By Thomas Gerbasi
BROOKLYN - To those outside of his native Brooklyn, Daniel Jacobs is that guy who beat cancer and went on to win a portion of the middleweight title. And that’s okay. It’s a feel good story of the highest order, and if he walked away from the sport today, a Hollywood treatment of Jacobs’ most harrowing fight and most important victory wouldn’t be out of the question.
But to those who make their home in Kings County, or who were there when Jacobs was winning New York Golden Gloves titles and dominating the amateur scene, the end game was always going to be different. If anything, Jacobs’ destiny wasn’t to become a world champion, but to eventually be one of the sport’s all-time greats.
At 29 years old, there’s still time. But it all starts with March 18 and a date with Gennady Golovkin. And no one knows that better than Jacobs. Last Thursday, as he met with the media at the Brooklyn Nets practice facility, I reminded him of those days when DVDs of his amateur outings were routinely handed around the boxing community, accompanied with the feeling that you were seeing something special, a boxer who was going to transcend the sport.
Sure, it hasn’t happened on the schedule we thought it was going to back then, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.
“You see I’ve got a big smile on my face because that’s what I crave,” Jacobs said. “I crave for people to see the real Daniel Jacobs. Not saying those knockouts were fake – oh, those knockouts were real, all of them, all me. (Laughs) But at the same time, I spent my entire amateur career putting a skill together. I want the whole world to be able to see it and not just view me as a contender or number two. I’m an A-class fighter. I’m a world championship level type of guy, and I have the skills to match it. So yes, I’m waiting to show the world exactly what I have in store.”
To get there, he has to defeat the boogeyman.
A smiling assassin whose 36-0 (33 KOs) record has taken him from unknown to superstar, Kazakhstan’s Golovkin is the man the big names go out of their way to avoid. For Jacobs to say that he wanted to fight “GGG” was impressive enough. To sign on the dotted line proved his mettle. Then again, guys who knock out cancer, like Jacobs did in 2011, aren’t often intimidated by opponents with gloves on, even if he does admit that the day after St. Patrick’s Day will be one where he may have to go to places he hasn’t been to before.
“Sometimes you have to make fights rough, sometimes you have to go in there and overcome what seems to be impossible to some,” Jacobs said. “But if you believe in yourself and believe in your ability, which I do, I think all will go well. Will there be some challenges? Of course. Will there be some hurdles I have to jump over? Of course. But that ain’t nothing that I ain’t been going through already. This is my life. I come from Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. My life has always been back against the wall, take that leap of faith, believe in yourself. And for the most part, that’s how it’s been. And I’ve always come out on top.”
It always comes back to Brooklyn for Jacobs, and not just because he’ll be representing the Brooklyn Boxing brand in Madison Square Garden this March. He was born and raised in Brownsville, where the neighborhood motto “Never ran, never will” tells you all you need to know. It’s the place that created Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Zab Judah, Shannon Briggs, Curtis Stevens and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. But those are the names you know. There are countless other names you will never hear, lost to the streets that can swallow up a young man with potential. Jacobs was going to make sure you knew his name.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here if I grew up on the Upper East Side,” he laughed when asked if he would be here today if he grew up in one of NYC’s priciest zip codes. “Brownsville has molded me into the gentleman that I am today for numerous reasons. I can go on and on about what I learned from that community, but ultimately, as a man, I can say Brownsville taught me love, how to care, how to be real, how to take no s**t and put the important things first.”
Important things include family, good friends and good health. Heading into the biggest fight of his boxing career, he has all three, and if you believe in fate, Jacobs is finally at the right place at the right time.
“This is a special time,” he said. “Madison Square Garden. Pay-Per-View. The biggest fight that could be made in the middleweight division. What more could you ask for?”
He could ask for a win, but he knows that’s not up to fate. That’s up to him, and he’s determined not to let any boogeyman take that away from him.
“In the amateurs, when the lineup in a tournament is already set up and you see that you’re going to fight this guy, then you might have this guy in the semifinals or this guy in the finals, you’re like, ‘Man, this is gonna be a tough challenge,’” Jacobs said. “You’re used to that, you’re human. But at the same time, it’s about rising to the occasion and all the greats always rise to the occasion, even being under that pressure, feeling those nerves. In so many different circumstances, you have to rise to the occasion, and I think I’ve been able to do that very well.”