Smith Jr. on win over Hart: ‘I had to make a statement that I belong at this level’

Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart wanted revenge. Joe Smith Jr. didn’t let that happen.

Smith, who knocked out Hart’s mentor and fellow Philly pugilist Bernard Hopkins in 2016, was dominant but had to settle for a split decision in the Top Rank on ESPN main event in front of 3,415 fans at Etess Arena at Hard Rock Live. While it appeared to be a clear decision for Smith, one judge scored the bout 95-94 for Hart, while Smith prevailed on the other cards by scores of 98-91 and 97-92.

“I knew no matter how hard I got hit, I just had to stay busy,” Smith said. “That’s what I did tonight, and I am coming home with the win.

“This win means everything for me. I had to make a statement that I belong at this level.”

Smith (25-3 20 KOs) played the role of pressure fighter throughout, while Hart (26-3, 21 KOs), who attempted to box on the outside, could not keep the Long Island native at bay. For Smith, it was a rebound win, as he lost a title challenge to WBA light heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol last March. Hart, a two-time world title challenger at super middleweight, is now 1-1 as a light heavyweight.

Said Hart: “I hurt my right hand a week ago. You can see it’s messed up. I don’t want to make no excuses because Joe fought a great fight. I hurt the hand in my last sparring session and thought I could overcome that. Credit to Joe for doing what he had to do.”

Nelson Stops Kilic

Steven “So Cold” Nelson made the most of his ESPN-televised debut, grinding down and then stopping Cem Kilic in the eighth round to win the NABO super middleweight title.

Nelson (16-0, 13 KOs), a stablemate of pound-for-pound great Terence “Bud” Crawford, spent the first 14 bouts of his career as a light heavyweight. He moved down to the super middleweight ranks at the end of 2019, and after only two fights in the division, he has added his name to the list of contenders.

Kilic (14-1, 9 KOs) trailed 70-63 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

“I’m just happy that there was no harm done to me and no major harm done to him. He’s a great opponent,” Nelson said. “By this time next year, I want to fight for a world title. I leave that in the hands of my management and Top Rank.”

— Xander Zayas (3-0, 2 KOs), the 17-year-old Puerto Rican sensation, cruised to a four-round unanimous decision over Corey Champion (1-2, 1 KO) in a four-round welterweight bout (40-36 2x and 40-35).

“It was a good experience for me to get those four rounds in,” Zayas said. “I wasn’t disappointed, but I was trying to get the KO. It didn’t come. I wasn’t worried. We did our job and we move forward.”

— Top lightweight prospect Joseph “Blessed Hands” Adorno (14-0-1, 12 KOs) received the first blemish on his record, as he was held to an eight-round split draw against noted spoiler Hector Garcia (14-7-4, 8 KOs). The scores were 77-75 Adorno, 77-75 Garcia and 76-76.

— South Philadelphia-born heavyweight Sonny “The Bronco” Conto (6-0, 5 KOs) scored the fourth first-round stoppage of his young career, knocking down veteran Curtis Head (5-5, 3 KOs) three times.

— Welterweight Shinard Bunch (6-1, 5 KOs) moved his unbeaten streak to five with a sixth-round TKO over Dennis Okoth (4-3-1, 2 KOs).

— Super bantamweight prospect Jeremy “Magic Hands” Adorno (4-0, 1 KO) pitched a four-round shutout (40-35 3x) over Fernando Ibarra (2-3, 0 KOs).

—New Jersey-based super middleweight Chris Thomas (14-1-1, 9 KOs) stopped Samir Barbosa (37-17-3, 26 KOs) at 46 seconds of the opening round.

Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

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