If red-hot super middleweight up-and-comer Edgar Berlanga wins his fight on Saturday — he’s the heavy favorite — and comes away with no injuries, former two-time world title challenger Jesse Hart could be his next opponent on June 12, according to Top Rank chairman Bob Arum.
That is music to Hart’s ears. He said he would love to “expose” Berlanga, who has gotten tremendous attention because he has won all 16 of his fights by first-round knockout.
“I would love to fight that kid and expose him,” Hart told BoxingScene on Wednesday. “The fight has been brought to my attention. I think the kid has power but he has a lot of growing to do. He’s strong but can he take it? There are still question marks on his gas tank and I’ll be the first to tell you at this stage in his career he’s done what’s been asked of him.”
Hart shared a video with BoxingScene of Berlanga getting dropped hard by a clean right hand in an amateur bout with no headgear and again later in the same round with a left hook.
“You saw if you touch that chin, you press that button, you saw on that clip I showed you, he’s going to go down,” Hart said of Berlanga, who turned pro in 2016. “We still haven’t seen him yet (as a pro) under that type of pressure.”
Before a possible Hart bout can come to fruition, Berlanga first will face Hart knockout victim Demond Nicholson in the co-feature of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card topped by featherweight world titlist Emanuel Navarrete’s first defense against Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz on Saturday (ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET) at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
“They’re trying to have him follow in my footsteps,” Hart said of Berlanga facing Nicholson.
Berlanga (16-0, 16 KOs), 23, will fight Nicholson (23-3-1, 20 KOs), 28, of Laurel, Maryland, in a scheduled eight-round bout, but the June fight is supposed to be a significant step up in opposition for his first scheduled 10-rounder.
Arum said because of Berlanga’s hunger to move more quickly, he will not hold him back and, therefore, “We’re talking to them about a real good step up with say a Jesse Hart. That’s a thought in the matchmakers’ mind.”
“It’s been talked about,” Hart said of the fight. “As I’ve always said it doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t make dollars. The money has to be right for that fight but I would love to fight that kid.”
Hart (26-3, 21 KOs), 31, of Philadelphia, said June 12 would be perfect as the right hand he injured during training camp for his split decision loss to newly crowned WBO light heavyweight titleholder Joe Smith Jr. in January 2020 is now finally fully healed.
Hart, whose losses besides to Smith were highly competitive decisions challenging then-super middleweight world titlist Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez in 2017 and 2018, needed surgery on the hand and initially thought he would return on the Terence Crawford-Kell Brook undercard this past November.
“I was supposed to fight on that card but the hand doctor didn’t clear me,” Hart said. “The surgery went good but the doctor said I needed more time to rest. The hand is 110 percent. I’m ready to fight now. I think I’ve been ready to fight even if the doctor didn’t think I was. I knew what I felt.”
Hart said he would even be willing to fight Berlanga, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, New York, in his backyard at Madison Square Garden on June 12.
That card, which is supposed to be headlined by Shakur Stevenson against Jeremiah Nakathila for the vacant WBO interim junior lightweight title, was supposed to be at Madison Square Garden but because of Covid-19 capacity limits will instead be at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, the newly refurbished former Hard Rock, according to Arum.
“We’ve been talking with the Garden and June (is) too early for New York so it’ll be in Las Vegas,” Arum said. “Right now it’s definitely too early for New York. We’re talking with the Garden about loading up in the fall – another Shakur or Berlanga fight, (Artur) Beterbiev-Joe Smith.”
Regardless of where Hart would have to face Berlanga, he said he doesn’t care.
“I will fight him at the Garden in his backyard or wherever,” Hart said. “But I’m telling you what’s gonna happen – you can mark my words – their side is not going to take the fight. That clip I sent you, that’s what I see. Everybody else don’t see that.
“(June) is perfect timing. It’s all about if the kid wants to fight. He’s claiming he’s a monster and I’m watching what he’s doing and I’m seeing the guy he’s being — and I don’t discredit no fighter — but if he gets in there with that same mentality with me, that clip that I showed you and he’ll have a guy punching back? It’s different. Fighting me is a whole different ballgame. That’s what I want people to understand. I’m not old. This is actually a fighter’s prime.”
Hart added that he is not overly concerned about Berlanga’s vaunted punching power.
“I’ve been on the canvas. I got up. I always got up to finish,” Hart said.
Hart’s last two fights, the close loss to Smith and a clear decision over former world title challenger Sullivan Barrera, were at light heavyweight but he said he would have no problem dropping back to super middleweight to fight Berlanga or any big fight.
“Easy,” he said. “I’m really a 168-pounder. I will feel much more comfortable I believe. When we fought Joe and Sullivan Barrera my speed wasn’t there because of the added weight, the added muscle. I didn’t feel elusive. I’m ready to fight. I don’t know if Berlanga is, but I’m ready to go. If that fight presents itself you can bet your bottom dollar Jesse Hart won’t be turning it down.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com’s senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.