by David P. Greisman
We writers have a tendency, when we’re not needlessly inserting first-person phrasing into our articles, to take an element of our subject’s story and portray it as a representative lesson about life in general.
It’s impossible to tell Daniel Jacobs’ story without mentioning that he is a cancer survivor. And it’s hard to tell his tale without seeing it in — and describing it with — familiar terms. That’s not merely because those who’ve been diagnosed with a devastating illness are said to be battling or fighting their conditions.
Cancer can be treated in multiple fashions. You can go through a number of rounds and hope that what was done during that time was enough to defeat it. You can use a combination of strength and strategy to wear it down until it fades away. The best news, if you’re fortunate, is when you can just take it out immediately.
Jacobs was at the beginning of one battle — attempting to bounce back from a knockout loss that had been his first pro defeat — when suddenly he was faced with a far more important challenge. He could no longer walk, and he didn’t know why. Then doctors found the tumor wrapped around his spine. The ability to walk was no longer the top priority. The ability to live was.
He underwent surgery, a six-hour procedure to remove the tumor, according to the New York Daily News. And then there was the radiation, appointment after appointment, week after week of side effects, all to kill whatever cancer was left.
The doctors worked to save his life. Then he went to work on getting his life back. Jacobs didn’t just return to the ring. He’s continued to get better as a fighter. He went on to win a world title. It was a storybook conclusion, except his story wasn’t over. There were still other goals he wanted to achieve, which meant there were obstacles he’d have to overcome.
The title belt didn’t make him one of the best middleweights in the world. Beating other top fighters in the 160-pound division would. His first true test against the class of the weight class came this past Saturday against Peter Quillin.
A boxing match can be won in multiple fashions. You can go the rounds and hope you did enough to defeat your opponent. You can use strength, strategy and skill to wear your foe down. Or, if you’re gifted, you can try to take him out quickly.
Quillin was expected to be a tough challenge. He was a former titleholder who had never lost a pro fight. He had good power, something that was thought could trouble Jacobs. More than five years had passed since Jacobs was dropped and stopped by Dmitry Pirog. But barely four months had gone by since Jacobs had been sent to the canvas against Sergio Mora.
Jacobs went on to beat Mora. Still, there were two ways of looking at the knockdown. Mora doesn’t have very heavy hands, which could raise questions about Jacobs’ chin. But Jacobs had just put Mora down, got recklessly aggressive while following up, left himself wide open and walked into the shot that floored him. Mora loaded up and caught Jacobs with a shot he never saw.
Jacobs also had power. Of his 30 wins prior to the Quillin fight, 27 had ended with a knockout. Quillin had 32 wins and 23 knockouts.
They knew each other’s records and reputations. That awareness didn’t lead to wariness, though both fighters were tactical in trying to strike first without being caught cold. Each attempted counters in the opening moments of the opening round. And then, 46 seconds in, Jacobs feinted with a jab and turned it into a left hook that seemed upon replays to have been designed to fall short. Quillin dropped his right glove as he failed to parry Jacobs’ left hand. He then moved his head slightly to his left as he sought to avoid the shot.
That put his head directly in the path of Jacobs’ right hand.
The shot staggered Quillin. Jacobs noticed and began to throw hard hooks and uppercuts. Quillin kept his gloves up to try to protect himself. He didn’t grab ahold of Jacobs, even though it is better when hurt to prevent your opponent from punching whatsoever than it is to try to block or avoid the blows.
He also threw back at Jacobs. But Jacobs had a clear head and this time was able to keep from making the same mistake he’d made against Mora. Quillin wasn’t able to stem the barrage, which concluded with a right hand to the temple that sent him stumbling several steps across the ring.
The referee, Harvey Dock, saw that and must have thought Quillin was falling down. Dock jumped in to direct Jacobs to a neutral corner. He then turned back toward Quillin, whose legs had enough in them to remain standing but otherwise looked incredibly unsteady. Quillin’s eyes looked toward Jacobs, not at Dock, and he appeared to be too out of it for the referee to allow him to remain in it. The fight was over 85 seconds after it began.
This was by far the biggest win of Jacobs’ career, and by far the most sensational.
This was the toughest challenge he’d taken on in the ring in years. He knew that. He’d prepared for it. He seemed ready for it, looking stern and focused as he was filmed walking through the arena and toward his dressing room. Yet he gave the briefest of indications that he was putting on appearances for the cameras and those watching on television. Spotting a few reporters who were standing off to the side, Jacobs’ eyes darted toward them. He winked.
Yes, he was here for business and potentially for battle. But he was also having fun.
Every day of life was worth savoring. Every fight was an opportunity to keep the dream going that once looked as if it was going to be gone. He appreciated it, and he also knew that what he was doing for himself meant he could do something for others, particularly those who have cancer.
“I’ve always idolized Sugar Ray Leonard and I’ve always idolized Muhammad Ali because of what they stood for outside of the ring,” Jacobs said after the fight. “So to know I have something that people can relate to, something as devastating as cancer, to be able to overcome that and be kind of a spokeperson for it, to be able to give people hope and inspire them and things of that nature, the platform, I’m looking forward to taking advantage of that.
“A lot of people have better stories than I have of going through worse situations than I have, but they don’t have my platform to bring awareness to it,” he said. “So I’m going to do my best to take advantage of it.”
Danny Jacobs has been afforded two second chances. He was a rising prospect who was knocked out. And he was a cancer patient who was fearing for his life, and then his lifestyle.
He’s making the most of what he’s done since both.
The 10 Count is on hiatus.
“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]