Jesse Hart: The spotlight has arrived
When we last caught up with undefeated super middleweight contender Jesse “Hard Work” Hart, 22-0 (18), he was on the verge of getting his shot at a world title. Before he could get his first opportunity at a world title belt, he needed to take care of Alan Campa in a stay-busy fight on the undercard of Vasyl Lomachenko-Jason Sosa, last April. Prior to the fight, Hart was adamant that he didn’t feel in a rush to get his crack at WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez, 35-0 (24), right away. Granted, there was a smirk on his face when saying he felt no rush or that the fight would come when it did. Hart’s tone about Ramirez subsequently changed quickly after he dispatched Campa and Ramirez took care of a title defense a couple of weeks later. “Oh, he’s next for sure. We are just waiting on details and working all the business out right now but he is next,” Hart told this writer several times during the early summer months.
Unlike in previous interactions with Hart, you could see a new state of tranquility that was encompassing his presence at live boxing shows around the Philadelphia area. It was an understanding of just what had already been accomplished in his young career, coupled with finally getting the confirmation that the rest of the boxing world and his own promoter Top Rank were aware that this member of the Hart fighting family was set to fulfill his family’s destiny.
For those of you who may not know by now, Jesse Hart is the son of Philadelphia middleweight legend Eugene “Cyclone” Hart. During his father’s heyday, he fought the best of his era and did so with one of the hardest left hooks ever. Some say it was, pound-for-pound, harder than Joe Frazier’s. Winning over 20 fights early in his career (including a win over Stanley Hayward) before his first loss, “Cyclone” was an integral part of the 1970s golden era of Philadelphia middleweights. Fights at the old Arena on Market Street and the Spectrum were against other Philly greats of that time, like Willie “Worm” Monroe, “Bad” Bennie Briscoe and Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts. Hart also fought Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Vito Antuofermo.
If Cyclone Hart were fighting today, he would have easily had a world championship fight. However during that time, there weren’t as many sanctioning bodies and, as a result, the Hart family, which included Jesse Hart’s uncles, who also fought, never got that crack at the world championship, that is until now.
Despite winning several regional championships, in his professional career, and competing at the highest level of amateur competitions for USA Boxing, Friday night in Phoenix means everything. “Boxing has always been my life. It’s in my blood; it’s what my family does, man.” Even as Hart is in the middle of a brutal training camp for the big fight, when reflecting on his road to this moment, he glows with the idea of what lies ahead. “You gotta understand something: My father was the man, even my earliest memories are of people coming up to him and wanting to be around him, here in Philly. I didn’t know why but I knew it was because he was a somebody.”
Hart recalls his early 5 a.m. wake-up calls by his father to go running around the block at the age of five and six and countless hours of studying video tape of older fighters on a random weekday after school. He was scolded for walking into the house after school, eating a cake or candy from the corner store instead of fruit. It was when he was at the ABC Boxing Gym at the recreation center on 26th and Master, in the heart of North Philadelphia, that he started to realize what his father was doing, nurturing him for his future calling in life.
“Man being in there…that gym. That’s where David Reid (Olympic gold medalist in the 1996 Atlanta Games and former WBA junior middleweight champion) came from just being around it. It felt right and, with my father pushing me, I started fighting,” recalls Hart. Also, from that gym is Fred Jenkins Sr., an all-business serious man, who anyone can tell, as he quietly sits awaiting his charge to get ready, knows his boxing. The ideal look, sound and domineer of someone labeled a true “old school” trainer. Its the calls and strategic game plan from Jenkins that Hart arrives at the Joe Hand Gym for camp to execute. However Cyclone is never too far away, adding to the mix, in order to form a combination of knowledge off which for Hart to execute. Every move, every punch, every situation Hart puts himself into inside of the ring and during heated sparring serves a purpose.
All business is the best way to state the feeling enveloping Joe Hand Gym, when it was time for Hart to train. Just an hour or two before Hart could be seen joking around talking with a who’s who of Philadelphia fighters, Hank Lundy, Damon Allen, Gabriel Rosado, and even future Hall-of-Famer Bernard Hopkins could show up on any given day. Sparring in either ring between Philly up-and-comers Jerome Conquest and Christian Carto, or even with former UFC champion Eddie Alvarez, could take place. Even while Coach Rick would stretch Hart out, he wasn’t shy to speak to folks who just use the gym to stay in shape. But once Danny Davis got to wrapping Hart’s hands, it was time for all of the noise to fade. Jokes were stopped and words out of Hart’s mouth were few and far between.
As the gym would begin to clear out, Hank Lundy said it best: “It’s just a respect thing. I got something coming down the road in the near future, so does Damon (Allen). Jesse is up first though.” During the course of training, several sparring partners were in and out of the ring to test Hart. Let’s just say, when they came out of the ring, you could tell they had been through an experience. It wasn’t a foreign sight to see a sparring partner trying to move around the ring on legs that suggested he may have been out at happy hour, prior to sparring, due to Hart’s punches.
“It’s my pedigree and all of Philly, that I’m bringing with me down there,” reiterates Hart when asked what separates him from the task ahead. A safe bet is the dedication Hart shows and preaches stems from trying to accomplish a family goal. It’s the reason he went five-plus weeks, without seeing his daughter during camp. It’s why he beams with a smile that he can’t hold back, as she tugs on his shorts, while he destroys the speed bag, during a well-attended media day, while screams of “… and the NEW!” echo out from family members standing close by.
The same family members, whom, earlier in the camp, were with Hart, during his cool-down periods after training, there to relieve some of the physical pressure of the hellacious workout he had just conducted, with a quick comical remark about what occurred during the training. Or sometimes, it was something totally unrelated to the fight – or boxing altogether. But rest assured, the relief was only temporary, as the focus always returned to the preparation for the upcoming opportunity.
While doing sit ups in the middle of the ring, after the sparring partners already left, still in tune with the reason he was working so hard every day of camp, Hart reached his arms out with an open palm before he emphatically closed his fingers and made a fist, while stating the following: “That’s all I gotta do on the 22nd. At this point, we there already. Time has come. I just gotta reach out and grab it.”
To read more about Jesse Hart, prior to the Campa fight earlier this year, please click here.