Hart-Smith and Steven Nelson-Cem Kilic to air LIVE on ESPN beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT – Undercard to stream on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT
Jesse Hart and Joe Smith Jr. faced off two days before their highly anticipated 10-round light heavyweight showdown Saturday from Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena in Atlantic City (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET). Hart is attempting to gain a measure of revenge, as Smith knocked out his mentor and close friend Bernard Hopkins back in December 2016.
This one is personal. Jesse “Hollywood” Hart, born and bred in Philadelphia, will take on Joe Smith Jr. Saturday, Jan. 11 from Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena in the 10-round main event, which will kick off the 2020 Top Rank on ESPN schedule.
It was Smith, the union construction worker from Long Island, who knocked Philadelphia legend Bernard Hopkins through the ropes and into retirement in December 2016. For Hart, who considers Hopkins a mentor, this fight is more than a step towards a world title shot.
ESPN and ESPN Deportes will televise Hart-Smith Jr. and a co-feature beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, with undercard action slated for ESPN+ beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Star Boxing, tickets priced at $100, $60, $40 and $25 (not including applicable fees) go on sale Friday, Nov. 22 at 10 a.m. ET and can be purchased by visiting www.ticketmaster.com and www.hardrockhotelatlanticcity.com.
“When you have two fighters who can punch like heck, anything can happen,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “We believe Jesse Hart has everything it takes to become a world champion, but Joe Smith Jr. can turn the lights out at any moment. This is a sensational main event to kick off the Top Rank schedule in 2020.”
“This is personal. Bernard inspired me to be what I became,” Hart said. “I wouldn’t be right if didn’t avenge that defeat. I can’t move forward unless I beat him. This is a Philly thing. It’s more personal than business for me. I want a world title shot at light heavyweight, but I have to get through this guy first.”
“I am back in the gym and feel great,” Smith said. “I am focused and ready to bring everything I have. Jesse Hart might want to make this personal, but I didn’t even know who he was before this fight was brought up. I am ready for this. It is going to be a great night.”
“I look forward to a thrilling, fan-friendly fight in Atlantic City on ESPN Jan. 11,” said Star Boxing CEO Joe DeGuardia, Smith’s promoter. “Jesse Hart is Philly tough, but I love watching Joe Smith Jr. fight as his amazing punching power always puts him 10 seconds away from a KO win. It will be a rocking night at the Hard Rock Hotel.”
Hart (26-2, 21 KOs) is making his triumphant return to Atlantic City, where he is 7-0 with 7 knockouts. He twice challenged for the super middleweight world title previously held by Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, but he came up short via a pair of close decision defeats. Following the second Ramirez loss in December 2018, Hart moved up to the light heavyweight ranks and announced his arrival with a 10-round decision victory over Sullivan Barrera on the Tyson Fury-Tom Schwarz undercard.
Smith (24-3, 20 KOs) was boxing’s “Cinderella Man” in 2016, upsetting Andrzej Fonfara via first-round TKO to earn the shot at Hopkins. He proved the Fonfara win was no fluke, as he bullied Hopkins around the ring before a combination knocked him through the ropes. Smith is coming off a decision loss to WBA light heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol, although he buzzed Bivol on several occasions in the championship rounds.
HART-SMITH JR. SET FOR THIS SATURDAY NIGHT ON ESPN
JOE “THE BEAST” SMITH JR. (24-3 20KO’S) made his pro-debut in 2009 and spent much of his early years in boxing developing in the New York boxing scene, most notably at Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing praised “Rockin’ Fight” series at The Paramount. Fast forward to 2016 and the year of “THE BEAST” was truly upon us.
Starting in June of ’16, Smith Jr. traveled to Chicago, the hometown of then #2 world rated light heavyweight, ANDREZJ FONFARA. In a stunning upset, Smith Jr. unleashed a furious double-handed attack, delivering a perfectly placed right to the temple of the home-town 16-1 favorite, dropping Fonfara just 64-seconds into the fight. Fonfara wearily rose to his feet, but it wasn’t long until Smith Jr. resumed his onslaught, planting Fonfara on the canvas for good, at the 2:32 mark of the first round. Smith Jr. earned the WBC International Light Heavyweight Title as well as upset of the year honors.
With momentum on his side, Smith Jr. was hand-picked by boxing legend, BERNARD HOPKINS as the opponent for his farewell fight on HBO at The Forum in California. However, come fight night, Smith Jr. was the one bidding farewell, as he landed a devasting multi-punch combination in the eight-round, sending Hopkins clear out of the ring, and into retirement. Smith Jr. would be the first, and only, fighter to knockout the legend, Hopkins. With this TKO victory, Smith Jr. defended his WBC International light heavyweight title and became the #2 rated light heavyweight in the world.
Turning to 2017, Smith Jr. found himself going toe to toe with Cuban veteran, SULLIVAN BARRERA, back at The Forum on HBO. Once again showing his immense power, a one punch overhand right landed flush on the top of Barrera’s head, putting the Cuban on the floor. To the vet’s credit, Barrera would stand inside the 10-count and continue the fight. In the second-round, Smith Jr. would break his jaw, but incredibly continued to fight for the remaining eight-rounds of the bout. Smith Jr. would fall short by decision, but received praise for his insane toughness, and fortitude.
Finally recovered from his injury, Smith Jr. made his triumphant return to the ring at Mohegan Sun Arena in 2018, taking on tough southerner, MELVIN RUSSELL. Wasting no time returning to his power punching ways, Smith Jr. devoured the overmatched Russell by a devastating upper cut, causing referee Steve Willis to stop the action just 2:40 into the first round.
2019 saw Smith Jr. get his first crack at a world title against Russian technician, DMITRY BIVOL at Turning Stone Resort Casino for the WBA World Light Heavyweight Championship. Smith Jr. would take the champion the full 12-rounds, highlighted by a massive right hand that landed at the end of the tenth-round leaving Bivol on unsteady legs, however, without enough time left on the clock to capitalize. Smith Jr. would fall short by unanimous decision to Bivol in the championship fight.
With the start of 2020, Smith Jr. returns to familiar territory, fighting his way into world championship contention. The “Common Man” as he is affectionately known by his fellow union members, must first take on former two-time world title challenger, JESSE “HOLLYWOOD” HART (Philadelphia, PA 26-2 21KO’s) in a top light heavyweight battle. Hart, mentored by Bernard Hopkins, believes this is his chance to get revenge for the way Hopkins was defeated by Smith in 2016. Smith Jr. knows a spectacular victory over the likes of Hart, puts another world title challenge at arms-length. One thing is for sure, fireworks are bound to be set off, and a great main event lies ahead this Saturday night.