Bernard Fernandez: Jesse Hart: 'Amateur boxing cut the heart out of me'

Jesse Hart's Olympic dream ended with controversial loss.
Jesse Hart's Olympic dream ended with controversial loss.
Posted: March 16, 2012

NORTH Philadelphia's Jesse Hart understands how Drexel basketball coach Bruiser Flint and his players must have felt when they were bypassed on Selection Sunday. When you feel like you've done enough to earn something as important as a slot in the NCAA Tournament, and don't get it, the disappointment can run deep.

But for Hart, the 22-year-old son of former middleweight contender Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, the sudden, crushing end to the Olympic dream he has nurtured since 1996 stings like no blow he has ever taken in a boxing ring. And for Hart, there is no NIT consolation prize to ease the pain. Not that he would accept such a thing, anyway.

"Even if the other guy [Cleveland's Terrell Gausha] gets hurt before the next qualifier and USA Boxing comes begging for me to take his place, I'd tell them no," Hart said in an exclusive interview with the Daily News, his first public remarks since his bid to represent the United States in this summer's London Olympics ended March 4 with a double-tiebreaker loss to Gausha in the 165-pound final at the USA National Boxing Championships in Fort Carson, Colo.

"Right now, I don't think I'll ever fight again. I don't even know about the pros. I was never in boxing because I thought it would make me rich someday. I just wanted to represent my country in the Olympics.

"I gave amateur boxing the best years of my life, but amateur boxing cut the heart out of me. They made me lose all my passion for the sport."

In what technically was the closest match ever in the Nationals, Gausha was awarded the title - and a berth in the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in May in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - by a 3-2 vote of the judges, after the electronically scored bout ended in a 10-10 stalemate. The first tiebreaker, total punches landed, also was even at 34. That put the outcome in the hands of five judges, three of whom felt that Gausha had done just enough to win.

Hart characterized the final verdict as an outrage, the "worst decision since Roy Jones lost to that South Korean [Park Si-Hun]"at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

I can't speak to that as I did not see the Hart-Gausha fight or had a chance to review a tape of it. What I have heard from credible sources is that it was an inelegant affair, with the 6-3 Hart and 5-10 Gausha often ensnared in each other's arms, as was the case in a 2009 matchup that ended with Hart being disqualified for excessive holding.

Cyclone Hart, who was in Fort Carson, put most of the blame for the more recent clinchfest on Gausha, saying he was "rasslin' the whole fight." Gausha, however, pointed out that it was Hart who got DQ'ed for holding in the 2009 bout.

If there is a difference between Hart and the Drexel Dragons it is this: Hart never was, or should have been, on that proverbial bubble. His elimination from Olympic consideration is like No. 1 overall seed Kentucky being sent to the sidelines without lining up for a tip-off in the NCAA Tournament. At various times Hart has been ranked first by USA Boxing at both 178 pounds and 165. He won the U.S. Olympic Team Boxing Trials as a 165-pounder in August 2011, and could have qualified for the London Games by finishing in the top 10 at the AIBA World Championships last October in Baku, Azerbaijan. More than a few astute observers of the U.S. amateur boxing scene believed he was this country's best chance to bring home a gold medal this summer.

But Hart - who took up boxing at 6, after seeing North Philly's David Reid take Olympic gold in Atlanta - came up one victory short, dropping a controversial 17-15 decision in the round of 16 to Kazakhstan's Danabek Suzhanov, a bout in which Hart was docked two penalty points that, in accordance with international rules, went to Suzhanov. That obliged Hart to go back to the USA Nationals for another chance to qualify for the Olympics. But Gausha, 24, who quit boxing for 3 years and did not even participate in the Trials in August, was afforded the same opportunity.

"I didn't qualify at the Worlds. OK, I accept that. I lost, even if it was only because they kept taking points from me," Hart said. "You have to expect that sometimes at the international level.

"But to have another fight unfairly taken from me, and in my own country? No, I do not accept that."

Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward served as director of coaching for USA Boxing in 2003, a position he voluntarily left because nearly all the changes he wanted to implement were held up or disapproved.

"Amateur boxing here and around the world is in total disarray," Steward told me. "I gave up on it. I remember when [1984 Olympic gold medalist] Mark Breland showed up at the Nationals in 2004 in Colorado Springs and they didn't want to let him in. Nobody apparently knew who he was, and this is a guy they have a statue of in the hallway of USA Boxing."

Hart, whose wife, Starletta, is expecting the couple's first child in August, might or might not hold firm on his threat to never fight again. Many major promoters and managers want to sign him, and, as Cyclone noted, "We ain't going to stay stuck on stupid. Jesse is just angry and frustrated. He's got a right to be upset. He feels like he's been robbed. But I think he'll calm down and see things different when he takes a little time to think things through.

"I mean, what else is he gonna do?"

Contact Bernard Fernandez at


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