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Jesse Hart Wants Revenge vs. Joe Smith Jr., But Served Piping Hot

Bernard Fernandez

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, a French diplomat in the 1800s, is widely credited as the originator of the saying that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” which is to say that retribution is most effectively achieved when the would-be avenger’s immediate, inflamed passions have been tempered into steely, calculating resolve.

It has been a little more than three years since Father Time, with an assist from Joe Smith Jr., finally caught up with the great Bernard Hopkins, who suffered the only loss inside the distance in his 28-year professional career when he was knocked out in the eighth round by Smith on Dec. 17, 2017, at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Even though B-Hop was then just 29 days shy of his 53rd birthday, and Smith, a construction worker from Long Island, N.Y., was, at 28, young enough to be the old master’s son, a longtime fan of Hopkins’ was personally offended when Smith had the temerity to take some verbal swipes at the vanquished legend.

That fan, a native Philadelphian as is Hopkins, is Jesse Hart (29-2, 21 KOs), who squares off against Smith (24-3, 20 KOs) in the scheduled 10-round light heavyweight main event Saturday night in the Mark G. Etess Arena of Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The bout will be televised by ESPN.

Even without Hart’s seemingly heartfelt revenge motive to stir the pot, this matchup of the self-appointed vindicator of Hopkins’ foiled fistic farewell, a two-time world title challenger as a super middleweight, and Smith, whose resume includes not only that signature conquest of Hopkins but a shocking, first-round stoppage of highly regarded Andrzej Fonfara on June 18, 2016, has implications within the 175-pound weight class.

The 30-year-old Hart, who is promoted by Top Rank and will be fighting for only the second time as a light heavyweight, nonetheless is ranked No. 3 in that division by the WBO, No. 4 by the WBA, No. 8 by the WBC and No. 10 by the IBF. An impressive victory over Smith, also 30, no doubt would enhance his credentials for another bid for a world title, while Smith, loser of two of his last three ring appearances, one by unanimous decision to WBA light heavy champ Dmitry Bivol, is hoping an upset of Hart will again vault him back into the ratings.

But, to Hart, those are details that can and will be worked out later. This fight, he insists, is personal. He might not really know Smith enough to dislike him, but he does know that Smith defeated and then dissed Hopkins, which to Hart, son of another Philly boxing legend, middleweight knockout artist Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, is unforgivable.

At a press conference in Philadelphia to hype the fight, Hart turned toward Smith and explained why he so badly needed to put a whipping on him.

“You didn’t hurt just me, you hurt my whole city,” Hart said of Smith’s demonstration that not even Hopkins is immune to the natural laws of diminishing returns. “Philadelphia is pressuring me about this fight. I keep hearing, now that I’m a light heavyweight, `You gotta get Joe, you gotta get some payback.’ That’s my motivation. That’s my mission.”

Smith said his motivation, his mission, is to again “get my face out there,” to remind everyone that he is still around and capable of restoring some of his lost prestige. But he admitted that he is aware that Hart holds him responsible for some sort of affront to Philadelphia as a whole and to one of its most acclaimed boxing icons in particular.

“I know Jesse Hart’s coming to fight after what I did to his mentor, Bernard Hopkins,” Smith continued. “I know how he feels about it. He’s holding a grudge.

“So I know he’s looking forward to coming in there and possibly taking me out, but I’m going in there to do the same thing to him.”

It would be reasonable to believe that Hart’s expressions of outrage are feigned, possible mind games to mentally discombobulate Smith, which was something that a prime Bernard Hopkins could do about as well as anyone. Cynics might even suggest that it is all just window dressing, a false injection of drama to raise the stakes and create spectator interest. It wouldn’t be the first time that one or both fighters slung invective at each other, then hugged after the final bell and admitted that there never really was any bad blood between them.

Hart, however, insists that what he feels is real. There is a score to be settled, and Hart wants to painfully extract what he believes Smith owes for his impudence of three years ago.

“This ain’t got nothing to do with business or purses or who I’m going to fight later on,” he told a couple of Philadelphia reporters whom he has known for some time. “I’m going in there to do some real damage. I got to get Joe.

“Look, y’all know how close I am to Bernard Hopkins. I’ve been talking to Bernard since I was seven years old, back when Bouie Fisher was training him. Bouie used to train my dad when my dad was 13. Bouie would put Bernard on the phone with my dad, and my dad would give him advice. Then he’d hand the phone to me and say, `Here, talk to Bernard.’

“I watched most of Bernard’s fights when I was coming up. When he beat Felix Trinidad he was, like, the hero of the whole city of Philadelphia. An instant icon. That was the biggest day of my life, to be up there on that stage with him when he was honored at the Lucian Blackwell thing (a ceremony hosted by the now-deceased Philly city councilman).”

The bond between Hopkins and Hart remains as strong as ever. When Hart looks at Smith, rightly or wrongly he sees a thief who stole a bit of his childhood and laughed about it.

“Bernard made a promise to his deceased mother (that he’d retire at 40),” Hart recalled. “He made that promise to his hometown and to his daughter. But because of the simple fact that he could still fight, he kept fighting. If it wasn’t for that loss (to Smith), he’d probably still be fighting now. It took that loss to make him stop.

“But when he lost that fight, it hurt that little boy who idolized him and still does. When he came back (from California), he told me, `I’m sorry, Jesse. I went in there and did my best. It just wasn’t my night.’ He hugged me when he saw tears in my eyes. I felt like I lost. The little boy inside me was crying.

“That subject is still sensitive to me. The only way to make it right is for me to do (Smith) in. When this fight was made, I talked to Bernard and I said, `It’s going to be all right. I got Joe Smith.’”

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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