Things to know about Jesse Hart, Joe Smith Jr.

Jesse Hart and Joe Smith Jr. meet on Saturday in a pivotal light heavyweight matchup. The winner will take an important step toward earning a title shot against world titleholders Artur Beterbiev (WBC and IBF) and Dmitry Bivol (WBA).

The fight at the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena in Atlantic City, New Jersey (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) is an interesting battle between two veterans of the sport who have been fighting good opposition but haven’t been able to make a name for themselves.

Here are some things to know about the two fighters.

Not just a boxer. Joe Smith is a business owner

The native of Long Island, New York, has worked in construction as a member of Laborers’ Local 66. Within the last two years, though, he has gone into business with his father. You might say he has branched out.

“We decided to open up a tree company,” Smith said.

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His father has a lot of experience with tree work, and so did his grandfather.

“So I just figured that we could keep the family business going,” Smith said. “We do tree trimming, tree removals, stump grinding. … We do pretty much anything you can do [with trees].”

Smith believes he was destined for this line of work.

“I learned the trade through my father and my grandfather,” he said. “I’ve been in and out of doing tree work since I was 16.”

He is now 30.

Smith funded the new business with earnings from his banner 2016 campaign, when he burst onto the scene by stopping Andrzej Fonfara and then Bernard Hopkins. Those paydays enabled him to purchase tree equipment — a chipper and bucket truck — and invest in advertising and marketing.

“My father pretty much handles the business when I’m training,” Smith said. “And once in a while I’ll swing by the job and split some wood or something, get a little workout in.”

Smith (24-3, 20 KOs) actually likes this job and what it entails. He’s far from the first boxer who chops wood as a way of strengthening his back and shoulder muscles.

“It’s definitely a great exercise,” Smith affirmed. “I actually enjoy splitting the wood.”

Smith suffered a broken jaw in 2017

Joe Smith Jr., left, sent Bernard Hopkins out of the ring for a TKO victory in 2016. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

After Smith became boxing’s contemporary “Cinderella Man” in 2016, it struck midnight for him in his very next fight. He was defeated by Sullivan Barrera in July 2017, and adding insult to injury, he suffered a broken jaw that kept him sidelined for 11 months.

The jaw feels fine now.

“Everything is great with it,” Smith said. “I haven’t had no issues since. My jaw broke pretty much previously to the fight in training. I went and got an X-ray done, and they said they didn’t see nothing. First punch I got hit with in that fight, my jaw was finished. I knew right away because I had [broken] it once before earlier in my career.”

Despite the intense pain, Smith was able to grit his way through the scheduled 10 rounds.

Smith believes Bivol is the best fighter he’s faced

Smith has faced top-class opposition, defeating Fonfara and Hopkins and losing to WBA world titlist Dmitry Bivol in his most recent fight.

Who has impressed him the most?

“I feel the only guy that’s truly beat me is Bivol, and he’s definitely a great fighter,” said Smith, who dropped a decision to the Russian last March but was able to buzz him in the 10th round with a right hand.

“His range is very good, and that’s what pretty much won the fight for him, that range. It was hard to land my power shots. I started looking for [the right hand] too much. I started looking for one shot. But hopefully one day I’ll get to redeem myself against him.”

Hart has enlisted one of his idols to help him prepare for the Smith fight

As he trained for this bout with Smith, Hart (26-2, 21 KOs) brought in a Philadelphia legend, Bernard Hopkins, to assist him.

“His role was to bring strategic moves and remind me of my best attributes,” Hart said.

Hopkins was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame last month for a career that saw him become the undisputed world middleweight champion and the recognized light heavyweight champion. Ironically, his career ended in December 2016 when, at age 51, he was literally knocked out of the ring by Smith at the Forum in Los Angeles.

“He played a major, major role in this training camp,” Hart said. “He was in camp the whole time.”

Hart acknowledges that his conversations with the talkative Hopkins were usually one-sided. Was Hart ever able to get in a few words of his own?

“No,” he answered, laughing. “You’ve got to listen and soak it all up. That’s what you’ve got to do — soak it all up.”

When Hopkins defeated Felix Trinidad in September 2001, Hart was all of 12 years old. But that seminal victory left a lasting impression on Hart.

“We had run out of fighters to beat Trinidad in America,” said the native of Philly, recalling the run of “Tito” as he defeated Oscar De La Hoya, David Reid, Fernando Vargas and William Joppy. “It was like nobody could beat him. So what they did was, they went and got that bad guy from the penitentiary, the guy who lost his first professional fight. … ‘Hey, we’re going to see what he got.'”

On that night at Madison Square Garden, Hopkins put forth a career-defining effort in handing the Puerto Rican icon his first professional defeat, stopping him in 11 rounds.

“By him yelling ‘USA!’ after that fight, it was like, ‘Wow, after all you’ve been through, you still uphold our country, you still uphold the righteousness of the boxing game … and stand for America,'” Hart said. “I believe that inspired me as a young kid. That was the most significant win for me, when he beat Trinidad. He made me a believer. That was the biggest inspiration in my life, because I know he came from poverty.

“That’s my inspiration,” he said. “That’s who I want to be like. That’s the guy.”

Hart is making just his second fight as a full-fledged light heavyweight

After coming excruciatingly close in two attempts to win the WBO super middleweight title against Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, Hart made his light heavyweight debut in June, winning a 10-round unanimous decision over Barrera.

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