by David P. Greisman
A span of eight days will bring three fights involving three of the top names in the middleweight division: the lineal champion, Canelo Alvarez; the best 160-pound fighter in the world, Gennady Golovkin; and contender Daniel Jacobs.
Only one of those fights will actually involve a middleweight facing another middleweight. And that fight is the one of the three that is getting the least amount of attention.
Alvarez will instead be fighting at junior middleweight on Sept. 17 when he challenges titleholder Liam Smith over the traditional Mexican Independence Day weekend extravaganza, headlining a pay-per-view and performing in the main event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The bout is expected to bring in tens of thousands, as did Canelo’s previous appearances in the Lone Star State, where he defeated Austin Trout in 2013 and James Kirkland last year.
Golovkin will still be a middleweight when he fights a week before Smith-Alvarez, but his opponent on Sept. 10 in London will be someone who is typically a welterweight. That is 147-pound titleholder Kell Brook, who is moving up two divisions and stepping up to what would be a significant enough challenge for a fighter the same size as “GGG.”
The night before Golovkin-Brook is Jacobs’ rematch with Sergio Mora, taking place Sept. 9 in Reading, Pennsylvania. They first fought in August 2015. That bout went just two rounds and ended abruptly when Mora suffered a broken ankle. Jacobs has fought just one round in the 13 months since.
This is Jacobs’ first fight in nine months.
That’s a surprisingly large gap for any boxer in his prime and toward the top of the sport. It’s particularly surprising when you recall how Jacobs won his last fight and what that should have done for his career. It should’ve meant much more than a lengthy layoff and a rematch few were asking for. But before we can go forward with Jacobs’ story, we must go backward in time.
After all, the story leading up to Jacobs’ bout with Peter Quillin last December was captivating enough. And then the way he beat Quillin should’ve made him even more marketable.
Jacobs was a young prospect when he got his first world title shot in 2010. He was 23 and vying for a vacant belt against Dmitry Pirog. But Jacobs, whose nickname at the time was “The Golden Child” wound up on the receiving end of a fifth-round stoppage loss.
As bad as that was, what was to come was much worse.
Jacobs was diagnosed with cancer. The tumor was wrapped around his spine. He wasn’t certain if he’d live. If he did survive, he couldn’t be sure he’d walk again. These were more pressing worries. Lacing up your gloves means little when you’re fighting for your life.
But once he was certain he would survive, and when he knew he could walk, and then run, and then fight, lacing up his gloves became an outlet for motivating himself and inspiring others. He became “The Miracle Man,” returning in late 2012, restarting from where he had been a year and a half before, rebuilding once more. Jacobs won eight straight, leading into the fight with Quillin.
Quillin was previously a world titleholder. He’d never been beaten, though he’d vacated his title. Jacobs had a belt, albeit a secondary one — the World Boxing Association’s “regular” title. The WBA often has more than one titleholder in each division, because boxing needs even more confusing complications in a sport that has 17 weight classes and four major sanctioning bodies bestowing belts. Gennady Golovkin has the WBA’s “super” title.
The belt wasn’t why people wanted to see Quillin-Jacobs. It was an intriguing match. They were two middleweights from Brooklyn, two undefeated friends, though they wouldn’t be friends that night, and only one would still be undefeated when the night was over.
Jacobs quickly established that it would be him.
He hurt Quillin early, rocked him again and forced the technical knockout barely halfway into the first round. It was a huge win, the kind of eye-opening demolition that is supposed to propel fighters into a greater place in the sport. Jacobs already had two great stories — one of recovery and one of redemption — but the ability to perform in the ring also is key.
Even though the ratings weren’t very good (averaging just 386,000 viewers), social media helped add more. There are more than 1 million views now on one YouTube video of the knockout, and nearly half a million views on another.
Jacobs and his team didn’t capitalize, however, failing to strike while the iron was hot.
“I've been out for quite some time,” Jacobs said on a media conference call last week ahead of this rematch with Mora. “The reason we've actually been out for so long was because we were trying to get a better opportunity at fighting [Billy Joe] Saunders. Obviously, that fight took a little longer than anticipated. And this is the reason why this fight is happening.”
It’s true that Jacobs tried to make a fight with Saunders, though he apparently always was going to take the first half of 2016 off after fighting three times in seven and a half months in 2015. This past March, Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza said that Jacobs probably wouldn’t be back in the ring until later in the summer of 2016, according to an article at the time by Mitch Abramson of RingTV.com.
There had been talk about Jacobs fighting Mora at the end of July on the same card as Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton, only for it to be pushed back to its own standalone main event.
“We were getting a lot of delaying and non-response [from Saunders], so at a certain point Danny’s team locked in a fight rather than wait around indefinitely,” Espinoza told BoxingScene.com the night before Santa Cruz-Frampton. “I think there was ample opportunity for him to commit to a Jacobs fight, and Jacobs even would’ve been flexible with the date and the scheduling to accommodate him.
So the Mora rematch was made. It is a fight that makes sense given the anticlimactic way their first fight ended. They had traded knockdowns in the opening round. But in the second, Mora put his foot back at a bad angle while retreating. Jacobs landed a right hand. Mora’s leg out went out beneath him. He got up but couldn’t fight on.
And yet, given Jacobs’ last win and the amount of time that has passed, it’s a less than desirable sequel, something that Jacobs acknowledges (even while Mora understandably disagrees).
“We've always wanted to move up to bigger and better opposition each time out. This is kind of a step back,” Jacobs said last week. “And I understand that it left a bitter taste in certain people's mouths because of the way Sergio Mora lost. But, in my opinion, he was on the verge [of losing] anyway. So, that's how I look at it. But this is for me an opportunity to kind of quiet the critics and just make the final statement once and for all that I am the better fighter, better boxer.”
The good news is that Jacobs is returning. He’s no longer idle. This isn’t the fight that he wanted, but it will at least put him back on the road toward where he was previously headed. He’s going back to Mora before going forward again.
Forward, ideally, would mean a fight with Golovkin. As the “regular” titleholder, Jacobs is the mandatory challenger to Golovkin’s “super” title, especially as the WBA is finally seemingly trying to do away with multiple titleholders in each division. The WBA had paused on pushing for Golovkin vs. Jacobs back when Golovkin was still in negotiations for a unification bout with Canelo Alvarez.
Canelo ditched his sanctioning body title rather than face Golovkin. That fight, if it happens, won’t take place until the second half of 2017, at the earliest. As mentioned above, Canelo is instead facing Liam Smith while Golovkin will take on Kell Brook.
“We want to fight the best, point blank, period. ‘Triple G’ is the best, and that's the guy that we want,” Jacobs said. “I definitely believe I would be the toughest test because I believe I would be the victor in that fight. I definitely believe in my skills and my ability.”
There is time for Golovkin-Jacobs to happen. There is a mechanism for making it happen — a purse bid in case a deal can’t be reached in negotiations. There are plenty of reasons for it happen.
No matter what, Jacobs needs a big fight soon, whether it’s with Golovkin or someone else from a small pool of notable middleweights.
Otherwise, that big win will have been a big waste.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide. Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]