Ramirez, remains among the more baffling in recent memory. He’s not terribly fast and relies heavily on power and athleticism to make up for technique that, despite nearly 30 fights in the pros, remains underwhelming. To get a belt, he’ll have to fight someone like Ramirez, Artur Beterbiev, or Dmitry Bivol, and considering that the WBO let Billy Joe Saunders beat up Shefat Isufi for the belt, I can’t imagine the road at 168 being more difficult.
Luckily for him, he can get away with a lot against Smith. Hart proved his ability to deal with straightforward bruisers in his fight with Barrera and while Smith probably has more horsepower in his punches, it’s not enough to make up for the technical discrepancy, especially not when compounded by the height difference. Hart picks him apart from the outside. Hart UD-10
Hart’s looking for some Philly revenge this Saturday, over the man who ended Hopkins’ career three years back. Hart’s size advantages can’t be overlooked in this one, with “Hard Work” jumping up to light-heavy having only dropped thin losses to Ramirez previously. Smith has probably reached his ceiling in the sport, sliding to two losses since his breakout 2016.
This one feels like it has the boxer vs puncher narrative which could well lead to an engaging fight stylistically. Hart has a good straight jab and can work well off his 1-2s with an eye to keep Smith at range the obvious tactic. Smith will come forward and close the gap looking to land his looping hooks but will be susceptible to Hart countering down the pipe all night. Hart could win this comfortably but will need to remain switched on for 30 minutes. Hart UD-10