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Poker Pro Antonio Esfandiari On Upcoming Kevin Hart Boxing Match: 'It's Definitely Happening'

Esfandiari Says He Is A Favorite 'To Break Rib Or Nose' During The April Fight


Last summer, poker pro Antonio Esfandiari made headlines when it was announced that he would fight comedian Kevin Hart in a high-stakes boxing match. Six months later, Card Player decided to check in and see if the fight was still on, and how Esfandiari was doing with his preparation.

“It’s definitely happening,” Esfandiari told Card Player. “Kevin and I talk about it quite frequently, and we joke about it often. It will be sometime in mid-April, as of the last update.”

The bout pits one of poker’s most engaging personalities against one of Hollywood’s most well-known entertainers, and the odds are anything but even. Esfandiari, who recently turned 40, is getting an incredible 35:1 on his money, but knows it’s a bit of a longshot for him to come away with a win, even with an eight-inch height advantage over Hart.

Antonio Esfandiari at the PCA“As a professional gambler, I just can’t turn down a good bet. When somebody offers me 35:1, I just can’t say no. How can I? Yeah, I’m not athletic. I’m a skinny Persian. And he’s a great athlete, in incredible shape, who has been boxing for a while. I’m not a favorite by any means, but at 35:1… I can’t turn it down.”

Esfandiari, who saw his friends and fellow poker pros Brian Rast and Sorel Mizzi go through a similar boxing bet, knows very well what he’s getting into. But his underdog status and even the likelihood of injury hasn’t deterred him from going through with the bet.

“At this point, I’m too committed,” he explained. “My son sees me training. He’s four years old, he knows what is happening. There’s no way I’m going to back out. Once I committed, I have to go through with it. My pride is on the line.”

“We’re obviously going to have head gear, and I’ll be wearing a cup, so I’ll be somewhat protected. But I do think there is a very reasonable chance that I get hurt, for sure. I think that I’m probably a slight favorite to break a rib, or my nose. But that’s the lay of the land, you know what I mean?”

Esfandiari may not be the favorite, but he has helped his chances by starting boxing training.

“It’s just so much more complicated than you can imagine. I used to watch boxing all the time and basically thought it was just a couple of guys wailing on each other. You know, whoever got their punch in first, kind of thing. But as soon as I started training, I realized just how intricate of a sport it really is. The footwork, cardio and conditioning, reaction times, defense… it’s all part of it. I have a whole new appreciation for the sport.”

Esfandiari, however, is looking for much more than a shot at a big payday with his hard work.

Kevin Hart at the 2017 PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo“There’s money on the line, but this is ultimately about bragging rights that one of us will have forever. It’s about two buddies that want to get in the ring and take each other’s heads off.”

The poker community is no stranger to outlandish prop bettors, but there are few that can rival the two-time World Poker Tour champion and three-time WSOP bracelet winner. Esfandiari is constantly in action, even when away from the table. The Iranian-born former magician also once hosted a side bet-based TV show with Phil Laak titled I Bet You.

Other poker pros who have engaged in some in-the-ring fights include Olivier Busquet and J.C. Alvarado, who settled a six-figure bet with an MMA match in 2016. Lex Veldhuis and Bertrand Grospellier also duked it out for a hefty sum in a 2011 fight in Spain, while Theo Jorgensen squared off with Gus Hansen back in 2009.

Kevin Hart photo credits: Neil Stoddart / PokerStars.