Story by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
File Photos by Darryl Cobb Jr. – dcobbjr.com
In his last outing, Jesse “Hard Work” Hart, 22-1, 18 KOs, the top super middleweight contender in Philadelphia AND the in the world, was knocked down, lost for the first time, and went away from his first world championship fight with a few knocks and bruises on his body and on his ego. However, these trials may just have been some well-needed growing pains.
In that 12-round decision loss to Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez last September, Hart showed the world that he not only had the guts to fight back, but also an ability to adapt on night that wasn’t going his way. This is the toughest test for an undefeated fighter suddenly in deep water. Hart lost the fight, but he passed this important test.
Despite some troublesome moments early on, by the time the final bell sounded, Jesse had brought the fight remarkably close on the official cards. The performance raised his stock and kept him in the hunt for a world title.
Hart takes his first step in that direction on Saturday night when he faces rugged Bronx-based Ghanaian Thomas Awimbono, 25-7-1, 21 KOs, in a ten-round bout from the Bank of America Center, in Corpus Christi, TX. Hart’s bout will be televised live on the ESPN-NEWS network (9:00 PM Eastern). On the same night, his old nemesis Ramirez makes another defense of the WBO title in the main event, televised live on ESPN.
Hart’s return begins the second chapter of a boxing career that is suddenly even more interesting than before that first defeat.
“I don’t really feel like it’s a second chapter,” Hart said. “That was just a learning experience. I learned a lot about myself. A champion like Zurdo has seen a lot of styles. He had 34 pro fights. He did things to trick me, and I went for the bait. I should have never bit on them, but I grew from it.”
Despite the mistakes, or maybe because of them, Hart was a better fighter after the fight than when he started. He went from fighting to survive to fighting to win, in a mere nine or ten round stretch.
“I saw things that I could have done better, things that I can do different (next time),” Hart said about the title fight. “I’m just looking to grow from that. Experience is the best teacher. My Dad always says to me, ‘We never look at losses just as losses. We look at them as a lesson’.
Hart’s father is 1970s Philly legend, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, and a man who learned many lessons while in the ring with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Bennie Briscoe, Vito Antuofermo, Sugar Ray Seales, and many others.
“I came from a father that demanded perfection,” Hart said about Cyclone. “You had to be damn near perfect to even step in the ring. I’m talking about everything – conditioning, hand speed, hand-eye coordination. Everything had to be perfect for me to step into that squared circle. So coming from that kind of a background, anything but a “W” is heartbreaking for my family.”
Immediately after the fight with Ramirez, Hart was smarting from his first loss. More than four months later, not much has changed.
“I’m sort of a sore loser,” Hart said about the loss. “I don’t like to lose. No, no, no. Don’t get it twisted. I learned from it, but I don’t like to lose. I didn’t accept it. I just learned how to live with it.”
The lesson has made Hart eager to get back to action. He’s determined to get past the defeat, but more importantly, to take a step toward applying everything he’s learned.
“I want to get back on the winning side of things,” Hart said. “That’s the motivation that I have. You got to make it better because you’re going to get that opportunity again. You never want to be comfortable with losing.”
His opponent on Saturday night looks tough. He’s been in with Martin Murray, Caleb Plant, Mike Gravonski, and Derrick Webster. All of these boxers defeated Awimbono, but none of them managed to stop him. It’s a point that’s not lost on Hart.
“That’s one of the goals of this fight, to stop this guy,” Hart said. “If I don’t knock him out, I want the corner to stop it. We coming to take it. I ain’t coming to play. I want to stop this kid.”
Hart’s goal is to bounce back from his previous loss, but also to stay relevant and in the chase for another title shot.
“I specifically asked for a guy that’s never been stopped,” Hart said about his comeback fight. “Give me a tough one. Give me a guy who’s tough and durable, so I can break him and crack his spirit. That’s what I want to do, because the last fight just didn’t go my way. I know he’s a good fighter. I know he’s a durable fighter. I know he can punch with both hands, and I know he’s dangerous with either hand. I know he’s coming to fight.”
The fight with Awimbono will happen about one hour before Zurdo Ramirez defends the title that Hart so covets. According to Hart, that’s no coincidence.
“Everywhere he goes, I want to be close to him,” Hart said about Zurdo. “I want him to know, I’m close to you, honey. I’m still right here. I want that shot back. I could have fought on a February 16th card, but I wanted to be close to him. Right on him. Let him know I’m coming. Let him know I’m still here, and I ain’t going nowhere.”
After falling short in a big fight, many fighters would elect to chase one of the other champions, all of whom are considered far easier assignments. Not Hart.
“I want to fight the best guy in my division,” Hart said. “Everybody keeps saying that he’s the best guy in my division. I can’t sleep knowing that. I fought Zurdo, the best champ in my division. I didn’t fight for a vacant belt. I didn’t fight the second best in my division. I fought the best guy in my division. I went right to him. I could have fought James DeGale. I didn’t want to take that route. Bob (Arum) asked me who I wanted to fight. I said I want to fight Gilberto (Zurdo) Ramirez. My Dad said, ‘we want to fight the best’.”
It’s a refreshing attitude, and one that distinguishes Hart from much of the pack.
“It wouldn’t be as satisfying to just win any belt,” Hart said. “In my weight class, we all knew that Gilberto Ramirez was the best super middleweight in the world. I didn’t fight no James DeGale. I didn’t fight no David Benavidez. I didn’t fight no Tyron Zeuge. I fought the best super middleweight in my division – rated by Ring Magazine, considered by all the boxing sites the best super middleweight in the world – Gilberto Ramirez, and I want to fight him again if possible.”
A win on Saturday night will be a step in the right direction for Hart. It will be a move past the nagging defeat that still haunts him, and a major stride toward his goal of avenging it.
To read more about the Philly fight scene, visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.