Jesse Hart, a career-long super middleweight, makes his light heavyweight debut Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against veteran Sullivan Barrera. There's a specific reason he's moving up in weight: opportunity.
Hart (25-2, 21 KOs) wants to face the best the division has to offer: Sergey Kovalev, Artur Beterbiev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Why? He wants what they have -- the gold, which ultimately leads to the cash.
"I'm the upsetting of the apple cart," said the brash and talkative Philadelphia native.
After an excruciating loss to WBO super middleweight champion, Gilberto Ramirez (who is also now a light heavyweight) back in December, Hart met with promoter Bob Arum and was told that there was an opportunity for him to fight for another title at super middleweight. But there was one important caveat.
"The money wouldn't have been right," Hart said. "Arum told me, 'You're going to be a world champion, but you're not going to get the money that a world champion gets. There's no rivalries and there's no money there [at 168].'"
"So at the end of the day, I have a family to feed, a daughter to feed, I have a lot of things on the horizon," Hart said.
Unlike Ramirez, who was having increasing difficulty fitting 168 pounds into his 6-foot-2 frame, he had no such issues. Now, the process has begun for Hart to grow into a light heavyweight naturally.
While he has incorporated some weight training into his regimen under the direction of his strength-and-conditioning coach Demetrius Williams, Hart isn't doing as much road work as before. He's scaled back on the overall amount of rounds he puts in at the gym. To this day, he says he can still make 168, "comfortably."
This move was clearly about economics and professional opportunities.
"I wanted to move up to light heavyweight, and I want a big name. That's where the lucrative deals and the money is at, and being generated up there. I see where boxing is going," Hart said. "I give it about two years and it's going to be the hottest division in boxing. And I believe up there I'm going to make some noise.
"And not only can I make some noise -- I can beat these guys. I know I can beat these guys."
Hart isn't just dipping his toe into the shallow end of the light heavyweight pool. In Barrera (22-2, 14 KOs), he's facing a perennial contender in the division.
"I know Sullivan Barrera is pretty tough and I'm not taking anything from what he did, but I just don't see him doing anything," Hart said. "He doesn't pose a threat."
While Hart respects his track record, he also believes that Barrera is a faded fighter, one that has been put through the ringer in recent years.
"The guy's 37, been in numerous wars, he's been dropped five times, he had swelling of the brain [against] Dmitry Bivol, I mean that's where he took the year off. He came back with Seanie Monaghan," said Hart, who pointed out that Andre Ward, Joe Smith and Felix Valera all sent him to the canvas, while Bivol stopped him in the 12th round in March of 2018.
"I wouldn't have took a young fighter like me at 29, that's strong, as vigorous, as vicious as myself at 37 years of age," Hart said. "I just wouldn't have done that."