Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart Moves Closer to the Title Shot That Eluded His Dad

OXON HILL, Md. – Eugene “Cyclone” Hart doesn’t profess to be a psychic. He doesn’t peer into crystal balls, read tea leaves or deal himself Tarot cards to get a handle on how his son, super middleweight contender Jesse “Hard Work” Hart, will fare in any given bout. But the 65-year-old Cyclone, himself a former world-rated middleweight, professes to have vivid and often accurate dreams that foretell what his kid will soon do in disposing of a particular opponent.

Prior to Jesse’s fifth-round stoppage of Alan Campa Saturday night here at the MGM Grand Harbor, Cyclone imagined his son snapping off a series of strong, accurate jabs, setting up a ripping right uppercut that would render Campa, a tough Mexican journeyman, defenseless and certain to be the younger Hart’s 22nd consecutive victim. And that’s exactly what happened as Jesse, who had softened up Campa to a fare-thee-well through four mostly one-sided rounds, closed things out with a ripping right uppercut, followed by Cyclone’s signature shot, a left hook, that obliged Campa’s corner to frantically signal that their man, who never went down but was in imminent danger of doing so, had had enough. The end came after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 44 seconds.

“When I get him ready to fight, I dream about how things will go,” said Cyclone, who serves as his son’s trainer, with tactical input from another veteran Philadelphia cornerman, Fred Jenkins. “Whenever I see something in my dream, I’ll use it. When that uppercut landed, (Campa) could never have gotten away. He was hurt bad, and when Jesse came right back with that hook, that was that.”

It will be interesting to find how what visions will come in the night to a sleeping Cyclone should Jesse (22-0, 18 KOs), the WBO’s No. 1-rated 168-pounder, wangle a title shot at that sanctioning body’s reigning champion, Mexican southpaw Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (34-0, 24 KOs), who defends his strap in Carson, Calif., on April 22 against Ukraine’s Max Bursak (33-4-1, 15 KOs). Jesse Hart called out Ramirez immediately following his thrashing of Campa (16-3, 11 KOs), and if that message didn’t come through loud and clear, he plans to soon issue it again to Ramirez, in person.  Team Hart’s next order of business is to make flight reservations to California, and to be in the house to lobby Ramirez for the next slot on his dance card.

“I started breaking him down from the first round,” a jubilant Hart said of the fight plan he had just executed to near-perfection against Campa. “When I landed that uppercut, though, I knew he was done. He couldn’t stand no more.

“My dad and Fred Jenkins kept saying, `The jab, the jab.’ Everything came off the jab. I didn’t rush. After I had set up the jab, that’s when I caught him flush with an uppercut down the pike. It ruined him. That right uppercut is really, really dangerous.”

The latest advancement in the pugilistic evolution of Jesse Hart, 27, received only a passing mention to those tuning in to the HBO telecast, whose three televised bouts, the main event of which featured WBO junior lightweight champion Vasyl  Lomachenko’s nine-round brutalization of a game but outclassed Jason Sosa, all involved favored Ukrainians who gave the crowd what it had come to see. If Cyclone Hart had dozed off and awakened suddenly, not knowing where he was, he might have thought he had somehow been transported to Kiev, so prevalent were home-country supporters of Lomachenko, WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk and light heavyweight contender Oleksandr Gvozdyk in the sellout crowd of 2,828. It was an auspicious first boxing event for the MGM Grand Harbor, a plush, 23-acre resort in Prince George’s County on the shores of the Potomac that includes a 24-story hotel and 125,000-square-foot casino.

Being on the non-televised portion of a card on U.S. soil, a set-up man as it were to a band of Eastern European imports, might have been irksome to some American fighters who are ranked as highly as Hart. But then this is not just another impatient typical young man in a mad dash to grab everything he can as fast as he can. He has endured tragedy and deep disappointment, but, with the wise counsel of his dad and Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, under whose banner he has fought since turning pro in June 2012, he has held firm to the notion that slow and steady often is the proper course to ultimate fulfillment, as it was for the tortoise that made it to the finish line ahead of the hare in Aesop’s Fables.

Jesse, who tugged on his first pair of boxing gloves at the age of six, was a nationally ranked amateur when his life was forever changed in January 2010, when his older brother, Damon, was murdered while sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.

“I wanted retaliation at that time,” Jesse recalled. “I carried an illegal gun. If I had (found the killer) and gone through (with a revenge slaying), I probably would have wound up dead or in jail.”

But boxing had always been the glue that held the Hart family together, and Jesse reasoned that Damon would not have wanted him to give up on his Olympic dream to embark on a self-destructive mission of revenge. Unlike Cyclone’s frequently prophetic nocturnal imaginations, however, Jesse’s dream of representing his country in the 2012 London Olympics ended when he suffered a highly controversial points loss in the Trials to Terrell Gausha. In a huff, he announced that he was forever through with boxing.

Forever proved to be just a few weeks of introspection, during which time Cyclone advised his son “not to get stuck on stupid” and Arum, who wanted to add Jesse to his stable, told him, “Get back on that horse, kid.”

Hart is very much like his power-punching father in some respects, not so much in others. Cyclone, who posted a 30-9-1 record with 28 knockouts, was one of the premier one-punch knockout artists of all time, possessed of a left hook that, in the words of another notable Philly fighter, Bernard Hopkins, who served as the color commentator for Saturday’s HBO telecast, “could knock you stiff or turn water into wine.” But Cyclone’s desire to land that left hook as quickly and as devastatingly as possible likely made him scrimp on some of the more intricate details of his trade, which explains in part why he never got his shot at a world title. No wonder Cyclone chose to follow a different path with his son.

“I definitely have power,” Jesse said. “You can’t train to get power. I got punching power from my dad. That’s inherited. I didn’t train for that. I don’t lift weights. I only do pushups, situps and pullups.

“But my boxing ability, I got that from Fred Jenkins. He polished me up. My dad always said he wanted me to be a boxer – a boxer-puncher, though. My dad would go in there and try to get you right out of there with that left hook. He wanted me to be different. He don’t want me just charging in. He wanted me to be able to move, and to fight smart.”

The maturation of Jesse Hart is apparent to Hopkins, who knows better than most that mastery in the prize ring involves so much more than being able to instantly turn out the lights on the other guy with one well-placed blow.

“He doesn’t have the same power his dad had, and that’s no knock on Jesse,” Hopkins said. “But Jesse is a much better boxer. He’s one fight away from a shot at a world championship, and when he gets it he’s going to win it.

“I really like the way he’s been brought along. He’s better – a lot better – than he was even a year ago. Tonight I saw him show a veteran’s poise. He didn’t jump around, he didn’t get overly excited.”

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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