Top Rank Boxing returned to Atlantic City this evening with a night full of fisticuffs action, headlined by an entertaining fight between Philly’s Jesse Hart (24-4, 20 KOs) and Long Island’s Joe Smith Jr. (27-2, 21 KOs) for the NABO Light Heavyweight Title. The eight fight card was featured before a near capacity filled Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The card was televised on ESPN and streamed on the ESPN+ App.
Tonight’s action was the second straight night of boxing in a city that appears to be in the early stages of a boxing renaissance. Last night, Claressa Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) captured her third world title in a different weight class with a victory over Ivana Habazin (20-4, 7 KOs) at the Ocean Resort Casino.
Jesse Hart stepped into the ring looking to not only get back into world title contention, but to avenge fellow Philadelphian Bernard Hopkins' 2016 loss to Joe Smith Jr. Hart was coming off a unanimous decision victory over Sullivan Barrera, while Smith last fought and was defeated by Dmitry Bivol last March.
Both men entered the ring to the roars of their fans. Smith, a blue collar hero to Long Island boxing fans, immediately set his aggressive tone for the fight in the opening frame, a style that Hart, the son of Philly boxing legend Cyclone Hart, would have difficulty adjusting to throughout the ten round bout. Smith struck Hart's head with a hard left hand, and then opened up on his opponent to the delight of the Smith faithful, who chanted "Joe Smith." Hart wrapped up Smith to halt this offensive onslaught. In the second round, Smith stalked Hart around the ring, initially having difficulty cutting off the ring against his opponent. Smith adjusted to this challenge by clobbering Hart with hooks to the head. Smith later hurt Hart with a big right hand to his head.
In the third round, Hart came out swinging, landing a powerful combo highlighted with a big uppercut. Despite this offensive flash, Hart continued to have issues with Smith's aggressive, "in your face" style. Hart responded with good body work. In round four, both men fought hard in the blue corner, as Smith kept coming forward on Hart. Smith landed a series of big hooks to the head and body that put Hart on wobbly legs. Hart answered with a straight right to Smith's jaw that snapped his head back.
During the fifth round, Smith appeared to slow his fighting tempo down. This would change in the final 30 seconds of the round, when Smith hit Hart with a right hook to the head. Hart, in survival mode, wrapped Smith up. In the sixth round, Hart attempted to push the overly aggressive Smith back with hard jabs. Smith responded by putting his head down and abusing Hart's body with a variety of punches. Smith landed a hard right uppercut to Hart's jaw as the round neared its end.
Smith hammered Hart with big overhand rights during the seventh round. As the round neared its end, Smith knocked Hart down with a big right hand. Smith, smelling blood in the water, pressed the attack but was unable to finish off the tough Philly fighter. The eighth round showcased more of the same action, as Smith continued to walk down Hart around the ring.
In the ninth round, Smith punished Hart with a barrage of punches that lifted his opponent up on his toes. An accidental headbutt during the round provided Hart with a brief break in the action. In the tenth round, it should have been of no surprise to those in attendance that the two men did not touch gloves at the beginning of the round. A Smith right hook to the head sprayed sweat off of the head of Hart before the conclusion of action.
In what appeared to be a clear cut victory for Joe Smith, Jr. on national television, a poor scorecard by veteran boxing judge James Kinney provided the sport with yet another public black eye, and unnecessary negative attention to the scoring system. Two of the officials scored the bout 97-92 and 98-91 respectively for Smith, with Kinney scoring the bout 95-94 for Hart. This writer has a lot of strong opinions regarding the perceived recent surge in the poor quality of judging, especially in nationally televised fights. That being stated, these opinions will be reserved for another time and forum. It should be noted that New Jersey Athletic Commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr. needs to perform a thorough and fair review of this judges' scorecard before allowing him to judge another professional bout.
Nelson Remains Undefeated
The fun began when Steven Nelson (16-0, 12 KOs) walked to the ring in a "The Grinch" mask and matching green furry shorts for his ten round bout for the NABO Super Middleweight Title match against Cem Kilic (14-1, 9 KOs). Both men entered the ring not only looking to preserve their undefeated streaks, but continue a knockout streak that was at two for both fighters. The opening round was highly competitive, as both men, appearing to be evenly matched, exchanged big shots. In the second round, Nelson landed a series of effective body shots, followed by a series of big punches that Kilic had no answer for.
In the third round, Nelson picked apart Kilic with laser precision jabs. In the fourth round, Nelson punished his opponent with a left hook to the head. Later in the round, a Nelson left uppercut snapped Kilic's head back as the round ended.
Nelson tee'd off on Kilic with multiple straight right hands to the head in the fifth round. Nelson proceeded to bully Kilic with solid inside fighting throughout the sixth round.
Kilic hit Nelson with a nice left hand to the head in the seventh round. After a good start in the round, Kilic slowed down as the round progressed. In the eighth round, Kilic, realizing he was behind on the cards, fought well landing a straight left hand that snapped Nelson's head back. Despite a valiant effort, Kilic's corner had seen enough of the damage their fighter was taking over the course of the contest and threw in the towel at the 1:44 mark of the eighth round.
Magic Hands Adorno Sweeps Ibarra
Jeremy Adorno (4-0, 1 KO) secured the lone victory for the Adorno clan this evening with a unanimous decision victory over Fernando Ibarra (2-3). The two super bantamweight warriors put their speed on display in the opening round. In the second round, Adorno landed a big left hook to Ibarra's head that sent him crashing to the canvas. Ibarra pulled himself up from the canvas, dazed, but survived a barrage of punches from his opponent as time expired in the round.
Adorno put his speed on display in the third round, peppering Ibarra with a variety of shots to the head and body. Ibarra could not get anything going offensively because Adorno danced away from all pressure aimed in his direction. At one point, Adorno yelled at the ESPN commentators, "you like that?"
In the fourth and final round, Ibarra connected with an effective multi-punch combo that pushed Adorno into a neutral corner. Adorno looking to end Ibarra's offensive rally, wrapped him up. Adorno again went to his effective left hook in this round, connecting to the head and body. Adorno, confident he was ahead on the cards, cruised through the second half of the round. All three judges scored the bout 40-35 in favor of the undefeated Jeremy Adorno.
The Bronco Runs Over Head
Sonny Conto (6-0, 5 KOs) cruised by Curtis Head (5-5, 3 KOs) in a heavyweight contest that was scheduled for four rounds. Conto, the Philadelphia fan favorite, dropped Head to one knee with a left-right hand combo. Seconds later, Conto dropped Head again with a left hook that barely grazed his head. After pulling himself up to his feet for the third time in the round, Conto connected with a right hand to the body that again sent Head to his knee. By this point of the fight, referee David Franciosi had seen enough and called an end to the action at the 2:08 mark of the opening frame. Conto has now won five of his six professional fights by knockout.
Times Runs Out on Barbosa in Loss to Sandman
Chris "Sandman" Thomas (14-1-1, 9 KOs), Toms River, New Jersey, made quick work of Samir dos Santos Barbosa (37-17-3, 26 KOs), a veteran of 56 professional fights, in the first round of a fight scheduled for six rounds in the super middleweight division. Thomas crushed Barbosa with a big right hand to the face, that he followed up with a big multi-punch combo that sent his opponent stumbling back into the neutral corner. Despite appearing to still have some fight left in him, referee Sparkle Lee stepped in and stopped the fight at the 47 second mark of the opening frame. As the final decision was announced, the crowd expressed their dissatisfaction with the premature stoppage by booing loudly.
Adorno and Garcia Battle to Split Decision Draw
The elder Adorno was the first one of the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based brothers to walk to the ring this evening. He, like his younger brother Jeremy, entered the ring to the roar of an approving fan base. In the opening round, Joseph Adorno (14-0-1, 12 KOs) rocked Hector Garcia (14-7-4, 8 KOs) with big shots to the head and body, highlighted by big hooks to the body that made Garcia wince under the pressure. The two fighters had an excellent exchange midway through the round. Garcia absorbed a big left hook to the head and waived on Adorno for more.
Adorno fought more cautiously in the third round. Garcia tried to press the attack during this round, but Adorno responded with outstanding defense. In the fourth round, Adorno shook Garcia's head with two big left hands. In close combat, Garcia threw hard uppercuts, most of which were absorbed by Adorno's gloves.
In the fifth round, Garcia chased Adorno around the ring, desperately trying to land an effective shot through the guard with little to no success. In the sixth round, Garcia banged at Adorno's body with multi-hand uppercuts and hooks, shots that Adorno responded to with a big smile.
During the seventh round, Garcia broke down Adorno's guard with big hooks and uppercuts to the head and body. Adorno returned to his corner with blood streaming from his nose. By the eighth and final round, it was no evident to anyone watching that Garcia had come to fight. The round began with a big exchange of shots as both men let their hands go. Adorno popped Garcia's head back with a hard right hook. Adorno was on shaky legs as both fighters went shot-for-shot as time expired. The fight ended in a split decision draw with the judges scoring the contest 77-75 for Adorno, 77-75 for Garcia, and 76-76 a draw.
Bunch Wins No. Six by TKO
Trenton’s Shinard Bunch (6-1, 4 KOs) halted Dennis Okoth’s (4-3-1, 2 KOs) two fight winning streak with a unanimous decision victory over the Kenyan. The first round of the welterweight contest was a limited action affair, as both men felt each other out. With little success, the fighters tried to pick up the speed of the action in the opening seconds of the second frame.
To the displeasure of those in attendance, the third round was another slow round for the men. The fourth showed promise as Okoth answered the bell swinging wildly at Bunch, looking for a quick knockout. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the action in the round.
Okoth moved forward aggressively in the fifth round, but Bunch answered by wrapping him up. Halfway through the round, there was a good exchange between the two fighters near the center of the ring. In the final ten seconds of the round, Okoth slipped into Bunch, almost knocking him out of the ring into the timekeeper’s table. In the sixth round, after a brief exchange, Okoth walked to his corner and hung on the ropes. Referee David Franciosi looked bewildered at the exhausted fighter, and waived off the fight as the trainer, towel in hand, jumped up onto the canvas to attend to his fighter. The action, or lack thereof, was halted at the 2:40 mark of the sixth and final round.
Zayas Beats a Champion
In the opening bout of the evening, Xander Zayas (3-0, 2 KOs) defeated Corey Champion (1-2, 1 KO) by unanimous decision in a four round welterweight bout. Zayas, a high school senior, controlled the bout through all four rounds. In the first round, Zayas landed multiple right hands to Champion’s head, as Champion looked intimidated by his taller opponent. Champion answered the second round bell looking like a beat up man. Zayas stalked him around the ring and worked his opponent’s body to slow down his efforts to avoid him. As the round neared its end, Champion’s nose gushed blood.
In the third round, Zayas pinned Champion up against the ropes with a multi-punch combo. Champion squirmed out from under the pressure, but was visibly shaken from the onslaught. This round went on to be a shooting gallery for Zayas as he landed shots at will, all while smiling from ear to ear. The right hand was especially effective for Zayas during this round. At rounds end, Champion walked back to his corner with a crimson lower face. In the opening seconds of the fourth round, Champion ate a hard right hand to the face. Champion was on shaky legs throughout the round, and held on for dear life as the final bell rang. The judges scored the contest 40-36 twice and 40-35 all in favor of Zayas.
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