By Thomas Gerbasi
Daniel Jacobs was just a kid. That was the first thought when looking at the Instagram video posted by Gary Stark Jr. in March. The now retired super bantamweight was coming off a win over veteran Vernie Torres in 2006, and Stark and his team were outside the Manhattan Center and talking it up for the cameras.
Middleweight contender Curtis Stevens was there, and so was Jacobs, 19 years old, but looking a lot younger. He was a year removed from his first pro bout, and nearly five years away from battling the cancer that almost took his life in 2011.
Back then, before he was the “Miracle Man,” he was the one who was going to take over boxing. That was 12 years ago, and finally, the 31-year-old Jacobs has the opportunity to fulfill all that potential. He knows it, and as he approaches his Saturday bout with Maciej Sulecki at Barclays Center in his hometown of Brooklyn, the fire that burned back when that video was filmed is still there.
“I still love this game and I’m still a student of the game, so much so that I get excited trying to switch my style and fighting like old school fighters or picking up pieces from this or that person to add to my game,” Jacobs said. “I’m really loving this point in my life and in my career because not only do I feel superior and feel a certain level of confidence that can’t be broken, but I also feel like I’m still learning and still getting better.”
It’s hard to argue with him. Since Jacobs beat back cancer and returned to the ring in October 2012, he’s gone 11-1 with 10 knockouts. The only loss was a controversial decision defeat to Gennady Golovkin in March 2017, and among his victims over that run are former world champions Peter Quillin, Sergio Mora (twice) and Caleb Truax.
More importantly, the storyline for Jacobs these days among boxing fans isn’t his remarkable comeback from cancer, but his career as an active boxer and one of the best middleweights in the game. That has to be satisfying, but Jacobs admits that, “It’s 50-50 to me. It doesn’t matter how my message or my image is perceived or promoted. I feel as long as I can touch people, as long as people like me, my story or my style of fighting, it doesn’t matter how they get the message. But it is a breath of fresh air to let this be the lead story. I’ve been doing this my whole life, and cancer is something that came into my life and it left, though it has an everlasting effect and I will continue to do my best to not let that second chance be in vain. But at the same time, I want the real boxing fans to know I’m not just an amazing story or a blessing. I want them to look at me as a true talent and I want to be considered one of the best one day.”
Jacobs hopes that day will come soon, specifically in the next year or two. He’s in his physical prime, and his willingness to fight the best is there.
Case in point, a recent meeting with interim WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo in a hallway at Barclays Center on the night of the Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz bout. Charlo spoke with reporters, saying, “Jacobs want to fight? Let’s fight.” Then Jacobs showed up.
“I came at the perfect time,” he said. The two proceeded to jaw at each other, with the general consensus that Jacobs won round one in his hometown.
Oh yeah, Jacobs is the nicest guy in the world, but Brooklyn never leaves your gut.
“Yeah, I think because of that, people forget to respect me,” he said. “With the nicer guys, people think they can just say and do anything because there’s no repercussions. But I come from a generation of Mike Tyson and Zab Judah and Shannon Briggs, all these different Brooklynites and guys I’ve always looked up to who have paved the way for me. I had to really stand up for myself because it’s bigger than me. Normally I would have let stuff like that slide because it’s just words; I do my business inside the ring. But it needed to be addressed, and in a fashion where people could still respect how I handled it.”
That had to feel nice, showing the other side, right?
“I’m not really a confrontational guy, although I felt that was needed,” he said. “There are levels in this boxing game, and as far as depicting an energy, I don’t know if Charlo really wants everything that he said he does. He’s very confident, but it’s different being in there when you’ve had the experience and actually done it before, as opposed to never have been in a situation and been in the ring with a killer or a top five guy. When you start disrespecting the top guys, it’s uncalled for and it’s very immature.”
Jacobs’ verbal skirmish was a reminder that yes, he’s a professional, but he’s also human and also a fighter. And it’s nice to be all three at once, especially at this moment in time, when it isn’t about the past anymore, but about the present and the future. And Jacobs is happy that both are looking bright.
“I’m at that level where it’s only a matter of time before I have the opportunity to prove myself,” he said. “I had one shot (against Golovkin), and I really felt like even though it was very controversial, I thought I did a good job and pulled it out. That wasn’t the case, but in boxing, people still love good fights, so one loss will not write off one fighter. Now I have a huge opportunity with HBO and I’m looking forward to getting those big fights. So I think this year and next year will be those two big years that will allow me to have my breakthrough and become that superstar that I truly know, deep down inside, I can be.”
Call it the Spirit of 2006 all over again.