By Keith Idec
Daniel Jacobs seemingly should be one of boxing’s biggest stars.
The WBA world middleweight champion possesses power that has resulted in him knocking out 88 percent of his opponents since the former New York Golden Gloves champion turned pro in December 2007. Even casual boxing fans usually are drawn to punchers, and the 29-year-old Jacobs has won each of his 11 bouts by knockout or technical knockout since suffering his lone loss – a fifth-round TKO against Russia’s Dmitry Pirog in a WBO middleweight title fight six years ago.
Jacobs didn’t just overcome that devastating defeat to Pirog. He conquered cancer, an extremely admirable triumph that typically resonates with the masses.
The accessible, likeable Jacobs also is a charitable, intelligent, respectful person, a devoted father to his young son.
For some reason, though, Jacobs (31-1, 28 KOs) hasn’t become quite as big an attraction in this star-starved sport as he and many within the boxing industry believe he should be by now. On Friday night, coming off his fantastic first-round stoppage of former WBO middleweight champ Peter Quillin in his last fight, Jacobs has been relegated to headlining a Spike doubleheader from Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
A perplexed Jacobs acknowledges that his rematch against Sergio Mora (28-4-2, 9 KOs) was far from his first choice following his career-defining defeat of Quillin. Though appreciative of more television exposure Friday night, as well as the career-high $1.5 million purse he earned for facing Quillin (32-1-1, 23 KOs), Jacobs can’t comprehend why he isn’t doing bigger business than a Friday night slot on basic cable.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” Jacobs told BoxingScene.com. “When you think about superstar quality, when you think about a guy who has the potential to do all these things – I think to myself, ‘What am I not bringing to the table, not being able to sell out arenas?’ It’s frustrating because I wasn’t even able to sell out the Barclays Center when I fought Peter Quillin. Two black fighters, from Brooklyn. It had the recipe for a sellout crowd and it wasn’t sold out.”
The card headlined by Jacobs-Quillin drew an announced crowd of 8,443 to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on December 5, not even half of a sellout. That’s far from a box-office failure for this niche sport in a crowded 2016 sports marketplace. It’s not a spectacular number, either.
Jacobs believes race is at least partially a factor in keeping him at a particular level. That said, contemporary black fighters such as Terence Crawford (Omaha, Nebraska), Deontay Wilder (Birmingham, Alabama) and Ward (Oakland, California) have become legitimate ticket-sellers in and around their hometowns.
Consequently, Jacobs knows such success is attainable.
“It’s very frustrating as a black American fighter to not get the support of the nation behind me,” Jacobs said. “It’s always been hard for black fighters. It’s very frustrating because I have an amazing story, I’m very well-spoken, I’m a philanthropist. I have all the ingredients of a superstar, yet all the backing is not following through. Now I’m not complaining. I’m voicing my opinion. And I just know I have a lot more hard work to do.
“Floyd Mayweather didn’t have the following of a nation or sellout crowds earlier in his career. I know he had to work up to that point. But even still, it’s frustrating because when you wanna make megafights and you wanna become a household name, it’s just seems like you’ve gotta take the long route to do it. I’m not against that at all. I understand these are the cards I’ve been dealt, and that I’ve gotta do the best I can to gain more fans and make my name bigger.”
The retired Mayweather’s legendary career began changing when he headlined his first pay-per-view event against Arturo Gatti 11 years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The eventual five-division champion had already been a pro for 8½ years before the promotion for that career-altering, June 2005 fight began, but it gave the brash, flamboyant Mayweather, then 28, an expanded platform on which he proved himself as a fighter and as a marketable commodity.
The Grand Rapids, Michigan, native became a legitimate mainstream superstar when he fought Oscar De La Hoya in May 2007. By then, he had completely cultivated a polarizing public persona – “Money” Mayweather – that made him loved and hated by millions of people all at the same time.
Depending on whom you ask, that Money Mayweather “character” was to varying degrees authentic and embellished for public consumption. Jacobs didn’t condemn Mayweather’s mode of becoming a superstar, yet he made it clear that he’s not willing to do anything necessary to ensure such status.
“To go to social media with antics and to make up crazy stuff about myself,” Jacobs said, “and to get on TMZ and do all this other stuff, which is degrading, that is not who I am. And I refuse to do that. So I’m not looking to change who I am. I’ll be who I am, and if it doesn’t work out for me, as far as making me the biggest superstar, then beating the top names will. So it’s gonna come regardless.”
Ward (30-0, 15 KOs), a former undisputed super middleweight champion, has taken a similar stance because he is completely comfortable with his honest, principled, sometimes-unpopular approach ultimately costing him money. One way Ward was able to maximize his earning potential was by agreeing to fight Russian knockout artist Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) in an HBO Pay-Per-View fight for Kovalev’s IBF, WBA and WBO light heavyweight titles November 19 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Ward clearly has accomplished more than Jacobs during his 11-year pro career, yet Jacobs could make comparable progress by agreeing to challenge Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin (35-0, 32 KOs) in a fight for middleweight supremacy. Jacobs contends that fight will happen sometime in 2017, assuming Golovkin’s handlers are willing to pay him an acceptable purse for such a dangerous, higher-profile fight.
For now, Jacobs cannot help but feel frustrated when he watches Canelo Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs) avoid Golovkin in a very public, stupefying manner, only to be rewarded by fiercely loyal Mexican fans who are supporting his HBO Pay-Per-View fight against Liam Smith (23-0-1, 13 KOs) on September 17 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I know I’ve got a lot of hard work to do,” Jacobs said. “Canelo can sell out arenas because of his Mexican descent. He’s very talented, but he can fight a Liam Smith and sell out a Dallas stadium probably just because he has that support. It’s very hard as a black fighter. I’m working my way up to get as much of a fan base as possible.
“But when you’ve got a guy like that, who knows no matter who he fights it’s gonna become ‘X, Y and Z,’ then it becomes like, ‘Man, he can do whatever he wants.’ He can prolong that [Golovkin] fight however long he wants because he knows he’s still good financially.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.