“IT’S like Notorious B.I.G. said, ‘You’re either slinging crack rock or you’ve got a good jump shot,’ and it’s the latter that applies to me.” Danny Jacobs’ ‘jump shot’ actually derived from a different sport entirely, a diverse boxing skill-set that propelled the Brooklyn native to the upper echelons of the middleweight division last year. A sensational blowout of local rival Peter Quillin in front of a rowdy audience at their nearby Barclays Center in Brooklyn, secured his rise and the WBA’s secondary belt at 160lbs. For the softly spoken Jacobs, the victory completed a miraculous turnaround as only years earlier, the wheels on his battle bus were punctured when doctors diagnosed him with cancer and told Jacobs he would never fight again.
“When you get that news then everything stands still for a few seconds but I knew I was going to fight again despite what anyone told me,” Jacobs reveals to Boxing News. “Boxing had to get moved into the background as my recovery and family came first for a long time, but I told anyone who listened that I’d fight again and people were like, ‘Daniel, let’s just get you better and we’ll see what’s what.’ My first time back in the gym when I felt a little better, I was working out using a walking stick and everyone was like, ‘Take it easy’ but I had to get back in the gym.”
Jacobs’ resilience, he says, was instilled in him by the tough Bedford Stuyvesant district of his beloved Brooklyn that nurtured rap icons and fight kings in equal measure. A creature of the streets until boxing found him in his late teens, the young New Yorker excelled at his chosen pastime, rehashing the familiar, clichéd tale of sport saving lives.
A competent amateur boasting over 100 fights and an array of national titles, Jacobs’ signature was highly sought-after on the East Coast but ultimately Oscar De La Hoya’s LA-based Golden Boy Promotions won the race. Golden Boy had their “Golden Child” and laid out before him a path to world titles.
“That was a move that p***ed off a lot of guys on the East Coast who had ideas that they were going to sign me up,” Jacobs reflects. “But Golden Boy had so much going for them and to have my debut on the Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton undercard [in 2007] was the stuff of dreams and it’s something I’ll never forget. Straight from the outset I was fighting on big shows and there are not many young fighters who are given opportunities like that so you have to make the most of them.”
The stellar events became a regular fixture for Jacobs, a series of impressive performances supporting boxing’s elder statesmen such as Manny Pacquiao, Jermain Taylor and Joe Calzaghe enhancing both his profile and his bank balance. The unbeaten New Yorker’s slate sustained an almighty dent, however, when Jacobs ran into an older, less heralded prospect in Russia’s Dimitry Pirog, for the vacant WBO title in the summer of 2010.
Jacobs enjoyed some success through the fight’s first quarter but the resilient Pirog eventually found enough of Jacobs to end the contest with a sickening thud. As the count tolled ‘four’ the referee made a sensible decision to halt proceedings, despite cries of “I’m good” from the fallen victim. The expectation that had smothered Jacobs since making his professional bow eased, but in the aftermath regret took centre stage.
“To this day, I don’t even know why I took that fight and went through with it,” he recalls. “My grandmother died so close to that fight and there was so much family business; I was telling myself that I was winning that for her but my mind was in such a state that I didn’t even know what was happening. That woman helped raise me and was such an important part of my life and I had every intention of winning that world title for her but it ended up being a huge mistake and one that I paid dearly for. It taught me so many lessons but it was such a crushing way to learn them.”
A couple of fights to erase the Pirog setback followed, but outside the ring the trials continued as Danny’s battle with cancer became relentless. Aided by cutting-edge medicine and a vast support, the “Golden Child” morphed into the “Miracle Man”, making a full recovery. Jacobs was now ready to build on his initial fame and success.
“My comeback at the Barclays Center was quite possibly the best thing ever,” Jacobs enthused. “Al Haymon was taking care of things more at this stage and even though he’d been with me for the large part of my career, this was a big deal. To have my comeback in Brooklyn in a brand new arena that the people of this area had waited so long for was something really special. There were plenty of nerves from me that night and a lot of people who would have preferred it if I never boxed again but it had to be done. I wasn’t just there to have one fight. I wanted the world title.”
Jacobs was infused with desire. The ascent to the middleweight summit brought wins over tried and tested campaigners such as Jarrod Fletcher and Sergio Mora, but Danny’s ultimate glory was staged at home as Jacobs returned to Brooklyn to face Quillin for a sliver of the world title. Back on the ‘Bedstuy’ streets where he once dreamed of emulating neighbourhood peers such as Mike Tyson and Zab Judah, his desire was evident when he destroyed Quillin in just 85 seconds.
“Once he was hurt, there was no way I was letting up on him and I was ready to give him a serious kicking,” Jacobs’ explains, somewhat colourfully. “Watch Quillin in fights and you see that he has a great deal of recuperation powers so if I was to ease up and take my time then I would’ve basically been allowing him back in the fight. I jumped on him immediately and kept throwing and throwing and eventually it was all over. The crowd at ringside were going crazy for me and a part of me was desperate to be in the crowd with them so I could just be with my family and my people.”
A Sergio Mora rematch is next for Jacobs, but he is happy to cast his eyes further afield in a fascinating division. “In the UK you have Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank,” Jacobs outlines. “Billy is a serious boxer with a sharp brain and his performance against Andy Lee was one that required a lot of discipline because of the early knockdowns that Lee suffered. It would’ve been easy to jump on him but he risked Lee landing a big shot and Lee is a serious puncher who’s come from behind before.
“Chris and his dad both seem like good guys and the father does quite a bit to keep the sport professional and you can tell he’s big on sportsmanship. Young Chris is still learning but I see him as someone who could be at the top. I’d fight either of these guys and definitely believe I’d have more than enough.”
Gennady Golovkin, the division ruler, who defends against IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook next month, received Jacobs’ greatest praise: “Right now, there’s a throne and Golovkin sits on it. That’s where I want to be at. He’s looking impressive every fight and he’s fighting regularly and that is a big advantage to have. Do I think I can beat him? Of course I can beat him but I’ve got to go into that fight at 100 per cent knowing I can beat him and I think I’ll be there after maybe one or two more fights. It’s a fight I’d take in 2017 and I’d be confident in myself if it came off.”
Perennially linked to Golovkin is Canelo Alvarez, an elite operator who Jacobs knows well from their shared GBP apprenticeship. Despite following a similar educational path, Jacobs cut deep when discussing his old stablemate: “What is this guy’s problem? Who on earth does he think he is? He wants to call himself the middleweight champion and then make the fight at 155lbs? If you want to be a middleweight then fight at the goddamn weight and stop looking to take every little advantage you can. Boxing shouldn’t be about that but it’s starting to become a problem and I can see it getting worse. We need the good guys to be fighting each other and that’s what I want to be a part of. I’ve given up and been through so much to get here so there’s no way that another fighter is going to scare me.”
Jacobs has repeatedly defied the odds to reach his current standing. Overcoming an environment handicapped by social and economic factors, before rallying once again to defeat an illness hellbent on obliterating him, Jacobs may well regard the opportunity to excel against his divisional counterparts as easy work, considering the perilous path he has walked. Focusing solely on boxing, Jacobs has far sterner tests to pass, but the outcome of those contests will never tell the true story of Jacobs’ fighting spirit. The gridded blocks of the Big Apple have donated some astonishing stories to boxing’s inspiring anthology, but ‘The Miracle of Danny Jacobs’ may yet be the most incredible of all.