Q&A: Jesse Hart

Jesse Hart knocks out Marlon Farr during their bout at Radio City Music Hall on April 13, 2013 in New York City. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Jesse Hart knocks out Marlon Farr during their bout at Radio City Music Hall on April 13, 2013 in New York City. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

At six years old Jesse Hart was introduced to boxing. He was taught the fundamentals in the family kitchen by his father, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, a former middleweight contender in the 1970s who was known for his explosive power.

During these early years, Hart watched fellow Philadelphia native David Reid make it to the 1996 Olympics, where he won a gold medal. Hart was inspired by the way Reid, down on the scorecards in the Olympic finals, overcame the odds to score an unlikely knockout of his Cuban counterpart.

The lesson learned that day was simple: “You can never give up, never,” Hart told “That’s why I learned to never give up on boxing through all my trials and tribulations.”

The Philadelphia prospect had an extensive amateur career, winning a handful of national titles. He was the top-rated 165-pound fighter in America at various times and represented the U.S. at the 2011 world championships. However, he was unable to finish in the top 10 of the world competition, and thus automatically unable to claim a birth at middleweight on the 2012 U.S. Olympic squad. It left Hart needing to qualify through the reload tournament, affording Terrell Gausha the opportunity to sweep in and take the spot.

It left a bad taste in Hart's mouth. He contemplated retiring altogether before leaving the amateurs with a mark of 85-11 and turning pro on the undercard of Tim Bradley's upset victory over Manny Pacquiao in 2012.

It's water under the bridge now. “I’m glad to be in the pros,” he said. “I want to knock guys out. I want to be an exciting fighter like a Mike Tyson was.”

For several years, Bernard Fernandez, formerly of Philadelphia Daily News and also a regular contributor to THE RING magazine, has followed Hart’s progress. The veteran fight scribe says Hart has promise.

“He's a very impressive looking prospect, with a chance to be something special. He doesn't have any real noticeable flaws,” Fernandez said. “He has the potential to be one of the candidates to pick up the torch that Bernard Hopkins leaves when he finally steps away from boxing as an active fighter.”

He's wasted little time as a pro so far going 12-0 with 10 stoppages. Hart believes several of his father's fighting attributes have been passed down to him. “I feel like a god when I’m in there with any man,” he said. “Nobody is safe but the referee. That comes with confidence and I think that’s what I inherited from my father.”

He also appears to carry his father’s vaunted power. “I want to knock your head off,” he said. “I want to knock you out. I want to study a tape on you, dissect you, find a weakness and knock you out. When I train, I train to knock guys out. I don’t train to go the distance.”

This Friday Hart looks to further extend his record when he meets Texan Samuel Clarkson at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nev. as part of the prelude to the Bradley-Pacquiao rematch, in what will be Hart's first eight rounder.

Anson Wainwright – Since making your debut almost two years ago, you’ve been very busy. This will be your 13th fight?

Jesse Hart – I couldn’t have asked for better managers than David Price and Doc Nowicki. Them guys been moving me, with the grace of god who placed me with these two. Without them I don’t think without them I would be moving like I am. I just turned pro and I look at other fighters and they still got 10 fights and they’ve been pro two, three years. I’m about ready to be 13-0 and I’d just like to say thanks to David Price and Doc Nowicki. Them guys guys are doing a tremendous job with my career.

AW – How do you feel the transition to the pros has gone so far?

JH – The transition is going good because I got the right people around me, my dad, he’s a smart man, you’ve got Danny Davis, you got Fred Jenkins, my brother in law, he’s learning different things, everybody’s doing a wonderful job in my camp. My dad surrounded me with the right people to take me to the next level to make that transition from the amateurs to the pros, little different tricks and I’m still learning. I work so hard in the gym, I want to perfect and get the pros, I want to get the pros down pat and I can be unstoppable and later on win a world title. Them guys in my corner they can guide me there.

AW – Tell us about your team?

JH – My managers are Price and Nowicki, my trainer is my father, my promoter is Bob Arum (Top Rank). I usually train at Joe Hand’s boxing gym (in Philadelphia); it’s where Bernard Hopkins trains, where Mike Jones used to train, a lot of guys come through there. I do strength and conditioning there, I do pad work there.

I’ve sparred Eddie Chambers, Yusef Mack, he fought for two world championships. I boxed Steve Cunningham when he was the IBF cruiserweight champ. I can’t name them all, there’s so many, the list goes on.

AW – What was it like for you growing up in Philadelphia with a famous father. Were things tough or did that help you get respect?

JH – It was tough for me growing up. Kids my age didn’t know my father like that. Their parents may have but the kids didn’t. Coming from North Philadelphia it was hard for me, it was very, very rough. I think sometimes that’s why I train so hard, I don’t want to go through those times anymore.

I did a lot of things, things I don’t even want to speak of, that I did that I regret but at that time I had to do them. I had no choice, ‘cause if I don’t do that I’m not going to eat because I have siblings and we only had one source of income and that was my father and that was very, very rough. We had hard times ‘cause you know fighters in my dad’s era weren’t getting as much money as today’s fighters are. So when you look at that, it’s hard and when you start thinking what can I do to make it easier you start doing wrong things ‘cause you’re surrounded by it; you’re a product of your environment.

One of my friends, my best friend got killed this summer. Lonny McNeely was his name. I used to do a lot of things with him. He’s gone and I think you can't take everybody with you when you’re a product of that environment because some people are still stuck in that same mentality.

AW – Could you tell us about your path into boxing, following your father’s considerable footsteps?

JH – Well my dad started me boxing at the age of 6, teaching me how to fight, teaching me how to box, we were in the kitchen and he used to put me on the line of the tiles in the kitchen and I used to just step to my left, step to my right with my hands up. A 6-year-old kid wants to play but my dad installed boxing in me. He was a disciplinarian about boxing. I used to come home from school, do my homework and I had to do 10 push-ups and get on the line and work the line. The whole time, he was standing there watching me. I was young so I wasn’t punching, he used to clap his hands, 1, 2, 3, and say ‘Step back on the line, right hand-left hook, roll to your left, you ain’t rolling right.’ He used to put something above my head if I didn’t slip right I’d get a poke and he was like ‘You better get out the way.’ He said you do everything you have to do to not get hit, use your arms, keep your hands up, use your shoulders to not get hit.

That’s what I was doing when I was 6 years old and then when I was 7, David Reid was at the Olympics. My father is very tight with Al Mitchell and Fred Jenkins and they ran David Reid’s career and that was the first time I knew about the Olympics. David Reid was getting handled, getting beat, when the fight was going on I just went upstairs. In the third round, I was like I’m done with this, he lost and I go to sleep and I hear a lot of shouting. ‘He did it, he did it.’ My dad’s yelling, they’re going crazy downstairs. I’m like what happened, my dad tells me David Reid won. I say Pops you need some glasses, my father says he knocked him out. It’s over, that’s one thing, never give up. I said ‘You sure he won?’ and my dad’s like our boy won. He did it. That was a tremendous time. They kept replaying it on the news. It was inspiring, you can never give up, never, and that’s why I learned to never give up on boxing through all my trials and tribulations. I don’t think I ever would, that’s motivation, if any fighter watches that they’d be inspired ‘cause David Reid should have been scared for his life in that fight. He had no chance if he boxed him but he knocked him out and every fighter should learn to never give up.

AW – What attributes do you feel you have that your father possessed when he fought?

JH – I possess from my father in that ring, power. My dad had a left hook that knocked your head off. If he touched you the right way, you’re going down, you’re going out, you’re never getting back up. He knocked guys dead. There was an enormous amount of power. My dad knew that so he walked to the ring with a swagger, with so much confidence it was unbelievable. I think I inherited that confidence. I mean, when I’m out the back before a fight I’m real jittery. I’m doing pad work, I’m warming up, I want to get in there so bad. It’s always good to have some nerves my dad said, as walking out the back as I’m getting closer to the ring I’m getting confident, the closer I get the more confident I get. By the time I’m walking up those steps into the ring I’m biting on my mouth piece to make sure it’s tight. When I get into that ring, I don’t think any fighter knows how I feel. I feel like a god when I’m in there with any man. Nobody is safe but the referee. That comes with confidence and I think that’s what I inherited from my father.

AW – You were a very good amateur, could you tell us about your amateur career and your credentials?

JH – I won 2011 national Golden Gloves, the U.S. championships at 178 (pounds). I won the Olympic trials. I won the junior Olympics when I was about 10. I won the (Pennsylvania) state championships about five times. I also won silver at the national’s two of three times. I accomplished so much in the amateurs. I was 85-11. I always ended up in the finals. That’s just the way it was.

AW – Though you fought at the 2011 worlds you weren’t able to qualify for the Olympics and had to qualify again. Can you tell us about this?

JH – That was rough. The worlds (championships) was a great experience. I had never seen anything like that in my life. That was a tremendous experience. I remember going over to someone else’s country and fighting like you want to beat everybody. I learned from that experience. Sometimes you’re not going to be on American soil, sometimes you’ve got to go and fight in different countries, live by the rules they had in Azerbaijan. They were eating horse meat out there. All type of things, the whole atmosphere of it all was great.

But I lost. You watch that fight. I was beating that guy until the referee started taking points. He took two points ‘cause he said I was ducking down to low, then he took one, he said I was holding. I don’t know what he was watching. It was like wow. I was more hurt because I was winning and I knew the guy wasn’t better than me. I knew that kid wasn’t the better fighter and that’s what hurt the most to know I lost a fight not because a guy was better than me.

That’s why I made the transition over to the pros. I’m scared of leaving it in the judges hands. I want to knock your head off, I want to knock you out. I want to study a tape on you, dissect you, find a weakness and knock you out. When I train I train to knock guys out. I don’t train to go the distance. I asked my dad can you teach me how to knock a guy out. I don’t want to go the distance because in my mind if you’re preparing to go the distance you’ve already lost.

I came back here and fought Terrell Gausha in the nationals. This is the first time it’s ever been done. It’s called the reload tournament; if you didn’t qualify for the Olympics in Azerbaijan you had to come back here and beat everybody here to go to the next qualifier here to go to the next Olympic qualifier. It was too much. My mind was already on that they stole something from me, when I got back here I beat everybody there was to beat in my weight class and above my weight class. I proved to y’all I’m the best American for the job, y’all don’t see, I went through all the wars, all the tribulations, I went through this, I went through that and I still have to fight. I don’t think no other American fighter had to endure what I had to endure.

My division, they wanted one man to go so bad they kept taking it from me. In the national PAL (tournament), I fought a guy named Luis Arias. They took that fight from me. I fought him again later on that year in the U.S. championships in 2010 and my brother had just died. I wanted to do it for him and they still took it from me. Always in the finals. It was always he won on a tie break or a split decision or something happened.

The same guys I beat in the American trials are re-entering the reload tournament, it’s like I beat you guys, some of you I beat twice, the guy that beat me didn’t even go to the Olympic trials ‘cause he didn’t qualify. It was like I qualified I won two nationals. I could have entered the Olympic trials in two weight classes 178 or 165. They made a rule up about me in USA boxing it’s called “The Jesse Hart rule,” a fighter who qualifies in one weight class cannot fight in another weight class ‘cause it messes everything up. I won a National at 178 in the Olympic year so I could have tried out for the team at 178. That hasn’t been done since David Reid did it at 152 and 156 back in ‘96.

I’m like I beat you guys, when you want something to prove something you have extra tenacity. I didn’t have nothing to prove. I trained hard but in my mind it’s become easy. In my mind I’m going to the finals and I got lax. I just didn’t have that tenacity no more, I beat everyone, I seen the same people over and over again. I was like, ‘Get me someone else.’ I was in tremendous shape but the drive and the will I didn’t have ‘cause I beat these guys already. Some of them I was like ‘Why are you still here? Why didn’t you turn pro?’ You know how you call someone a peasant? I was like you guys are peasants, for you to even wait it shows how crumby you guys are. I would have turned pro if I know I have no chance against somebody. I dominated. I every time I beat someone in the American trials it was by double digits, they had two or three points. I think I dropped the ball on that one, but when you’re at the top of your game, you’re hungry but how do you keep expecting me to get up for the same guys. I wanted to break these guys down to the lowest point to make you believe in your mind that you cannot beat me so if we ever crossed paths again, they will already have doubt in their mind. Once you have doubt you already lost.

AW – That’s all in the past now, though?

JH – Yes. I’m glad to be in the pros. I want to knock guys out. I want to be an exciting fighter like a Mike Tyson was. I want to knock your head off. I want to imagine my punches going through the back of their heads. I want to be the greatest fighter to ever do it. Floyd Mayweather, there’s still a question mark over his career because of Sugar Ray Robinson. I want to be better than Sugar Ray Robinson. If I can’t rest my head I don’t care how many world titles I won. Whatever I do in boxing, whatever I accomplish, if I’m not better than Sugar Ray Robinson when they throw dirt on my body, I haven’t accomplished nothing. That’s who my dad believes is the greatest fighter. That’s who everyone around me believes is the greatest boxer ever. Before I shut my eyes I want people to say Jesse Hart was better than Sugar Ray Robinson. I want people to say Jesse Hart was the best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. I don’t want to be better than Floyd Mayweather ‘cause he’s not the best. I want to be better than Sugar Ray Robinson.

AW – Your debut took place on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley I. That must have been some experience?

JH – Yes it was but I didn’t get caught in the lights. I just focused on the guy I was fighting. Like I was saying as I was walking to the ring if you watch the tape I was looking dead into his eyes. Once he looked away from me I knew he had already lost. A lot of people said I was nervous ‘cause I asked where’s my headgear at. My manager David Price is like ‘What you talking about? There’s no headgear, this is the pros.’ As I walked to the ring I was like it’s over. After breaking my glove in, I could feel my knuckles piecing through the leather. I was like everything is right. It went so perfect that I wanted to do it again right away.

AW – What goals do you have that you’d like to achieve in boxing?

JH – If I get a shot at the middleweight championship I want to take that. I want to take super middleweight. I want to take light heavyweight but I want to become the undisputed champion in all different weight classes, middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight. If you become the undisputed champion in all these weight classes, Floyd Mayweather never did that, Roy Jones never did that, they won world championships but did they become the undisputed world champion in all these different weight classes? That’s a goal. No one ever did that. If I did that I’d be the first fighter to ever accomplish that. If I just do it in two or three weight classes I’d be the first to achieve that.

Just imagine that. I want to go all the way up to heavyweight, though, some day be the undisputed heavyweight champion, with all the belts, WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, RING magazine, then I can shut my eyes, I’m retiring.

At the Olympic training center they told me I have the frame to box at heavyweight. They said as I grow into it I’ll be a heavyweight. They said when you get in your 30s you’re gonna be a 200 pounder. They said we don’t know how your keeping your weight off. They said your body is still making that transition from a boy to a man. I’m 6-foot-3. I would love to be a heavyweight. The Klitschkos are doing a good job but if I could hold that weight, if I was a heavyweight, it would be a site to see.

AW – Bernard Hopkins is a huge boxing name in your hometown. Tell us about that from your point of view?

JH – He’s a great guy, he’s a disciplined guy. He talked to me a lot. He said you’re going to be the next great middleweight that comes out of Philadelphia, you’ve got to stay hungry. He said ‘That’s how I stayed on top for so many years ‘cause I never lost the hunger.’ He was of the frame of mind, I came from the penitentiary I had nothing, I earned everything I have. I can't say that but I can say I came from Philadelphia. They didn’t give me anything.

North Philly is the worst area in the world to come from, it’s so rough, it’s ridiculous. They always say watch who’s around you and always train hard, never lose because you weren’t disciplined enough to train hard. Bernard would say you’re such a great fighter; you’re going to be a world champion.

Before I signed with Top Rank he tried to get me with Golden Boy. The deal wasn’t right. It was already too far (gone) through. Not taking anything away from him. I understand the importance of the jab because he stresses it to me every time he sees me. “You’ve got a helluva jab, use it, you’re 6’3 you’ve got long arms you got to use it.” Bernard is always telling me different things and I respect him for that.

AW – Tell us about yourself as a person?

JH – I’m a married man with a daughter; she’s one, so I enjoy spending time with my daughter. I’ve was real busy last summer so I didn’t have chance (to spend much time with her). I had a fight in April, I had a fight June, July and August; the whole summer I was in the gym. After each fight I was right back in the gym on Monday and after the last fight my dad said I see it in your body. I want you to rest up for about two weeks, take time off from boxing.

It’s good spending time with my daughter, my wife, with my family, that’s what I enjoy the most.

I’m a sports guy. In my time off I study tape. I watch to see what’s going on in the boxing game. Abner Mares getting knocked out, that was a shock to the boxing world. Deontay Wilder knocked this guy out. In my time off I’m always still watching boxing, I love it. I’m infatuated with boxing; it’s an obsession not a passion.

I just took out the DVD player I was watching Henry Armstrong. I think he was the greatest fighter who ever lived. To me he was better than Ray Robinson but people don’t give him credit ‘cause he was a little guy. I was just watching Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler. I was watching Julian Jackson. I studied him. He had a beautiful amount of pressure, it wasn’t hard pressure it was boxing pressure. He was accurate puncher. My favourite fighter who I’m infatuated with was Roy Jones Jr.

AW – Don’t tell Bernard that!

JH – (laughs) Yeah, he wouldn’t like that!

I’m a huge Roy Jones fan, I love that guy. I don’t think any fighter could do anything to him. When I get in there I try to do things he does better than he did. It’s like it’s motivation for me. He did things no fighter does in there ‘cause his reflexes. When he was just focused on one thing, boxing, nobody could beat him.

AW – Lastly, as an up and comer what message would you have for the boxing world?

JH – My message for the boxing world is I’m coming! When I come I’m gonna reign a long time. You’re time is ticking. It’s almost time for Bernard Hopkins, who’s my mentor, to punch out but I’m gonna be a superstar in the sport because I’m a student of the game. I’m just waiting for my time and I think when I come I’m gonna beat everybody. I’m coming for the Andre Wards the Chad Dawsons, the one’s at the top; Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, they’re gonna be there when I get there. (Gennady) Golovkin. I’m watching these guys now so when I get there I won't lose.

I’m coming for all these guys all the ones I named. The Klitschkos, there time’s almost up. I’m waiting on the next great heavyweight I’m watching the heavyweights. I’m watching the cruiserweights. I know these guys. I watch every division I want to fight in. I’m looking for the best, I’m not looking for the Sakio Bikas. He won the title they stripped off Ward. You can’t be a champion, he beat you. Everybody knows Andre Ward is still the man to beat. At the end of the day unless you beat Andre Ward you’re not a champion to me.

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