Jesse Hart eager to carry on family's boxing tradition

Jesse Hart will make his pro debut on June 9th. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
Jesse Hart will make his pro debut on June 9th. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 27, 2012

This was not the plan.

The way he had things figured out, Philadelphia middleweight boxer Jesse Hart would be in London this summer, winning an Olympic gold medal and using that as a springboard to his professional career.

But in March, Hart’s Olympic dream, the one inspired by watching former Philadelphia world champion David Reid win an Olympic boxing gold medal in 1996, came crashing down.

A loss to Terrell Guasha by the thinnest of margins – a judges’ verdict after tiebreakers had been even – at the USA Boxing Championships ended Hart’s hopes of triumphing at 2012 Olympics.

He was distraught and appeared to be done with boxing.

"Right now, I don’t think I’ll ever fight again," Hart told the Daily News in March. "I gave amateur boxing the best years of my life, but amateur boxing cut the heart out of me. They made me lost all my passion for the sport."

Time, sometimes even just a little time, has a way of changing perspective.

Not long after the USA championships, Hart, 22, signed on with Philadelphia-based D&D Management.

About a month after the loss to Guasha, Hart signed a long-term promotional deal with Top Rank.

On June 9, Hart will make his professional debut at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on the undercard of WBO welterweight championship fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley.

Hart, who was 85-11 as an amateur, will box middleweight Manuel Eastman (0-1), of New Mexico.

He’s no longer worried that London is not calling.

"It doesn’t get any better than that," Hart said Tuesday during a training session at Joe Hand Boxing Gym. "On Pacquiao’s undercard! Las Vegas.

“I’m not going to Olympic Games, but does that really matter? I’m on the biggest stage there is right now. I’m not talking down on any guys in the Olympics. I hope they all win. But are any of them gonna come out of amateurs and be right on HBO Pay-Per-View? Are any of the rest of them guys gonna get a shot like this?"

Hart says he was born to be a boxer. That’s hard to dispute, because he is the son of legendary Philadelphia middleweight knockout artist Eugene "Cyclone" Hart.

Not that he is complaining now, but Jesse didn’t have a lot of control over his boxing destiny.

He was told Cyclone put a pair of boxing gloves in his crib and declared he would be the one to continue the family legacy.

Cyclone first put Jesse in a ring at age 7, and the pursuit of a dream began.

"I like to think that I was made for a reason," said Jesse, who won the 2011 National Golden Gloves at 165 pounds and the USA Nationals at 178 pounds. "That’s to be a champion, whether it’s a gold medalist or a world champion.

“I wasn’t born to do nothing else but box."

Cyclone Hart, 60, has been Jesse’s lead trainer throughout his career. Some fighters run into issues when a close family member is heavily involved in their careers, but Jesse said he looks at Cyclone (30-9-1, 28 KOs) as a trusted guide through the tenuous paths of boxing.

The Ring magazine recently ranked Cyclone as one of the 100 hardest punchers of all time.

If it is true that great punchers are born and not made, then Jesse Hart certainly has the genes to make an impact as a professional.

"My dad is a big, big part of the reason why I was so successful in the amateurs and why I will be successful as a professional," Jesse said. "When I was an amateur, my dad surrounded me with great amateur coaches, but he was my head trainer and we were successful.

“The adjustment to [professional boxing] will be minor, because my dad has already been there."

Jesse Hart is a historian. He has a major in boxing history, with a specialization in the Philadelphia fighter.

If you ask him about the city’s boxing legacy, be prepared for an animated discussion that will include references to most of the greats.

Eugene Hart made it to being as high as the third-ranked middleweight in the world, but he never got a title shot. He never had a fight on the Las Vegas stage.

"It’s a big thrill for both of us to be in Vegas," Jesse said.

Jesse Hart’s journey is just beginning, but his plan is to bring a title to the family name.

"At the end of the day, the old-school fighters were hungry; they were tough; they were mean," Jesse said. "My dad was from that era. I’m cut from their cloth. He made me come up under their rules. If you can’t swim, you are going to drown.

“I believe that if I continue to work hard to my abilities, I won’t drown. Whoever you put up against Jesse Hart, I’m going to beat him."

Confidence, Jesse Hart has a ton of it. Brash, sure, some will consider him that.

But he also understands his proclamations won’t mean anything if he doesn’t back them up in the ring.

The goals are lofty, very lofty.

"We’re really ready to take this thing on a roll," said Jesse, who was married last August and has a baby girl on the way. "We want to do more than just become a world champion. I want to solidify my name in the history books as one of the greatest fighters that ever lived.

“I won’t stop until I prove to the critics and everybody else that I will be better than [Sugar] Ray Robinson. I won’t stop until that happens."

But first it must start, and that will be in Las Vegas and not London.


Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/johnsmallwood.

Three Philadelphia boxers will be on the undercard of the June 9 WBO welterweight championship fight. Read their stories in SportWeek. Next: Teon Kennedy

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