By Thomas Gerbasi
When you’ve been through what Daniel Jacobs has over the course of his 30 years on this Earth, nothing happens without a reason or lesson attached to it. In his world, there are no accidents. He didn’t survive Brownsville by chance, conquering cancer wasn’t luck, and when he faces Gennady Golovkin this Saturday, it’s a metaphor for something bigger, something he can give to his eight-year-old son Nathaniel.
And that may be worth more than any championship belt.
“I hope my son takes away that no matter how the odds are stacked up against you, if you believe in yourself you don’t need anyone to say you can do it. As long as you can believe in yourself, you can accomplish what seems to be the most impossible thing in the world.” – Daniel Jacobs.
When Jacobs turned back cancer and returned to the boxing ring in 2012, it was the impossible dream realized, a victory over a foe that almost always had its hand raised. Yet to many in the boxing world, beating Golovkin is an even more imposing challenge. When told of the odds against him shortly after the bout was announced last December, he laughed.
“That’s pretty bad, right?”
Nothing has happened since then to change the minds of the doubters, with the main argument being that Golovkin’s power is too much for a guy who was knocked out by Dmitry Pirog.
“I’ve been hearing it so much it’s kind of amusing now because I understand that I am a complete 180 from the fighter I was then – mentally, physically, all across the board,” Jacobs said. “In any way you can possibly grow, I’ve grown from that fight. I haven’t received a loss, I haven’t really been shook up like that, and this whole question about my chin, I’m not saying it’s absurd, but it’s a little far-fetched.”
Golovkin’s power is unlike anything Jacobs has tasted thus far, but the Pirog fight is also something that had extenuating circumstances attached to it, as Jacobs lost his grandmother days before the bout, leaving him far from ready mentally to tackle a world-class foe. But even if chalked up to a perfect punch landing at the perfect time, it still was a fight that happened over six years ago, a bit of a disservice to Jacobs when nearly no one goes back to Golovkin’s roughest moments as a pro against Kassim Ouma nearly six years ago.
“Any time a critic can’t criticize your skill or what you bring to the table, they’ll try to find any little thing,” Jacobs said. “And with Golovkin’s power, it’s expected that that will be the thing that they’ll go to, a fight that was six years ago. I understand it. But I’ll always ask this question when they ask me that: if you’re 30, when you were 22, were you the same person that you are now. And they’ll say, ‘No, I’m a completely better person.’ Exactly. You just answered the question. I’m a completely different fighter and I’ve grown in the sport. I’ve got that experience and you can’t overlook that stuff.”
Jacobs doesn’t overlook it, and it gives him confidence that what has transpired since the Pirog fight, both in and out of the ring, has made him better. And if you don’t believe him, he doesn’t mind.
“I can’t think that I’m gonna be exempt from criticism.”
Those critics won’t be in the ring on Saturday. So they really don’t matter.
Another thing I want him to know is that his dad is willing to go through the most extreme situations to make a better life for him. Me growing up, I never really had the best type of father that I’ve always wanted, and that’s just making me want to be the best dad that I can possibly be. So when it’s all said and done and my career is over and we reflect on those things, all these things will be so that my son can have the best opportunities. Having an amazing childhood, going to college, and growing up to be a fine young man. – Daniel Jacobs
If a fighter calls Brownsville his home, there is an immediate assumption that he is someone to look out for. From Mike Tyson and Zab Judah to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Riddick Bowe, the 11212 zip code means something in the world of boxing.
For a time when he was tearing through the amateur ranks, Jacobs was going to be the greatest boxer to come out of one of Brooklyn’s roughest neighborhoods. Should he beat Golovkin, that talk could start up again. But for now, Jacobs’ road to greatness has been derailed by Pirog, cancer, and the specter of the smiling killer from Kazakhstan.
But fighters fight, and the beauty of boxing is that one victory can change a career. So to give himself the best opportunity to get that victory, Jacobs left Brooklyn, Nathaniel, and his girlfriend Natalie Stevens to train in Oakland.
“This being one of the biggest fights of my career and the biggest fight that could be made in boxing, I just didn’t really want to be subjected to so much press or being available to do this or that,” he said. “I just wanted to get away from my distractions and anything that could take me away from the focus I’m trying to get.”
That took care of his mental preparation. Physically, there is the puzzle of Golovkin, a fighter who mixes the traditional European style with power from unorthodox angles, accuracy, and an underrated mean streak. In the best of situations, he is a nightmare matchup. But in Brooklyn and Oakland, Jacobs has been no stranger to work with some of Eastern Europe’s best, and as such, he is better prepared for GGG than most have been.
“The mixture that these guys bring to the table makes up the complete identity of GGG,” Jacobs said. “I have an impressive, come-forward type of fighter. I also have a European style, standup offensive fighter, and we’ve got another guy working with us that’s also bringing the full spectrum of what this guy has. So being with these guys in Brooklyn and having that experience already and just bringing them out here with me, it’s given me that perfect look to get acclimated to that style. And with my experience of adjusting to certain situations and styles as well, I’m naturally gifted at that. I’m a man now. I’m not gonna be pushed back, I’m not gonna be mentally defeated and all these things that I’ve seen other fighters go through. I just think I’m a completely different fighter.”
He also knows Madison Square Garden like few fighters do. Sure, Golovkin has graced the ring at MSG or the Theater four times, but the Mecca is a second home for Jacobs, whether as a Golden Gloves boxer or a professional. And when you take the unknown out of the biggest fight of your career, it becomes just a fight. And Daniel Jacobs is pretty good in a fight.
“I’ve walked that walk before, been in that same dressing room before, and it’s not unfamiliar territory to me,” he said. “I have the experience of being there, and not being in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar situation or place will allow me to be that much more confident. I know he has experience in the Garden as well, but knowing that I’m the New York guy and I have my fans, my family and my friends cheering me on, it will give me that much more confidence and boost me like Super Mario when he bulks up. (Laughs) It will make me into a super hero.
“He’s not going to understand all the sacrifices that daddy had to make until he gets a little older, but for me, this has so much meaning because when you don’t grow up with a great dad and you don’t have that, all you want to do is give it to your child, so I’m sure he’ll appreciate it once he gets older and understands it.” – Daniel Jacobs
Daniel Jacobs is already a super hero to his son, Nathaniel. He doesn’t even need the WBA middleweight title belt he holds or the other belts he can take from Gennady Golovkin this weekend to have that status.
The reason why is simple. To Nathaniel, he’s just dad, and when you’re a present father, it means everything to a child. And it’s clear that Jacobs and Stevens are raising a fine young man. For proof, refer to the recent feature on Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports program, when Nathaniel was asked about his father’s battle with cancer.
“I felt like that should have been me instead of him,” he said. “Because I didn’t want my daddy to be in pain.”
Upon hearing that, there was no question that Jacobs has already won. If he gets his hand raised on Saturday night, that’s a bonus. But it’s one Brownsville’s finest wants to cash in, and after several face-to-face meetings with Golovkin, he knows that his time has come, but it doesn’t mean anything without the hard work which is the greatest gift he has taught his son.
“I think every time a fighter physically looks at another fighter, he sizes them up, sees what they have,” Jacobs said. “That normally doesn’t tell all the story, but nine times out of ten, fighters do it and put together certain things from that, whether it’s ‘Oh, this guy isn’t that big,’ or ‘He won’t be able to reach me,’ or other things. That’s just what boxers do. But as a professional, I know none of that stuff really matters because at the end of the day it’s all about preparation and making sure that you’re ready for the best and biggest test.”