As Daniel Jacobs first rose from battling a life-threatening spine tumor to become a world champion boxer, he wondered why nearly every interview and story about him concentrated so heavily on the “cancer fighter” theme.
Now, as the inspiring story of his fight to beat the illness has touched so many, Jacobs can think of no better characterization.
“I understand that the people who’ve been around [the sport] and hear it over and over again might get tired of it, but there are still millions who don’t know my story, who can still be reached, and still be inspired. I never get tired of telling my story,” Jacobs said. “My life is meaningful. I understand that. It’s bigger than just me.
“At the same time, I want to be known as a talented kid, and I think [Saturday] is my opportunity to prove that — that along with talking about the cancer, you’ve got to say Daniel Jacobs is an exceptional fighter.”
Jacobs, the secondary World Boxing Assn. middleweight champion (32-1, 29 knockouts), has said his HBO pay-per-view main event at Madison Square Garden against three-belt world champion Gennady Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) has a feel of “destiny,” after the health battle that required surgery and sidelined him through 2011-12.
Jacobs’ persistence and optimism fueled a recovery that began while he still in a wheelchair and culminated in a first-round knockout of top contender Peter Quillin and a five-knockdown destruction of former world champion Sergio Mora last year.
“I saw him in the gym with this [neck] brace on [and] he looked like Frankenstein’s monster — just needed the bolts in his neck — and he moved like he was 8,000 years old,” Jacobs’ trainer, Andre Rozier, said. “But he did some shadow boxing, and lo and behold, [months later] he won the WBA championship. From that moment, I knew he’d never be stopped.”
Regarding Golovkin, who has knocked out 23 consecutive foes, Jacobs consulted with a slew of experts in hopes of extending his own knockout streak to 13.
He and Rozier set up camp in the Bay Area to work with unbeaten light-heavyweight champion Andre Ward and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, while employing health and conditioning assistance from former Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative mastermind Victor Conte. He also employed college-educated former junior-welterweight world champion Chris Algieri as a nutritionist.
Ward, coming off a November victory over Russian Sergey Kovalev, has advised Jacobs to view Golovkin as human, not a hyped-up monster.
“Just because he’s done these things to other opponents, those guys aren’t me,” Jacobs said. “Andre [Ward] and I have had several one-on-ones and he’s even gotten up in the ring with me one time to show me some techniques I’m grateful for. I’m like a sponge.”
Jacobs understands the analysts who wonder how he’ll fare against Golovkin’s pressure and head shots, given that Dmitry Pirog stopped him in 2010 and the lighter-punching Mora knocked him down in their first 2015 meeting.
But Jacobs has faced long odds before and he is emboldened by boxing’s history of surprise showings by men with remarkable fortitude.
“That was the mentality I had when doctors told me I couldn’t box again,” he said. “I had to prove to myself it was mind over matter. This fight is going to be no different.”
“I don’t think I get the credit [for chin toughness] that I deserve. You’ve got to think back to the guys who’ve been in the same position as me, like a Buster Douglas [against Mike Tyson], Aaron Pryor against Alexis Arguello, Sugar Ray Leonard against those guys [Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler].
“It’s a mentality — the strength you have to not go down, to not be hurt when you’re hit. This is a fight I believe in. And I also believe I have to become somewhat of a superhero, a ‘Hulk’ in some sense — to have the type of mentality that when I get hit, I tell myself, ‘This doesn’t hurt, this doesn’t have to stop me from achieving my goal.’ … There’s so much pressure, anxiety, but I want to say I lived up to it.”
Topping massive adversity is Jacobs’ brand, after all, and he’s created a foundation, Getinthering.net, to inspire those with health obstacles.
“This is the pinnacle of the story,” Jacobs said. “I believe deep down in my heart that the Creator wouldn’t allow me to come this far and not allow me to be victorious.
“I’m not a real religious guy. I’m a spiritual guy and my religion is love. The thing I’ve most realized is that when people come up to me and tell me how much my story means to them, how much it was inspiration for them to see me fight through and push through with my career, I realized love is real. And there’s no greater feeling in this world, to give back and touch people.”