Antonio Esfandiari Outlasts Kevin Hart in Boxing Ring

The 2019 World Series of Poker is right around the corner, so naturally, former WSOP Big One for One Drop champion and annual Main Event final-table commentator Antonio Esfandiari is making his preparations. Perhaps he is studying, analyzing his weaknesses, looking to fill gaps in his play? Or perhaps he is getting socked square in the jaw. On Saturday, Esfandiari and actor/comedian Kevin Hart (Jumanji, Get Hard, Ride Along) faced off not at the poker table, but in the boxing ring, with Esfandiari winning the three-round match by decision. Yes, I am writing about a boxing match between Antonio Esfandiari and Kevin Hart for a poker news site. Who says every article has to be serious?

Some People Want to Fight Their Friends, I Guess

The genesis of the battle was in July of last year. Kevin Hart is a poker enthusiast – he has been complemented on his skills by poker pros – and has made several appearances in major tournaments thanks, in part, to his sponsorship deal with PokerStars. Through live poker, he and Esfandiari developed a friendship.

Antonio Esfandiari

After word of the possible fight got out, tabloid television show/website TMZ tracked Esfandiari down outside of a restaurant and he said the topic of a boxing match came up at the poker table. Being gamblers with deep pockets, the two friends decided to put money on it. Esfandiari told TMZ that they decided that because Hart was “in better shape” and was “fast as hell,” he was giving Esfandiari whopping 35:1 odds.

CardPlayer also interviewed Esfandiari, who elaborated:

I’m taller than him, and probably have 35-40 pounds on him. But there’s also a reason I got 35:1 odds. He’s a natural athlete, he’s in incredible shape, and he’s been boxing for a long time. He’s a beast. Yeah, I work out, do some yoga and lift some weights, and try to maintain good physical well-being. But my cardiovascular [endurance] is awful compared to his. So, I have a height advantage, but he’s a clear favorite.

Size was really the only thing Esfandiari had going for him. He is six feet tall, while Hart is just five-foot-four, so it was possible that Esfandiari’s significant reach advantage could keep Hart from doing anything. That is, if Esfandiari could even have the endurance to get through the three three-minute rounds.

Esfandiari hired a trainer to get himself in better shape and to learn how to box, but he still figured he might need to land one fluke punch to knock Hart down.

“But no matter how much I train, Kevin will always be stronger and faster,” Esfandiari admitted last year. “The more I train the more of a chance I have to win. I know a ton of people will be watching this, so I don’t want to go in there and get my ass handed to me and get knocked out in five seconds. I don’t want to be that guy.”

“The stakes are decent enough, but that’s not the motivating factor,” Esfandiari told CardPlayer, never revealing how much money was at stake. “The motivating factor is kicking Kevin Hart’s ass in a forum where a lot of people are going to see it. At the end of the day, I don’t have a lot to lose. Everyone expects Kevin to beat me. But if I win, I’m the guy who knocked his ass out.”

Esfandiari Shocked the World

Well, Antonio Esfandiari did not knock Kevin Hart’s ass out, but he did defy the odds and win the match by decision! Winning the Big One for One Drop was the poker moment of a lifetime for him (I remember Esfandiari tearing up afterward), but one has to imagine that in some ways, this was more satisfying. While the chances of winning a major poker tournament are low for even the best poker pros, they all know they can do it. Esfandiari didn’t think he had a chance against Hart.

Hart, who coincidentally hosted a game show on CBS last year called “TKO: Total Knockout” (kind of like “Wipeout” meets dodgeball), was very complementary of his buddy after the match, posting on Instagram:

I wanna take the time to congratulate my guy Antonio Esfandiari on a [sic] amazing sparring match today. We went 3 3min rounds and both gave it our all. In the end you were the winner by decision. You worked hard and deserve the W champ. Good shit….I want a rematch as soon as I catch my fucking breathe [sic] again

He made sure to remind any real boxers reading it that it was just a fun match between friends and that they have no intention of boxing on a more regular basis (read: please don’t challenge me to a fight). He also added that he plans to post a video of the bout once the footage is edited.

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