By Mitch Abramson
Danny Jacobs, one of the top young middleweights in the sport, is still dealing with the aftereffects of life-saving surgery he had to remove a cancerous tumor in May, and doesn’t expect to fight again until late 2012, he told BoxingScene.com. Against doctor’s wishes, Jacobs is currently training, and even sparred for the first time since March, against the undefeated pros, Shemuel Pagan and Sadam Ali at Ali's gym in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Jacobs went eight rounds last Wednesday, acquitting himself nicely.
“I just wanted to see where I’m at,” Jacobs said. “It felt good to get back in there and move around. I knew that my legs weren’t 100%. But the most important thing was to let my hands go and see where I was. I felt good. I know I have a lot of work to do, but I’m ready to start working my way back to where I was.”
Jacobs was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive type of cancer that was growing and manifested itself in a quarter-sized tumor that was wrapped around his spine. The tumor damaged his spinal nerves, causing partial paralysis from the waist down. Jacobs was confined to a wheel chair and had to learn to walk again. Rumors swirled through the gyms of New York that Jacobs was dying and would never fight again.
“I just heard that he was probably not going to be able to box anymore and that he was really sick,” said Eddie Gomez, an undefeated junior middleweight from the Bronx, who like Jacobs, is also promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. “It’s sad because he’s a talented boxer that has something going on for himself.”
Jacobs first felt that something was wrong back in April of this year at the New York Golden Gloves finals. Walking through Madison Square Garden, the same tournament he won four times as an amateur, Jacobs said his legs were weak. “I couldn’t control them 100%” he said. “They didn’t feel right.”
An MRI revealed a tumor pinching his spinal nerves, resulting in bilateral paralysis below his naval. A subsequent biopsy showed that the tumor was cancerous. He underwent two procedures to close off the blood supply to the tumor, and then to remove the tumor altogether. At that point, Jacobs underwent radiation treatment and also had to learn to walk again, which he described as one of the hardest things he’s had to do in his young life.
“There were times when I just cried in the hospital because I couldn’t do things myself,” he says. “But I have no regrets. I don’t regret anything. I’m actually grateful that all of this happened to me because it’s going to make me a better person.”
It also made Jacobs, 24, think about life after boxing. To that end, in recent months he opened a barber shop/recording studio in the Brownsville neighborhood he grew up in, and he continues to be a spokesman and distributor for a health food company called “Yor Health.” Jacobs was 20-0 with 17 knockouts when he fought Dmitry Pirog for the vacant WBO middleweight championship on July 31, 2010. But a week before the fight, Jacob's grandmother, Cordelia, who helped raise him, died after a short battle with cancer, and an unfocused Jacobs was stopped in the fifth round by a hard right hand from Pirog. The experience showed him how fleeting fame and fortune can be in boxing.
“At the time of the surgery, it’s like I had nothing going on except boxing,” Jacobs says. “All my marbles were in one basket. I really didn’t know how I was going to take care of myself in this time off. I just started thinking outside the box. I started making different investments. I started putting my money in different places, and really starting to spread, to do different types of things to set myself up for after boxing.”
Jacobs, who last fought in March, knocking out Robert Kliewer in one round, says that doctors have told him the nerve damage in his spine will be fully healed in six to 12 months, and he envisions fighting again in late 2012, perhaps at the first show to kick off the new boxing venture with Golden Boy Promotions at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also the future home of the NBA’s Nets. Jacobs actually met with Brett Yormark, CEO of the Barclays Center on Monday at his offices just to talk about his experiences dealing with cancer. Jacobs says he’s cancer free.
“I really envision myself fighting when the stadium in Brooklyn opens,” Jacobs says. “Can you imagine what that would be like, with me having this tremendous story and me coming back to Brooklyn to fight? It would be epic! I get chills just thinking about it. That’s the motivation for me to come back and fight again.”
Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy, is all for Jacobs returning on that show, and maybe even earlier to knock off the rust. Schaefer says that officials from HBO and Showtime have asked him about Jacobs and when he might return to the ring.
“I believe that when he comes back he’s going to be bigger and better from all the adversity that he’s had to deal with,” Schaefer said. “I’m looking forward to his return.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.