ATLANTIC CITY — Swing back, Jesse! Use your jab, Jesse!
Jesse Hart’s corner and fans looked to be in utter disbelief Saturday night as the Philly boxer struggled to find a groove against Joe Smith Jr. Smith won the light-heavyweight fight by split decision, winning by 98-91 and 97-92 on two of the judge’s cards. The other judge, James Kinney, had Hart winning, 95-94.
After the fight, it was learned that Hart was dealing with an injured right hand. He initially suffered the injury in his last fight and went to see a specialist afterward, Hart’s camp said. He reinjured it training for Saturday’s bout at the Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but he tried to fight through it.
Hart (26-3, 21 KOs) said he landed a right uppercut in the second round and hurt his hand again. He wasn’t able to establish his right hand for the rest of the fight.
“I hurt my right hand a week ago. You can see it’s messed up," Hart said, displaying his swollen hand. " I don’t want to make no excuses because Joe fought a great fight. I hurt the hand in my last sparring session and thought I could overcome that. Credit to Joe for doing for what he had to do.”
Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) stayed on the attack, constantly trying to get to Hart’s body. It was the type of aggressive approach that could have been countered with a good right-hand, punch but Hart didn’t have it. Smith landed 135 punches and Hart connected on 99, according to CompuBox.
The split decision infuriated many at ringside. “It was a terrific fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up,” Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said.
“It’s ridiculous,” Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia said.
However, it was encouraging for Hart. “The one judge had it 95-94 my way. So if you look at that, you can tell if I had both of my hands, it wouldn’t even have been close,” Hart said. "He’s not even in my league.”
All hope isn’t lost for Hart. He sat in his locker room and was showered with encouraging messages from his mother and other family members.
“You’re still the Hart of the city!” one family member said.
Trainer Fred Jenkins Sr. has the same confidence in Hart. He believes his 30-year-old fighter will still become a champion.
“You see as the rounds go, he couldn’t use his right hand,” Jenkins said. “If his right hand didn’t hurt, he would’ve been able to do a little more. He did a great job with the one hand.”
In the later rounds, Hart became more and more hesitant with his right hand. Smith connected in the seventh round and dropped Hart to one knee. It was the only knockdown in the 10-round bout.
Hart said he has no timetable for when he wants to fight again.