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Joe Smith Jr. overwhelms Jesse Hart, Steve Nelson remains undefeated

Ringside results by Derek Gionta 

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Joe Smith wins photo by Mikey Williams
Joe Smith wins photo by Mikey Williams

Long Island, New York’s Joe Smith Jr, 25-3 (20), earned the NABO light heavyweight title on Saturday night by defeating Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart, 26-3 (21), at the Hard Rock Casinos Etess Arena in Atlantic City, New Jersey. 

 

The fight was an ESPN main event promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank, Inc. 

 

This was looked at by many as a personal thing between Smith Jr, aka "The Beast" and "Hollywood" Hart since Smith Jr sent Hart’s mentor Bernard Hopkins into retirement a few years ago. 

 

Hart, a Top Rank guy, walked to the ring dressed as vintage Hopkins would with the executioner mask and outfit along with his trainer Fred Jenkins and team. 

 

Smith Jr, of Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing, had longtime trainers Gerard and Phil Capobianco by his side along with cutman "Stitch" Duran. 

 

Everyone knew Smith was the bigger puncher while Hart was the more polished boxer of the two.  But how each would execute their plan was yet to be told. 

 

Hart circled the ring and used his jab in the opening round, while Smith pressured and looked for any opening he could find. 

 

The second round was similar with Smith landing a right hand that wobbled Hart and gave him the nod on the cards. 

 

Hart came back in the third landing some nice uppercuts and check hooks giving him his first 10-9 of the fight. 

 

Jesse boxed well in the next two rounds while Smith picked up the pace and work rate as the rounds came to a close. 

 

By this point I had the score 48-47 for Smith Jr. 

 

Hart continued to circle and use his lead left hand in the next two rounds. Smith dropped Hart with a right hand late in the seventh. Hart got back to his feet quickly but showed continued signs of fatigue. 

 

Smith continued his assault in the eighth and ninth rounds while Hart had a good moment in the ninth, hurting Smith with a right hand late. 

 

By the tenth, Hart needed the knockout to win. Smith fought as if he needed it and closed the show in convincing fashion. 

 

The delay during the scorecards being tallied always leaves an uneasy feeling to everyone. And rightfully so it did in this case. 

 

While two judges saw it 97-92 and 98-91 for Smith, the third had it an inexcusable 95-94 for Hart. 

 

Maxboxing had the fight 98-91 for Smith Jr. 

 

Smith commented after the fight, "I wanted the knockout, but he hung in tough and showed a lot of heart" 

 

Bob Arum felt the game plan was wrong for Hart.  "Jesse should have come out more aggressively early on and took the fight to Smith," said Arum. 

 

Hart was said to have injured his right hand in sparring a week before the fight while a member of the camp said he injured it in the second round. We didn’t see a ton of right hands from Jesse so an injury could have been the case. But give credit to Joe Smith Jr. He fought as everyone expected and leaves everything in the ring. 

 

Smith needed this win to rebound from recent losses and now eyes a possible fight against the Michael Seals-Eleider Alvarez winner. While Hart will now look to rebound himself and get back to form. 

 

Omaha, Nebraska’s Steve Nelson earned the NABO super Middleweight title with a one sided eighth round TKO over Los Angeles’ Cem Kilic in the opening ESPN televised bout.  

 

Nelson, 16-0 (13), trained by Bryan McIntyre, had friend and gym partner Terence Crawford nearby cheering him on and offering advice. Kilic, 14-1 (9), had Buddy McGirt in his corner. 

 

Nelson came out with a tight defense and sharp combination punching behind his jab as he slowly broke down Kiloc. 

 

Kilic showed plenty of heart but not enough skill to keep up and resort to his plan B. 

 

In the eighth round, Buddy McGirt finally stepped in and saved his fighter from further punishment despite not touching the canvas at any point. The result was inevitable and Buddy did the right thing. 

 

The stoppage came at 1:44. 

 

19-year-old Allentown, PA prospect Jeremy Adorno, 4-0 (1), defeated Fairfield, California’s Fernando Ibarra, 2-3 over four rounds. 

 

Adorno boxed well and wobbled Ibarra with a right hook in the first and dropped him with a left hand in the second. Ibarra made it to the final bell to only hear shutout scores of 40-35 across the board. 

 

Adorno, the brother of regarded Top Rank prospect Joseph, is trained by his father Anibal Adorno. 

 

Popular Philadelphia heavyweight prospect Sonny Conto, 6-0 (5), needed less than a round to finish off Michigan’s Curtis Head, 5-5 (3). 

 

Conto worked behind a solid jab and right hands that were sharp and down the middle. 

 

Conto scored his first knockdown with a left hook to body that dropped Head to a knee. Moments later a series of body shots finished the fight at the 2:08 mark.  Conto is managed by Split-T Management’s Dave McWater and signed with Top Rank prior to his pro debut.

 

The young heavyweight has a bright future and will remain active and growing as his weight increased to roughly 220 lbs.  

 

"McWater commented, "Sonny will eventually be 240 lbs when he’s fully matured." 

 

Conto had this to say after the easy win: "I felt good. I tried to take my time and get some rounds. Thanks to everyone that came out and supported me." 

 

In an uneventful match, local light heavyweight Chris Thomas, 14-1-1 (9), of Toms River, NJ, scored a first round TKO over Samir Barbosa, 37-17-3 (26), of Brazil, following a combination that send Barbosa retreating but obviously not hurt in the least. 

 

Referee Sparkle Lee took some criticism for only allowing the bout to go for 47 seconds with minimal activity. New Jersey commissioner Larry Hazzard looked like he addressed it with his referee shortly after. 

 

Top Rank prospect Joseph Adorno, 14-0-1 (12), of Allentown, PA, had the toughest fight of his young career, escaping with a draw over rugged Mexican Hector Garcia, 14-7-4 (8), in an eight-round lightweight contest. 

 

Adorno, also trained by his father Anibal, started fast and found out soon he was in for a tough fight. Garcia landed a clean right hand to the face and a nice follow up, which were mainly caught punches by Adorno, set the tone that he came to win. 

 

Adorno boxed well and picked his shots off the ropes in the ensuing two rounds.  Garcia continued to stalk Adorno and began landing more over the next few rounds while keeping the fight at close range. 

 

With blood dripping from the nose of Adorno, the PA native threw some really nice clean shots off the ropes to finish the fight. 

 

Judges scored the fight 77-75 each way and 76-76 for the split draw. 

 

Maxboxing scored the fight 77-75 for Adorno. 

 

Shinard Bunch, 6-1, (5), of Trenton, NJ, scored a sixth round TKO over Dennis Okoth, 4-3-1 (2), of Kenya, in a competitive welterweight scrap – that appeared to be going the distance until a strange finish twenty seconds before the final bell. 

 

Bunch, with over 400 amateur bouts to his credit, boxed very well in the early rounds. He snuck in some chopping right hands to the head of Okoth while eluding some counter right hands with sound defense. 

 

Okoth began to find some success in the middle rounds to seemingly even the scores with good power shots and holding Bunch to avoid the counter and frustrate his younger opponent. 

 

By the sixth and final round, Maxboxing had Bunch ahead 3-2.  Okoth continued where he left off landing a good left hook early on.  With the round still in doubt, Bunch landed multiple left hooks to the head of Okoth looking to edge out the final stanza. 

 

Shortly after, Okoth, walked over to his corner and put his hands up as if he felt the fight was over.  The referee gave him a few seconds and stopped the fight at the 2:40 mark. 

 

Some heard it was a jaw injury and others were told he choked on his saliva.  

 

Bunch fell to the canvas in celebration of the hard-fought victory. With a very active 2019 and Russell Peltz behind him, Bunch is sure to continue his career rapidly and with good tests in the ring. Peltz said it would be a good fight and it lived up to his prediction. 

 

The opening bout of the night saw the young Puerto Rican Xander Zayas, 3-0 (2), of Plantation, FL, continue his winning streak with a unanimous decision victory over Corey Champion, 1-2 (1), of Louisa, VA over four rounds. 

 

Zayas showed good poise in the opening round, working behind a stiff jab.  His pace picked up in the second as he unloaded vicious body shots and a left hook to the ribs that had the Virginia native on unsteady legs. 

 

That round earned him a 10-8 on one of the judges’ cards. 

 

Much of the same continued for the 17-year-old high school senior signed by manager Peter Kahn and Top Rank for the duration.  Champion never went down and hung in tough. 

 

Official scores were 40-36 x 2 and 40-35 

 

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