ATLANTIC CITY — Joe Smith Jr. entered Saturday’s light-heavyweight bout against Philadelphia fighter Jesse Hart with a reputation as an offensive-minded boxer, and he proved his point.
Smith went out swinging with reckless abandon from the start, while Hart seemed to have trouble finding his way past Smith’s effective defense.
In the end, after a seventh-round knockdown of Hart by Smith, the New York boxer defeated Hart by a split decision in the 10-round fight. The judges scored the fight 97-92, 94-95, 98-91 in favor of Smith.
It was a disappointing night for the 30-year-old Hart, who had hoped to avenge a loss to Smith by fellow Philly fighter Bernard Hopkins in 2016. Hart is the son of former middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart.
But Hart could not keep Smith away from him and failed to land the big blows late in the fight when he needed them.
The anticipation of the fight didn’t get off to an ideal start. Boxing promoter Michelle Rosado had said she was worried the matchup wouldn’t do well in attendance. But that changed with a spike of interest in the final week.
The fight at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino drew an attendance of about 3,415 but increased interest led to more seats being added, with the fans creating an electric atmosphere. And it only got better closer to the fight, which went off about 11:40 p.m.
“I brought them out, didn’t I!” Hart said in his dressing room before the fight.
Hart (26-2, 21 KOs) said his plan against Smith (24-3, 20 KOs) centered on two advantages that his corner thought he had: using his jab and his length. Hart had a three-inch height advantage over Smith.
“Use that jab. You better use that jab,” trainer Fred Jenkins Sr. said repeatedly to Hart in the dressing room.
Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis took in the action one day after his fourth-round TKO of Bakhtiyar Eyubov. Ennis said he felt good and was going to take some time and rest before fighting again in April.
The Philly love was evident all night. Ennis walked South Philly’s Sonny Conto to the ring for his heavyweight fight and said he was rooting for Hart to win. Conto got a huge ovation from the crowd when it was announced he was from Philly.