By Mitch Abramson
Danny Jacobs knew he wasn’t right in the head.
He could tell he was in emotional disarray when he fought for a world title in 2010.
His grandmother, Cordelia Jacobs, who helped raise him, died a week before the bout, leaving Jacobs brokenhearted, unable to concentrate on the task at hand.
The result wasn’t all that unexpected given his emotional frame of mind.
Jacobs was decked by a right hand by little known Dmitry Pirog and stopped in the fifth round, keeping the Brownsville native from picking up the vacant WBO middleweight title.
Now, Jacobs has a second chance to win a world championship, and again he finds himself coming to terms with the emotional tug of losing someone close to his heart.
When Jacobs (27-1, 24 knockouts) challenges Jarrod Fletcher (18-1, 10 knockouts) for the vacant WBA middleweight title Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Showtime as part of a triple-header, it will come less than a year since his first trainer and close friend, Victor Roundtree died from complications related to diabetes on Oct. 3. Roundtree was just 52.
Jacobs admits he still struggles with Roundtree’s death to the point that he tries to avoid any reference to Roundtree- who also trained him as a professional- with a fight approaching. His reasoning is simple and straight forward: He doesn’t want to suffer a repeat of the emotional breakdown he experienced against Pirog by thinking too much about someone he cared deeply about, he says.
“I’ve kind of dealt with Vic’s death differently than other people have,” Jacobs said on Wednesday following a public workout. “I’ve stayed away from talking to people that we both knew- mutual friends. I’ve stayed away from looking at his pictures. I’ve stayed away from just the memory of him in general because he meant so much to me. I don’t want for it to affect me now like it did before with my grandmother.”
But Jacobs also concedes he’s not the same person he was before. He’s grown, matured, experienced a change of perspective. That’s what surviving cancer will do to a person’s confidence.
“He’s a different man,” said Andre Rozier, Jacob’s current trainer, who worked in tandem with Roundtree. “He was a young man then. He’s been through the worst that anyone could have been through. He fought cancer. He won. So now he’s just on an upward climb.”
In May of 2011, Jacobs was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that caused partial paralysis in his legs.
Following several surgeries to remove a cancerous tumor and ignoring doctor’s wishes, Jacobs resumed his career, returning to stop Josh Luteran in the first round on October 20, 2012. It was the first boxing card at Barclays Center, and though there had been talk of Jacobs fighting for a title in the venue’s debut boxing card, his performance there so soon after cancer was a revelation.
Four fights later, Jacobs is back to challenging for another world title -albeit one the WBA drummed up to go with the "Super" title Gennady Golovkin owns- and he will do so with Roundtree’s name stitched on his trunks and knowing he’s better equipped to handle adversity this time around.
Jacobs will seek to become the first cancer-survivor to win a world title, he says.
“The way I dealt with my grandmother- it was very overwhelming,” Jacobs says. “But now I’m much more wiser. Now I’m much more mentally strong, so death is kind of like reality with me. It’s not like a shocker for me anymore. I feel like I have it to the point where it won’t take over my emotions,” he added. “And it won’t affect me in that ring.”
Rozier said that Jacobs deals with Roundtree’s passing in his own private way.
“Everyone handles adversity and death and sorrow in different [ways],” Rozier said. “Danny is a very ephemeral individual. And with him he’s a very emotional man. So sometimes to not have to deal with it- you don’t think about it. I mean of course we’ve lost our dearly departed Victor Roundtree and we miss him extremely. Danny is fighting for him so that’s his way of keeping Vic alive, steadfast and strong.”
He’s far exceeded what he thought was possible in his boxing comeback since being diagnosed with cancer.
“All I wanted to do was just get back into the ring,” Jacobs said. “It was beyond my mind to have a world title opportunity, almost two years later. That was far-fetched. To have this opportunity now- I kind of look at my life as if it’s a movie unfolding before my eyes and all I can do is sit back even though I’m the narrator and the author. I’m just watching how everything unfolds in amazement like everyone else.”
Jacobs said he would twirl his finger in the air before the decision is announced on Saturday, the same way Roundtree would do in the ring before a verdict was rendered.
“We definitely have to represent in that way,” Jacobs said. “And we have this little thing that we do that he used to always do- he used to always wave his finger before the announcer would announce the winner so we’re going to do that in memory of him.”
That being said, he’s still careful how he deals with the topic of Roundtree and prefers not to talk about him so close to a fight. That’s just the emotional process he has to go through to ready himself for combat, he says.
“I don’t want to chance it,” said Jacobs, who still sees a doctor every six months to make sure he’s cancer free. “And I don’t want to take those steps- talking to people [about Roundtree] and looking at pictures to where it affects me. But I am using him as motivation to get this victory.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.