Jesse Hart hopes to win super middleweight world title for his father

Eugene "Cyclone" Hart never got a shot at a middleweight world title, despite being a top contender in Philadelphia in the 1970s, but his son, Jesse, has a shot to win a super middleweight belt Friday night as part of an ESPN Top Rank boxing event. Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Through the years, Philadelphia has produced numerous top boxers and played host to countless memorable fights, but the 1970s were something of a golden age -- especially for middleweights.

One of the top middleweight contenders at the time was Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, a Philly native known for a great left hook and a willingness to fight anyone.

Hart (30-9-1, 28 KOs) boxed professionally from 1969 to 1982 and faced a who's who of his time: Vito Antuofermo, Bennie Briscoe (twice), Sugar Ray Seales, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts and Willie "The Worm" Monroe.

Hart's most famous opponent was the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler, against whom he suffered an eighth-round knockout loss in 1976 at the famed Spectrum, home to many of Hart's fights. The fight took place four years before Hagler won the middleweight world title from Alan Minter.

He fought them all. Hart won some and lost some, but he was usually in an exciting fight. However, he never got the opportunity to fight for a world title.

Now 66, Hart will finally be, at least by extension, in the world title fight that eluded him during his fighting career.

His son is super middleweight Jesse Hart, 28, who also came up in the gyms of Philadelphia, became a top amateur and now stands as a professional contender about to fight the biggest fight of his life. Jesse, with his father in the corner as his head trainer, is the mandatory challenger and will face 168-pound world titleholder Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez for his belt on Friday night at the Tucson Arena in Tucson, Arizona.

The Top Rank card will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET, with the preliminary bouts and main card streaming live on the ESPN App beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

"Jesse has a very good punch, [but] his father, Cyclone Hart, could knock down walls," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who has a close relationship with the Harts. "He was the hardest-punching middleweight of his time, and he was a tremendous draw in Philadelphia during the heydays of the middleweights."

In the main event, featherweight world titleholder Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs), 26, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Tucson and still has a lot of family and friends there, will make his third title defense when he faces the Philippines' 26-year-old Genesis Servania (29-0, 12 KOs). In another televised bout, featherweight prospect Michael Conlan (3-0, 3 KOs), 25, the popular Irish Olympian, will take on Kenny Guzman (3-0, 1 KO), 30, of Kalispell, Montana, in a scheduled six-rounder.

Jesse Hart (22-0, 18 KOs), who has won eight of his past nine bouts by knockout, knows how important the fight is for his career but also understands the meaning of it to his father.

"When I beat Zurdo for the world title, I am going to wrap the championship belt right around my dad's waist," he said. "This fight on Friday is for my father, Cyclone Hart, and what he never got in all of those years in the ring -- a shot at the title."

Cyclone Hart doesn't come off as bitter that he didn't get a title opportunity that he believes he deserved, but he certainly was disappointed by it.

"I never got a world title shot, but I was fighting a lot of guys from Philadelphia that were the best fighters in the world," he said. "I always was willing to fight the best fighters, but I never got a shot at the championship. It bothered me, but I thought I would get it. I talked about it, but I never got one. So I just kept moving, kept fighting. I wasn't going to just sit around and wait for one.

"But I fought everybody. I knew I had the experience to deal with any fighter. I ain't worried about nobody, but they never gave me the shot at the title. I didn't get the shot when I should have. Reason why I didn't get it was because I was a good fighter and a good puncher, and a lot of guys don't want to be up against a good puncher."

Now his son is getting that opportunity, and Cyclone is looking forward to it.

"It's a blessing to get a chance for him to get his shot," Cyclone said. "My shot can be this one. Now that he's No. 1 contender they give us a shot at the title. And it's a blessing because he has a shot, and he's my son.

"I will feel like, oh man, I feel good they gave my son a shot that I didn't get. I'll be blessed to see my son get the shot. My son can knock you out with either hand, right hand or left hook. He got all the tools he needs to be champ of the world. He's smart, and he can fight."

Jesse Hart grew up around boxing. His dad started him in it at age 6.

"The goal was to be a world champion," Jesse said. "When I first saw all the great fighters of the past that my dad showed me -- Henry Armstrong, Willy Pep, Sugar Ray Robinson, who was his favorite fighter, Joe Louis, all the great fighters of the past -- when I was a kid, my dad used to sit me by the TV and watch these guys day in and day out. That's who I studied when I was a kid. That's where it all came from.

"That's what I wished for: for one day to become a world champion, and that's what my dad's dream always was, but he never got a title shot, so it definitely means a lot to him. He said everything I didn't do in boxing I want my son to do. That's why he is pushing me."

Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw from Mexico, figures to be by far Hart's toughest opponent in what will be Hart's first scheduled 12-round fight. Ramirez, who is making his second title defense, shut out Arthur Abraham to win the belt in April 2016 but was out of action for a year because of a hand injury. He returned April 22 and cruised to a shutout decision of Max Bursak.

Hart has lobbed some verbal bombs at Ramirez in the lead-up to the fight, but Ramirez is a cool customer and does not seem at all bothered.

"I only hope that he comes in really prepared because he's been talking a lot, and it's good because I am really prepared for this fight and very confident in my preparation," Ramirez said. "It's a big fight and really exciting for me because he's the No. 1 contender, and I want to put on a great show for all of the Mexican people."

Hart wants to win for himself and also for his father.

"We never had a belt in our household," he said. "This is personal for my family. This is business, but it is personal to bring the belt home -- a world championship. My dad always said when I started, 'I want you to be a world champion.' I was born to be a world champion. That was always my calling, and I really believe that. I have dedicated my life since I was a kid. Ya'll have different things that drive you, but I was born to be a champion."

Seeing his son win the title would mean the world to Cyclone Hart.

"We respect [Ramirez]," he said. "He's the champ of the world, and we respect that, so we know what we're coming for. We coming for a good fight with him. We coming for the title. That's what we want."