By Jake Donovan
It seems that Daniel Jacobs has been forced to spend the prime years of his career overcoming adversity. His most recent triumphs – which extend far beyond the ring – go a long way in rewarding him with 2012 Comeback of the Year honors.
Two years ago, Jacobs was an unbeaten middleweight who was a win away from realizing his dream of capturing a major title. In the days leading up to his vacant title fight with Dmitry Pirog, a different kind of obstacle stood before him – contending with the loss of his grandmother and caretaker.
Jacobs vowed an uplifting performance in his grandmother’s honor, but instead suffered the first loss of his career when Pirog iced him in five rounds.
It was unclear where his career would go from there, but the Brooklynite remained upbeat. Two wins followed, both taking place off-camera and against sub .500 competition. Not much was thought of the comeback following his second win in March ’11.
More attention was paid to his career two months later, though for reasons that had nothing to do with his in-ring progress. Jacobs was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer, after a tumor was discovered on his spine. Multiple surgeries were required to remove all remains of the tumor, but left him weakened and unable to walk.
“I remember feeling a weakness in my legs. It felt like they were on pins and needles,” Jacobs recalled of his condition at the time.
Still, his mind was made up. There was no way in hell that he would never again fight. The thought never crossed his mind, even as his condition went from bad to worse.
“I had to walk around on a cane. That’s how severe it was at the time. The cane then turned into crutches. The crutches eventually then turned into a wheelchair. I was paralyzed. Eventually, they told me that I would never box again.”
Hearing those words only made Jacobs more determined to prove the doubters – and modern science – dead wrong. Two weeks after he was released from the hospital, the once-beaten middleweight was back in the gym, well in advance of the time period prescribed by physicians for activity of any kind and while he was still walking around with a limp.
Fast forward to October 2012, where Jacobs was given the most befitting homecoming in a heroic ring return in his native Brooklyn.
Plans were long ago in place for Golden Boy Promotions to stage a boxing series at the Barclays Center, the new home to the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets. Builders had barely broken ground on the Flatbush site when its first show had Jacobs tabbed as its headliner.
That was prior to his loss to Pirog. From there, Golden Boy continued to reshuffle the deck until finally coming up with what it thought was the best way to introduce boxing to the building. Jacobs’ appearance on the card wasn’t the headlining act, but was undoubtedly the everlasting moment to come of the evening.
It was an emotional moment for the fighter and the passionate crowd on hand, as Jacobs made his way to the ring for the first time in 19 months.
The song choice for his ring entrance was Kanye West’s ‘Stronger.’ The 73 seconds of in-ring action proved as much, dispatching Josh Luteran in the first round of a fight whose stand-up-and-cheer moment came long before the opening bell.
“Just being from Brooklyn to fight on the first night of the Brooklyn show (at Barclays Center), it just feels great,” Jacobs said after the fight, which aired live on Showtime Extreme.
Anxious to make up for lost time, the middleweight hopeful was back in the ring just six weeks later, this time in a different part of New York.
Jacobs’ bout with Chris Fitzpatrick served as the televised opener of a Showtime tripleheader live from Madison Square Garden in New York City. The evening’s headliner saw Miguel Cotto suffer his first ever loss at the venue as he was outboxed by Austin Trout over 12 rounds. Approximately 90 minutes prior, Jacobs scored his second win of the year, this time going a little deeper as it took five rounds to get rid of Fitzpatrick.
The next ring appearance is currently scheduled for February 9, back at the Barclays Center. An opponent has yet to be determined. No matter who is selected, it can’t pose any greater of a challenge than what it took for Jacobs to ever again walk on his own, never mind into a ring.
“To be able to take control of your destiny, it’s priceless,” Jacobs said of his triumphant return to the sport back in October.
The moment itself is priceless, but the journey comes with more than its share of rewards. One of which is recognition by Boxingscene.com as the 2012 Comeback of the Year.
HONORABLE MENTION (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Arthur Abraham – The former middleweight titlist crawled into the semifinals of the Super Six tournament merely by default and was rightfully given no chance against Andre Ward. Many believed his participation in the tournament – where he suffered all three of his career losses, in the span of 14 months – ruined his career, but Abraham reloaded in 2012, and in a big way. Four wins came of the year, including a title-lifting effort over Robert Stieglitz during the summer.
Alfredo Angulo – The past year saw two comebacks rolled into one for Angulo. The year began with the free-swinging Mexican still coming to grips with his devastating knockout loss to James Kirkland in Nov. 2011. That would become the least of his worries, as he spent seven months in a detention center in California due to immigration issues. Angulo was released in August – three days after his 30th birthday – and enjoyed an emotional ring return in November, knocking out Raul Casarez in less than a minute. He next fight – a 10-round decision win over Jorge Silva – proved a far more grueling task, though still far more satisfying than his first eight months of the year.
Johnriel Casimero – It was a rough two years for Casimero to reclaim status as an alphabet titlist, but the 22-year old overcame all sorts of adversity to make it happen. The precocious junior flyweight scored two big wins this year, both on the road. The worse of the two was his trip to Argentina, when he had to overcome the dirty tactics of Luis Lazarte in scoring a 10th round stoppage, then surviving one of the worst post-fight riots in recent history. A member of Lazarte’s corner when after Casimero at fight’s end, immediately after which fans began flinging chairs into the ring while rioting in the crowd. Casimero and his handlers barely escaped, though he showed no fear in traveling to Mexico six months later. The split decision win over Pedro Guevara helped exorcise past demons, having lost his first title to Ramon Garcia in Mexico two years prior.
Orlando Cruz – The Puerto Rican southpaw continues to pick up the pieces following back-to-back knockout losses in late ’09/early ‘10. Three straight wins have followed (all televised on Telemundo), including two in 2012. His 12-round unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos in October came with a swarm of coverage, in large part to his making his alternative lifestyle public knowledge. The announcement made Cruz the first known active gay boxer, though his in-ring accomplishments are what have resuscitated his career.
Danny Green –Back-to-back knockout losses in 2011 left the brash Aussie dejected and talking retirement. Like most boxers, Green ignored his own advice, which proved to be for the better in this instance. Neither of his two wins in 2012 – a fifth round knockout over Danny Santiago and a 12-round decision win over Shane Cameron – mean much in the grand scheme of things, but offered some semblance of proof that there is still some air left in the soon to be 40-year old’s tires.
Scott Harrison – Perhaps the most bizarre entry on the list, as the year began and ended with Harrison once again landing on the wrong side of the law. The long-troubled Scot spent more than six years away from the ring due to legal troubles and alcoholism, and saw this year’s comeback plans twice postponed before finally enjoying a triumphant return with a 4th round knockout win of previously unbeaten prospect Gyorgy Mizsei Jr in late June. Harrison enjoyed two wins on the year and was hoping for a third fight on Dec. 1, but the 35-year old was sentenced to four years in a Spanish prison this past November in a case stemming from assault charges in Sept. ’07.
Paul Malignaggi – So little was thought of Malignaggi’s three wins in 2011 that it hardly rated as a notable comeback. The Brooklynite had lost three of his previous five and saw his career in a tailspin before a water-treading campaign last year. Things changed for the better in 2012, in large part to his stoppage win over Vyacheslav Senchenko on the road in Ukraine. The win looked even better in retrospect when Senchenko derailed the planned comeback of Ricky Hatton in late November, though ironically also killing Malignaggi’s chances of a seven-figure payday that would have come with a rematch with the wildly popular Brit. A controversial points win over Pablo Cano was met with mixed emotions, though planted the seed for future showings at the Barclays Center.
Gabriel Rosado – The Philly middleweight resumed his spoiler ways in 2012. Rosado scored three knockout wins – all coming in his home state of Pennsylvania - to transform from gatekeeper to title contender while becoming a staple of the NBC Sports Network Fight Night series in the process. Stoppage wins over Jesus Soto Karass, Sechew Powell and Charles Whittaker paved the way for a long-sought title shot. He remains a considerable underdog in his Jan. 19 challenge against unbeaten middleweight Gennady Golovkin, but that he made it to this point at all is a testament to the 2012 campaign he enjoyed.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox