LAS VEGAS -- The light heavyweight fight between Jesse Hart and Sullivan Barrera was not an official eliminator for a shot at a world title, but it might as well have been.
Both entered their bout on Saturday night -- the co-feature of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury's defense against Tom Schwarz -- at the MGM Grand Garden Arena knowing a win likely would result in the world title opportunity because of promoter Top Rank's depth in the weight class.
In a hard-hitting fight in which both men were hurt, Hart scored a knockdown in the eighth round and won a unanimous decision. The judges scored it 99-90, 97-92 and 96-93. ESPN also had it for Hart 96-93.
Hart (26-2, 21 KOs), 29, of Philadelphia, who lost decisions in two closely contested, super middleweight title bouts against Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez in 2017 and 2018, was making his light heavyweight debut, electing to move up because Top Rank told him he had a better chance to land a title shot and make bigger money at 175 pounds than at 168.
"I don't take nothing away from Sullivan Barrera, but I hurt my hand in the seventh round," Hart said. "I had one hand. My right hand was completely shot. After I hurt him and dropped him, I couldn't really finish him. That's why you saw the left hook come. As you can see, I can punch with both hands. I take my hat off to him. He came to fight.
"I think I'm a force to be reckoned with. If I had both my hands, I believe it would've went differently."
Barrera (22-3, 14 KOs), 37, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, has lost two of his past three fights, including a 12th-round knockout loss challenging world titleholder Dmitry Bivol in March 2018. Barrera rebounded with a lopsided decision win over Seanie Monaghan in November but did not look particularly good. And now comes this loss to Hart.
Hart landed a right hand in the second round that took Barrera's legs away and he went down, but referee Jay Nady ruled it a slip. It was a wild round in which they both connected with solid punches, but they also were warned for holding. In the third round, Barrera also took a warning for hitting on the break.
After Hart hurt Barrera with a big overhand right early in the round, Barrera stormed back and had Hart in trouble in the final moments of the round, forcing Hart into a corner and lashing him with multiple clean punches.
Hart had a big sixth round, hurting Barrera and nearly dropping him more than once. Hart nailed Barrera repeatedly with clean right hands that had Barrera's legs shaky as he looked to grab on.
Hart was credited with a knockdown in the eighth round on a left hook that did not connect solidly, if at all, but Barrera went down. Barrera complained about it to Nady and did not appear hurt.
Hart spent much of the final two rounds on the move, apparently believing he was ahead. The fight closed quietly, with Hart getting a big win.
With the win Hart put himself in position for a possible title shot. Top Rank is loaded with talent in the weight division. The company promotes co-promotes world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, world titleholders Artur Beterbiev and Sergey Kovalev, as well as former titlist Eleider "Storm" Alvarez and Ramirez, who vacated his super middleweight world title and made a successful move up in weight in April.
Mayer wins wide decision vs. Crespo
Junior lightweight Mikaela Mayer, a 2016 U.S. Olympian, won a hard-fought, unanimous decision over former world title challenger Lizbeth Crespo. Mayer was awarded the victory on scores of 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92 in a fight that seemed a lot closer than that.
Nonetheless, Mayer (11-0, 4 KOs), 28, of Los Angeles, scored her most notable win yet as a pro, and then said she wants to fight for a world title.
"I am ready for a world title fight next. It's time for the champions to step up and get in the ring with me," Mayer said. "Crespo was a tough challenge, but I got through it and am ready to move on to bigger things."
Mayer tried to fight Crespo from the outside and use her longer reach to keep Crespo at bay, but Crespo (13-5, 3 KOs), 28, of Argentina, bulled forward and tried to make it a brawl. She had some success, forcing Mayer into several exchanges in which they both landed leather.
Crespo appeared to tire in the second half of the bout and looked exhausted when she returned to the corner following the seventh round.
Bell outslugs Vences
Junior lightweight Albert Bell (15-0, 5 KOs), 26, of Toledo, Ohio, scored a mild upset in an action-packed, unanimous decision win against Andy Vences (22-1-1, 12 KOs), 28, of San Jose, California. All three judges scored the bout 97-93.
"I worked so hard for this," Bell said. "In my first 10-rounder, I went out there and put my undefeated record on the line against a top guy. You don't see that too much anymore. I've been counted out, and this shows that I'm a fighter to be taken seriously at 130 pounds."
An accidental head butt nailed Bell in the nose, sending him to the mat in the third round. He appeared to recover quickly, and then they battled back and forth.
After Vences landed a clean right hand in the fifth round, Bell answered with a series of right hands that rocked Vences. Bell had Vences in more trouble in the seventh round when he hurt him with a combination and kept firing shots that knocked him back. Vences eventually responded with his own shots in an exciting round.
Vences' punches ejected Bell's mouthpiece in the ninth and 10th rounds, and they closed the fight with fierce, toe-to-toe action.
Vences was bitterly disappointed by the defeat.
"I fought someone who didn't want to fight," Vences said. "I was looking for the action the whole fight, pressuring him. I thought that I hurt him and connected on the bigger punches. This is the hurt business."
Also on the undercard
British featherweight Isaac Lowe (18-0-3, 6 KOs), 25, who is a stablemate of Fury's, won a hard-fought, unanimous decision over Duarn Vue (14-2-2, 4 KOs), 33, of Madison, Wisconsin. Lowe won by scores of 99-91, 98-92 and 97-93 one day after scuffling with Vue at the ceremonial weigh-in.
"This was a great experience. Look at me: 25 years old, fighting in Las Vegas on the undercard of the big fellow," Lowe said. "I hurt my right hand in the fourth round, so I was limited as to what I could do in there. But we got the job done, and we're going to go back to the drawing board and see what it is next. I'm still learning in there, and I know that there's room for improvement. On to the next one. It's going to be a party tonight in Las Vegas!"
Heavyweight Guido Vianello (4-0, 4 KOs), 25, a 2016 Italian Olympian trained by Abel Sanchez, knocked down Keenan Hickman (6-4-1, 2 KOs), 31, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, three times in the second round to get the knockout victory. The 6-foot-6, 238-pound Vianello used his right hand to record each knockdown, the final one sending Hickman to his rear end, and referee Tony Weeks waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
Heavyweight prospect Peter Kadiru (4-0, 1 KO), 21, of Germany, cruised to a shutout decision against Juan Torres (3-2-1, 1 KO), 32, of Houston. The 6-foot-4½, 233-pound Kadiru, who is managed by Bernd Boente, the longtime manager of retired former heavyweight champions Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, won 40-36 on all three scorecards.