By: Thad Moore
While other kids were playing, watching television, and getting ready for First Grade, USBA/NABO super middleweight champion Jesse Hart (18-0, 15 KO’s) had other plans. Jesse was running conditioning drills in his house. He was a boxing prodigy from the age of five.
“My Dad (former middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart) had me in the kitchen. I was just a kid. I was a shrimp, a skinny little kid. I had to run around my Mom who was getting supper ready,” said Hart.
As we conduct this interview, Hart is finishing preparations for Saturday night’s bout with Andrik Saralegui, (8-3 3 KO’s) in Tucson, Arizona.
Hart, 26, is in a reflective mood as we discuss his life in and out of the ring. His life growing up was consumed by boxing. In fact, Hart’s first boxing tournament came on the day of his Fifth Grade Graduation. His Dad asked Jesse if he wanted to go to graduation or to the tournament. The decision was an easy one for Hart. “I chose boxing. It was always boxing for me. I was still a kid. I went to the tournament and won. I don’t regret it at all.”
While Hart’s friends were hanging out, going to movies and parties, Jesse went to bed early and got up at the crack of dawn. Jesse’s father would wake him up at 5 AM before school and run him around the block 15 times. “My Dad would yell and tell me to pick it up. I said I can’t go anymore. He said you can,” said Hart.
As soon as Jesse got home from school, he would do his homework. Jesse has carried that discipline to his work in the boxing ring. “I sacrificed something to get something. I’ve lost so much in life (childhood). Winning is where I came from. We expect to win,” said Hart.
In fact, Hart had so much confidence growing up that after Bernard Hopkins unified the middleweight titles by defeating Felix Trinidad, he told his Dad he could beat him. “I always had that self-belief. When I told my dad, I could beat Hopkins, he said what? I felt I could beat him,” said Hart.
While growing up, Hart’s focus was on his love of the sport and training to be a winner. As he became a professional fighter, his motivation changed. “Now I have my own family. My daughter Halo is three. It used to be all about me. It’s not anymore,” explained Hart.
While other fighters spent time watching the boxers of the day including Roy Jones Jr., Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez, and James Toney, Hart took a different approach. Jesse and his Dad would talk about fighters from a different era including Gypsy Joe Harris and Jimmy Young. “The first fighter I fell in love with was Ali. He was not only a great fighter, but a great man. My Dad had me watching Henry Armstrong, Sandy Saddler, Georgie Benton, Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio, and Ezzard Charles,” muses Hart.
Before each and every fight, similar emotions go through Hart’s head. Everything that has happened in his life up suddenly takes on an even more significant meaning prior to entering the ring. “My Dad always expected me to win. I expect to win. I wanted him to love me. I use anxiety before a fight,” said Hart.
The fight that put Hart on the national scene was an impressive win over undefeated Mike Jimenez on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao undercard. Hart aggressively attacked Jimenez throughout the fight in a dominant performance en route to the sixth round stoppage. Hart lists this win as the highlight of his career for different reasons. “It was great to see my Mom and Dad so happy. It was the first time my Mom flew in an airplane to see me fight. She was emotional and my Dad was emotional. He was crying. I don’t see my Dad cry.”
Hart followed up the Jimenez fight with a ninth Round TKO win over Journeyman Aaron Pryor, Jr. This was a less than thrilling win as Hart often struggled to land against the reluctant to throw Pryor. Hart eventually caught up to Pryor in the ninth by landing a strong combination as Pryor was out of gas and rendered defenseless.
This fight is expected to be an easy one for Hart, as Saralegui has retired in two of his last three fights against Ricardo Mayorga and Paul Mendez. However, Hart does not take his opponent for granted as he says his dedication has never been better and his contact with the outside world is very limited. Hart acknowledges that he is the superior fighter. “I don’t believe nothing that he brings will make a difference,” said Hart.
Hart’s conditioning is rapidly improving as he credits this to trainer Danny Davis. Davis, who has also trained Bernard Hopkins (Seven time world champion) is pushing Hart harder than ever before in the gym. “My trainer has added a lot of new conditioning tricks. I think he’s the best. What he learned with Bernard has helped me. I have gotten stronger this training camp,” noted Hart.
Davis has instituted more conditioning to supplement Hart’s daily routine in training. According to Davis, this was missing leading up to the Pryor fight. “We went back to basics. The last fight we fought we didn’t do strength and conditioning. This fight we’re stretching him and doing light weights with high reps. We’re building up his heart rate. He’s a lot stronger,” said Davis.
This approach was welcome by both fighter and trainer as it is producing results in training. “In this camp, he’s knocked down every sparring partner we’ve had. He’s coming into his own. He’s really starting to develop,” remarked Davis.
Hart has already given thought as to how he would like to be remembered after his career is over. His boxing legacy is not the only thing that’s important to him. “I’d like to be remembered as Jesse, who wasn’t scared of anybody and who would fight anybody. I want to be remembered as an all-around great guy. I’d like people to say he was a stand-up guy. I’d like the next generation to remember me the way they remember Sugar Ray Robinson and Ali. I want my name to live on in generations,” said Hart.
If Hart is victorious and moves to 19-0 on Saturday night, he is ready to increase the level of competition. “I want to fight Gennady Golovkin. I want that fight to be remembered. I want it to be like when Douglas beat Tyson,” said Hart.
If Hart were to secure a fight at some point in the future with Golovkin, that type of outcome would be an enormous upset. Hart needs to gradually increase his level of opposition before fighting at that level. Saturday’s tune up fight is an opportunity for Hart to stay busy and impress some of his critics.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank