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Together, North Philly father and son eye boxing crown

“Cyclone” Hart trains son Jesse to capture the super-middleweight championship

Jesse Hart works on his speed with his dad, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, supervising: Jesse is fighting on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather bout in May. (ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Jesse Hart works on his speed with his dad, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, supervising: Jesse is fighting on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather bout in May. (ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Read more

WHILE JESSE HART, 25, moved around the ring at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym in Northern Liberties, his dad, Cyclone, sat outside the ropes on a folding chair, watching Hart's every step, every jab, leaning forward and back, in sync with his son's attack on assistant trainer Danny Davis Jr.

"Straight jabs!" Cyclone, 63, shouted. "STRAIGHT jabs! Power! Hard WORK! Turn the body with the hook. Shorten it up so he don't see it! Bang! Bang! Bang! Walk through this door! This right here is the key to open up everything!"

The door that Cyclone, a hard-punching former middleweight contender, wants his son to walk through is the May 2 bout on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather welterweight mega-fight in Las Vegas.

Victory would be Hart's gateway to a super-middleweight title shot.

Father and son and boxing have been together since Jesse was 6, and his dad taught him footwork in the kitchen of their North Philadelphia home on Newkirk Street near Glenwood Avenue.

"Moving like a boxer without looking down," Cyclone said.

"I'm doing this at 6 years old," Hart said after his workout, demonstrating those first basic steps without looking down. "This isn't easy when you're 6 years old and you're not coordinated yet."

Cyclone raised his son on black-and-white fight films of the old greats - Ali, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson.

"I wanted him to see the guys who went 15 rounds," Cyclone said, planting the idea in his kid's head that if you're going to be a fighter, that's the kind of old-school fighter you're going to be.

As Cyclone, who fought from 1969 to 1982, spent years teaching boxing at city rec centers, his son accompanied him, soaking it all up like he was born to follow in his father's footsteps, which, as things turned out, he was.

"He was hyperactive," Cyclone said, smiling. "I took him in the gym and tried to burn up his energy so maybe I could go to sleep at night and get up for work the next morning."

Then, Cyclone turned serious and said, "I wanted to keep him off the streets."

When Hart was 16, his older brother Damon was shot to death. The shock hit him harder than any punch ever has.

"He was my big brother," Hart said quietly. "He'd always say, 'You're going to be the champ.' Just hearing that from my big brother, someone I looked up to, made me believe it.

"When he was killed," Hart said, "I see my mother crying. I see everybody crying. My big brother was dead. My other brother was in jail. I was the only brother there who could get revenge. I wanted revenge."

Cyclone remembered thinking, "I have to get him away." He sent his son to Michigan for two years to work with former Philly trainer Al Mitchell.

When Hart returned in 2011, he capped a great amateur career by winning gold medals at the U.S. National Championships and the National Golden Gloves before turning pro in 2013.

"I fight for Damon, my brother," Hart said intensely. Then, the hard stare left his eyes and he returned to being the joyful, high-energy young man he is when he's not in the ring.

Hart said he's not nervous about the biggest fight of his life in May, a super middleweight bout vs. Mike "Hollywood" Jimenez.

"I'm 16-0, he's 16-0," Hart said, smiling. "One of those 0's got to go!"

He trains every day with his dad, until their lifelong friend Fred Jenkins, a 40-year legend at the city's Athletic Recreation Center in North Philly, returns from Texas, where he is training another Philly fighter, heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings, for an April title bout vs. world champion Wladimir Klitschko.

"My dad told me that Fred Jenkins drove my mom to the hospital when I was born in 1989," Hart said. "We are all so close, we eat out of the same pot."

Jenkins said he and Cyclone grew up in the gang-riddled North Philly streets surrounding Athletic Recreation Center, on 26th Street near Master, where boxing was their refuge and their salvation.

"We had to maneuver through eight neighborhood gangs," Jenkins said, naming the eight violent corners as if the 1970s were yesterday.

"A lot of our friends in the gangs are dead or in jail for life," Jenkins said. "We were in the gym, training, boxing, trying to do the right thing. We survived."

Jenkins, a Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame coach, said that what he and his lifelong friend Cyclone do in the city's gyms is still as much about survival as it is about championship belts.

"It ain't just training the fighters," Jenkins said. "It's trying to keep a young man on the right path. Everybody don't turn out to be a fighter. But if they can stand the discipline and the strenuous work in the gym, they can go out into the world and do anything."

Jenkins said he lives his credo. "I know what it is raising nine kids in the 'hood and keeping them out of trouble," he said. "My youngest is 18 and my oldest is 43. I've been blessed. None of my kids has been hurt. None of my kids has been locked up.

"I've trained hundreds of kids at the gym," he said. "Keeping them all straight is an almost impossible task. I always ask myself, 'Did I do a good job today? Did I do enough?' "

Jenkins has no such concerns about Hart, as a person or as a boxer.

"His father was a left-hook artist," Jenkins said. "This kid is a left-hook artist and a jab artist. He can step in and he can step out of the way. He's got the height. He's got the reach. He's got so many things in his arsenal. He's being put to the test in this fight but Jesse Hart should be OK."

Danny Davis Jr., who trained Philly's great middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins for 16 years and is now Hart's strength and conditioning trainer, has long-admired Hart's self-confidence. "Man, he wanted to box Bernard!" Davis said, smiling.

He was cautious at first about working with a father-and-son team because, he said: "I worked with quite a few fathers and sons, and I had a couple bad experiences. But Mr. Cyclone and Jesse trust me enough, and that's why we have such a strong bond."

Corey "Hundew" McDonald, 30, Hart's brother-in-law and corner man, said the young boxer's work ethic is why he's successful.

"His dedication to boxing is what makes Jesse so special," McDonald said. "He is willing to lay his life on the line for this boxing thing."

John Davis, 26, a trainer at Joe Hand Boxing Gym, said: "He is going to bring the title back to Philly. I know Jesse is going to be a top world class fighter. He is willing to die in that ring."