By Ryan Maquiñana
More than a year before his triumphant return to the ring last Saturday at Barclays Center—a first-round knockout of Josh Luteran on Saturday night—native Brooklynite Daniel Jacobs had already defeated his most daunting opponent of all.
“I just want to be the face of hope,” said Jacobs (23-1, 20 KOs). “I really want to say that my reasons for doing this now are different than when I started out. My reason is to really inspire as many people as I can because everyone is affected by cancer.”
After being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of spinal cancer, Jacobs’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he was paralyzed. But the 25-year-old former world title challenger refused to throw in the towel in one of the most remarkable comebacks the sport has ever seen.
“It’s the closest thing to hell that I can possibly think of, but during that time of my recovery, I’ve had my ups and downs,” he added. “I’ve had my points where I didn’t think I could [recover], but ultimately, I knew that one day I would prosper and be in the ring, and with the [Barclays] in mind, I knew it was going to be this day.”
Following his victory, the perpetually gracious Jacobs spoke to BoxingScene.com about his arduous journey, his latest experience in the squared circle, and his future plans.
BoxingScene.com: Congratulations on the victory, Danny. Take us through how it felt inside. Were you nervous, excited, a little bit of both?
Daniel Jacobs: I feel amazing right now to come out and hear the crowd, come out and feel that electricity go through my body. I came out to Kanye West’s “Stronger” so that song represents me. When I came out I was just like, ‘OK, I’m going to perform,’ and when that bell rung, I just had that beast in me, that year and a half worth of frustration in me, and I just let it out. I think it was a minute, 30 seconds, and he was gone.
BoxingScene.com: I know it was brief, but at any point during the fight, from the ringwalk to the fight itself, did you even reflect for a split second on what you’ve done to get here? It must have been surreal.
Daniel Jacobs: I didn’t think about that during the ringwalk or during the fight. After the fight, when I got on my knees, I thanked God for this opportunity. All those emotions of being on a hospital bed, all the emotions of being told I couldn’t do this, it was like a sigh of relief. And when I thanked God, it was just like ‘Ah, now I can do what I love to do.’ It was an amazing feeling.
BoxingScene.com: Recovering from spinal cancer, can you give the fans a window on what it was like on a day-to-day basis? You were close to paralysis and I’m sure boxing was the last thing on your mind when you were initially diagnosed.
Daniel Jacobs: (Laughs) Close to paralyzed?
BoxingScene.com: Right, let me rephrase that. I meant to say permanently paralyzed.
Daniel Jacobs: (Laughs) Oh yes. It’s the closest thing to hell that I can possibly think of but during that time of my recovery, I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had my points where I didn’t think I could do it, but ultimately, I knew that one day I would prosper and be in the ring, and with the [Barclays] in mind, I knew it was going to be this day.
This was motivation to one day be on this card. I didn’t know I was going to be on the first card, but God blessed me to where I could perform on this historical card, so it just means the world to me to be able to perform and to give a spectacular knockout my first time back.
BoxingScene.com: What was the role of your family and friends during the whole ordeal, and what was it like for you to see them cheer you on?
Daniel Jacobs: My family and friends—it’s self-explanatory. They’ve been with me through my ups and my downs, and most importantly, during this recovery time, they’ve been my number one support team, so when I got a chance to see them, I just got happy, because I understand what they’re going through and how they feel at that moment.
And when I knocked [Luteran] out, I remember looking over, and even my son was like, ‘Go Daddy!’ Everyone was just cheerful and that moment meant the world to me to see them happy, because they know exactly what I went through during the time that I did.
BoxingScene.com: You have a story that transcends the sport. What message do you think your story will send not only to people with cancer, but those without it as well?
Daniel Jacobs: Really, I just want to be the face of hope. I really want to say that my reasons for doing this now are different than when I started out. My reason is to really inspire as many people as I can because everyone is affected by cancer. Whether or not you actually have cancer, you might know someone that’s affected by cancer. So for me to battle that and overcome it, gives people hope.
I remember a friend telling me about a couple weeks ago, and I hadn’t seen him in awhile, he had cancer. He was getting radiation, and he had like lost half of his face from radiation, and when he had seen one of my stories on the news, he had said, ‘You inspire me.’ That meant the world to me. It’s moments like that I live for.
BoxingScene.com: What’s next for Danny Jacobs?
Daniel Jacobs: I don’t know. I want to be able to stay active. I want to be able get into the ring as soon as possible. Eventually, we want to shake the rust out and step up to better competition, but right now, that’s the plan.
BoxingScene.com: How did you feel fighting at 160 [pounds] again?
Daniel Jacobs: I’m staying at 160 [pounds]. I weighed in at 161. I already made weight. The fight was scheduled at 165. I made that three weeks ago, so we lowered it to 162, so 160 I’ll be campaigning for awhile.
BoxingScene.com: With everything you’ve endured, it’s almost unbelievable that you’re still only 25. How does it feel knowing that you’ve been given a second chance at life, much less boxing?
Daniel Jacobs: I really feel like even though I’m so young, I feel like God is living through me and giving me a message to project to the world, and I feel like I’m here for a purpose. Even being so young, I really feel like I’m for a reason, and I’m just doing my job.
BoxingScene.com: Thank you so much for taking time out to talk to us before you go out and celebrate. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans?
Daniel Jacobs: Thank you to everyone for all the support. Before all of this happened, I was known as “The Golden Child.” Now you can call me “The Miracle Man.”
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.