By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Daniel Jacobs understands why what happened the night of July 31, 2010, shapes skeptics’ opinions of how he’ll fare against Gennady Golovkin.
The lone blemish on Jacobs’ professional record is indisputable. Russia’s Dmitry Pirog stopped Jacobs in the fifth round of their WBO middleweight title fight that night nearly seven years ago in Las Vegas, for all the boxing world to see.
Jacobs can’t change that fact. And nothing he has accomplished since losing to Pirog eliminates that doubt about Jacobs’ chin entering a dangerous fight Saturday night against one of boxing’s most powerful, punishing punchers.
Not the incredible courage and determination Jacobs displayed while conquering cancer in 2011 and 2012. Not the first-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Brooklyn rival Peter Quillin in December 2015. Not the 12-fight knockout streak Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs) will take into the Madison Square Garden ring against Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs).
The predominant prediction is that, for all Jacobs’ power and skill, he is destined to become Golovkin’s latest knockout victim in a middleweight title fight that can’t last 12 rounds (HBO Pay-Per-View; $64.95 in HD).
“I can see how people would say given the fact that he’s never been down or never been hurt, from what we’ve seen,” Jacobs said, “it would be easy to kind of say, “Well, if anyone would go, Jacobs would go.’ I could see how people would say that. But like I said, this is a sport where you have to continuously prove yourself. So no matter what the past is, no matter what people might say, it’s really up to me to go in there and do the job.”
The 30-year-old Jacobs just hopes those heavily favoring Golovkin over him realize that he wasn’t at all equipped to go in there and do the job the night he opposed Pirog.
The cancer-related death of the WBA world middleweight champion’s grandmother, Cordelia Jacobs, a week before he fought Pirog left Jacobs an unfocused, emotional mess entering what was then the biggest fight of his career. In hindsight, Jacobs believes he should’ve pulled out of the Pirog fight.
The former New York Golden Gloves champion feels he had no business being in a boxing ring that night, let alone against an undefeated, powerful fighter like Pirog.
“That was a horrible time for me, mentally,” Jacobs said. “My grandmother, she was like my mom. She was the one I stayed with growing up – she was that one. Fighting at that time, the toughest test of my career, for a world championship, and then actually seeing my grandmother pass away, having to fly out to the fight the next day then just fight three days later, I just wasn’t really mature enough to really take that on and kind of grieve the way a normal person is supposed to. It was the toughest time. A lot of people really can’t fathom the fact that I couldn’t be in the [right] mental state and couldn’t be Daniel Jacobs and be sharp.
“But I was a young man. I was a kid, you know? And having to fly back, the next day after a loss – the next day, straight from the fight, I went to the airport to get on a plane and go to New York City, where I could see my grandmother be laid to rest the next day. So that was a tough time for me. But that definitely made me better. Mentally, it made me stronger and I’ve seen the growth and I’ve learned from it. I’m not saying I’m glad that those things happened, but when [terrible] things like that happen, it only makes you stronger and you find out who you really are when your back is against the wall.”
Jacobs, then 23, was beating Pirog by the same score on all three cards (39-37) when Pirog drilled Jacobs with a perfect right hand on the chin, which ended their fight in the fifth round. More questions about Jacobs’ chin arose once Sergio Mora dropped a careless Jacobs in the first round of their August 2015 fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
After flooring Mora in the first round, Jacobs went down from Mora’s counter left hook later in that round. It was a flash knockdown, from which Jacobs recovered to drop Mora again in the second round, when the fight was stopped because Mora suffered an ankle injury while falling to the canvas a second time.
Jacobs dominated Mora in their rematch September 9 in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Jacobs scored five knockdowns on his way to a seventh-round technical knockout victory.
The damage to Jacobs’ image had been done, however, the second he hit the canvas during their first fight against an opponent who isn’t considered a puncher.
“For some reason I just feel like I’ve given people the false impression that I can’t take a punch,” Jacobs said. “I’ve taken great shots. I’ve sparred light heavyweights, heavyweights – I’ve sparred all different kinds of guys. I wouldn’t say I’ve taken shots, but I’ve taken some good shots from some really strong guys. And I know what’s inside me. With the Sergio Mora fight, it just was a mistake, really, going in, trying to swing wildly at the time that I had him hurt and I got caught at the perfect time. It just was an off-balance type of shot. So yeah, this illusion has been created to the public that Daniel Jacobs can’t take a shot.
“You know, it’s fine by me. If anybody wanna come test that, then that’s what the job is to do when we’re inside that square ring. But I know I’m gonna be fully prepared. And for a guy that you know can punch [Golovkin], you’re gonna be aware of those things. You’re gonna have your defense tight and you’re not gonna come in carelessly. And you’re not gonna do the little mistakes that you’ve probably done in the past. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, really showing the world – I mean, I don’t wanna take a shot, but if I was to take one, I’m pretty sure I would embrace it a lot better than in previous fights before.”
Pirog’s punch knocked Jacobs flat on his back. He hadn’t attempted to get up by the time referee Robert Byrd counted to five, which made Byrd wave an end to the fight.
A seemingly coherent Jacobs immediately protested Byrd’s stoppage, as if he was waiting for Byrd to reach a certain point in the count before getting up to continue. Jacobs’ reaction proved to be too little, too late, something he laments to this day.
“If you go back to the fight, I mean, you can see me clearly begging to get up [to] the referee,” Jacobs said. “I took my time getting up. Yeah, I was hurt. But it wasn’t to the point where I would consider myself knocked out. That was the first time that I have ever seen a world championship fight where a referee pushed the fighter back down and said, ‘No, you can’t get up,’ and, ‘No, you can’t continue.’ I mean, this was at the count of what, four or five?
“I mean, this is a world championship fight. So I could argue that, which I get tired of, I can argue that until your ears pop off. But at the end of the day, I have the skills, I have matured, I have grown, and that’s really what I’m looking forward to. We can talk, we can get off to specifics, we can talk about this, we can talk about that. But at the end of the day, it’s all about March 18th. We don’t know what’s going to happen on March 18th. I’m highly, highly, 100-percent confident in my ability, in what I can do and causing what people will consider an upset.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.