Joe Smith Jr. batters Jesse Hart, wins by “split decision”

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Just call him “The Phillycutioner.”

Light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr., best known and loathed for ending the career of legend Bernard Hopkins, took down another Philly fighter on Saturday night — Hopkins’ protégé Jesse Hart.

Smith, a heavy puncher, dropped Hart and won a split decision in a fun fight that headlined the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card before 3,415 at Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Two judges had it for Smith, 98-91 and 97-92, but one judge, James Kinney, laughably had it 95-94 for Hart. FightNights.com had Smith winning 98-91.

Hart had come into the fight desperately wanting to avenge his mentor’s December 2016 knockout loss to Smith, who literally sent Hopkins flying out of the ring to end his career.

But it was not meant to be, as Smith easily defeated Hart.

"I got two Philly guys now and it feels great," Smith said. "It would have been nice to get (Hart) the same way but you can't always do that."

Hart blamed his poor performance on an injury to his right hand.

"I hurt my right hand a week ago," Hart said. "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."

Although the right man won, Smith would be lying if he said he was not worried after hearing the Kinney scorecard.

"I was a little worried there, but I was very confident I would get the decision," Smith said. "The one judge made me a little nervous. With the knockdown and the hard shots, I felt I won."

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Hart, blasted Kinney.

"That judge should be banned from scoring a fight -- and I promote Hart," Arum said. "How can you ever score that fight for Jesse Hart? It was a terrific fight, good for boxing, good action fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up."

From the outset, Hart attempted to use the ring to keep Smith at bay, an excellent strategy if executed to perfection, but that is not how it worked out for Hart, who was rocked by a big right hand from Smith in the second round and immediately clinched.

Hart (26-3, 21 KO’s), 30, rebounded well in the third round, connecting with sharp combinations and stunned Smith with an uppercut.

Smith (25-3, 20 KO’s), 30, from New York’s Long Island, hurt Hart again in the fourth land when he landed a crisp uppercut and a right hand.

Smith had a great seventh round as he drilled Hart with a right hand that dropped him to a knee late in the round. He beat the count but Smith battered him for the rest of the round. However, Hart earned Smith’s respect.

"He's got a lot of heart," Smith said. "He's very tough. He had the will to make it through the fight."

The savage beating continued in the ninth round as Smith whacked Hart around the ring and opened a cut over his left eye. Referee Harvey Dock called timeout to have the ringside doctor examine it, but the bout was allowed to continue. The fight ended just like the way it began, with Smith doing the punishing, and Hart holding on.

According to Compubox, Smith landed 135 of 501 punches (27 percent) and Hart landed 99 of 465 (21 percent).

"I thought I had him a few times. He was a little slippery and he tied me up well," said Smith, who rebounded from a lopsided decision loss to light heavyweight world titleholder Dmitry Bivol in March. "My career was on the line. I had to come here and prove I belong."

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