Friday, December 14, 2018

Makings of a Modern Classic as Hart Seeks Redemption Deep in the Heart of Texas?

September 22, 2017 was supposed to be the evening when Philadelphia native and super middleweight contender Jesse “Hard work or Hollywood” Hart was going to fulfill his destiny and win the WBO portion of the world championship. It was the lifelong goal of the power punching contender, whose father Eugene “Cyclone” Hart was one of the key staples in middleweight boxing during the golden age of middleweights in Philadelphia during the 1970’s. Cyclone never reached the world championship level, despite becoming a legend in the city having gone to war with many of the greats of his time. 

So, it was only natural that one of his sons would take the reins from the legendary father in what had become the family business. Many of the trials and tribulations that would go along with the long journey through childhood, a decorated amateur boxing career, and his rise through the professional ranks were documented in articles about Hart over the past two years.       

Jesse Hart: The spotlight has arrived

When will the spotlight catch up to Jesse Hart?

Across from Jesse Hart (25-1) (21) that night last year in Tucson, Arizona was the current WBO champion of the world Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (38-0) (25), who himself was aiming to prove that he was indeed the best super middleweight champion in comparison to the other champions in the loaded division. What wound up taking place was one of the most underrated fights of the year. It was a back and forth battle that saw constant action, with both fighters asking crucial questions from each other.  

Going into that fight, Hart was viewed as a power puncher, although many viewed him as a natural talent that had lacked the credible opposition to solidify that he was unequivocally the best contender in the division. As the action started, Hart boxed and moved away from Ramirez, a southpaw that loves to apply constant pressure on his opponents. It didn’t take long into the second round, before Ramirez landed a left uppercut to the chin of Hart, whom he caught bending over. A clearly hurt Hart was knocked to the canvas (his chin and ability to take a heavy punch had many picking Ramirez prior to the fight) and although he gamely rose to his feet, he was clearly dazed. 

Two things usually result from this type of situation occurring to a first-time contender. They are either overwhelmed by the combination of ensuing pressure from the champion, along with the severity of the moment, and wind up folding due to the pressures of the moment. Or their natural talent and crafted abilities take over and they rise to the occasion and discover that yes in fact, they do belong at this elite level of competition. It would be the latter in this instance that pushed the fight forward.  
Half way through the back and forth fight the questions about both Hart and Ramirez were answered. As both warriors asked and answered these questions, the fans were the beneficiaries of witnessing just how the pitched battle would eventually play out. With the fight reaching the championship rounds, Hart hurt Ramirez with a powerful right uppercut half way through the round. When Ramirez took a step back (something that is not in his DNA as a fighter), Hart failed to capitalize on the moment. He did however continue to box and move, and wound up landing another powerful punch, this time a looping right hand that also stunned the champion. Ramirez rallied in the twelfth and final round as the bell sounded to end the fight. It was clear to all that the outcome would be close. All three judges scored the fight in favor of Ramirez, with two judges scoring it 115-112 (7 rounds to 5) and the third judge scoring it 114-113 (6 rounds a piece, with the extra point to Ramirez due to the second-round knockdown).  

Clearly disappointed, Hart recognized that he would be on the short end of the close decision as the scores were being read by the ring announcer. To his credit, Hart stated that he would return and instantly started to beat the proverbial drum for a rematch.  

Fast forward 15 months and the boxing world will look to Corpus Christi and to the rematch that many hardcore fight fans have been waiting for. While most of the sport is focusing on the events that will take place the next night in New York City, and the showcase of boxing's biggest draw south of the heavyweight division. It’s this super middleweight rematch that has all the makings for a classic fight that this writer would not be shocked, if like its predecessor, turned into a fight of the year candidate. Just looking at what was learned in the first fight about both the champion and the challenger and the type of fight that took place, this rematch, unlike most second fights, should deliver in the action department. 

You see during the first fight, when both fighters successfully quieted all the doubters that questioned their legitimacy, they also learned things about each other in terms of the types of intangibles that can’t be taught or crafted during the hours of training in the gym. Heart, determination, and the willingness to continue to fight through the heat of battle were things that both fighters showed. Although they both showed this courage, it was the unfamiliarity and bits of caution from both men during the heated up-close exchanges that seemed to prevent their first fight from possibly being an instant modern classic.  

Entering the rematch, Jesse Hart has been a man on a mission, with one goal on his mind, seeking revenge for his lone professional loss. Prior to the first fight, it was all about winning the world championship for both himself and his family (primarily his father), and Ramirez happened to be the man standing in his way. Now you get the sense that this fight is about exacting a bit of revenge and righting a wrong, since Hart believes that he lost their first fight more than Ramirez won it, with the extra bit of incentive being that world championship.

Hart has won three fights in a row since their first encounter, while Ramirez has stayed somewhat active winning two fights. Ramirez has stayed relatively quiet about Hart, only a few times mentioning that he beat Hart once and he will do it again. While Hart has been vocal after each of his three knockout victories (all on ESPN) taking the opportunity to call out Ramirez for his chance at redemption. Hart has done so after each victory with such intensity, that you get the feeling Ramirez has become an obsession.   

Add into the mix that the biggest draw in the sport, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, will have his name in lights on the marquee at Madison Square Garden the next night as he competes for another version of a super middleweight championship. For his part in the division, Alvarez has mentioned that he will now fluctuate between middleweight and super middleweight to make the biggest fights for the fans. Winning this fight and having control of the WBO portion of the world championship in this division could mean the opportunity for a career high pay day down the road.  

These ingredients added together, especially the fact that both fighters are familiar with each other and their demeanor that we learned from their first fight should have them continue to push each other to both their mental and physical limits. This means that we just may be in for the instant modern classic that last September was on the cusp of becoming.  Hart vs. Ramirez 2 can be seen on ESPN+ this Friday night at 10 PM, with the undercard starting at 6:30.

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