By Peter Gleason

Light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. won a split decision over Philly’s Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Smith dropped Hart in an exciting fight that headlined the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Two judges had it for Smith, 98-91 and 97-92, but one judge, James Kinney, shockingly had it 95-94 for Hart. ESPN had Smith winning 97-92 and most at ringside also had him winning handily.

Hart had come into the fight desperately wanting to defeat Smith as vengeance for what Smith did in December 2016, which was knock out Philly’s Bernard Hopkins,  sending him flying out of the ring, to end the career of the former middleweight and light heavyweight world champion.

The way Hopkins went out saddened and angered Hart, who was inspired to box at age 7 by Hopkins, the mentor he has grown close to and considers part of his family. Once Hart moved up to light heavyweight he specifically sought out a fight with former world title challenger Smith aiming for revenge. But it was not to be.

“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 came to the ring wearing an executioner’s mask as an homage to Hopkins, who did the same thing for years because he was known as “The Executioner,” but Hart said he was dealing with an injury.

“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.”