By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s not a phrase you often hear from a confident title challenger.
But Daniel Jacobs insists his being “scared to death” ahead of a midtown Manhattan bout with middleweight destroyer Gennady Golovkin is actually a good thing.
“Who wouldn’t be?” he said. “This is the biggest challenge that you can have and me saying I’m scared isn’t a bad thing, because being a human and being an athlete you have to have that fear to make you train harder or put yourself in positions to where you can overcome.
“That fear can get you through a lot.”
For clarity’s sake, Jacobs -- who’ll enter the Madison Square Garden ring with 32 wins and 29 KOs in 33 fights -- says his apprehension is based on the formidable image that’s been assigned to the unbeaten Kazakh, not necessarily what he sees when analyzing Golovkin during training camp.
The two will meet for the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBC titles on Saturday.
“I’m not fearful of Triple-G the person or the fighter, but just what they made him out to be,” Jacobs said. “I’m training according to that and what I see. So, yeah, I’m training like I’m the most terrified guy in the world and that’s going to make me the most hungry. My reflexes are going to be on point. They say a scared fighter sometimes can be the most dangerous fighter out there.
“I’m looking forward to going in there and being scary.”
Golovkin began acquiring championships in 2011 when he starched Lajuan Simon in less than a round for the vacant IBO crown, and has not actually allowed a foe to go the distance since Amar Amari went a full eight rounds in June 2008. He’s KO’d 14 post-Simon title challengers in 73 total rounds -- an average of 5.2 rounds per fight -- including an eight-round demolition of then-IBF champ David Lemieux.
He earned the other two belts by sanctioning body ascension, moving from the WBA’s bogus “regular” title to its top-tier “super” belt with a stoppage of Daniel Geale, and from the WBC’s dubious “interim” crown to full-fledged status when Canelo Alvarez abdicated rather than facing him in 2016.
Jacobs, incidentally, became the WBA’s new second-tier claimant when he beat Jarrod Fletcher in 2014 and has defended the meaningless bauble with subsequent defeats of Caleb Truax (TKO 12), Sergio Mora (TKO 2), Peter Quillin (TKO 1) and Mora (TKO 7) again.
He’s not lost since falling in five rounds to Dmitry Pirog in 2010 and has recorded his last 14 wins inside the distance, with a per-fight clip of 3.5 rounds.
“I believe in my abilities,” Jacobs said. “I can’t speak for anybody else, but I believe that I have all that it takes to beat this guy. How do you know what you can be in life if you always quit before you get to the toughest challenge, if you feel like you can’t accomplish that? You’ll never know what you’re made of. We’re human, we’re going to get nervous, we’re going to sometimes go through a lapse mentally. That happens to the greatest of them all, but that doesn’t take you away from the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m looking forward to performing under the pressure, performing under those lights, performing in front of that crowd and performing under the most gruesome circumstances. That’s when I’ll really know what I’m made of. I’m looking forward to giving it my all.”
The odds-makers, at least to this point, aren’t buying it.
Those who work the numbers at the Bovada online sports book have Golovkin as a prohibitive favorite, requiring an $800 wager on him to return a $100 profit. Meanwhile, a $100 outlay on Jacobs will reap a $500 reward if he follows through on his plan for an upset.
Toward that end, the Brooklyn native and nine-year pro -- who turned 30 earlier last month -- contends that he’s the best fighter the champion has faced and will find success thanks to a more dynamic skill set than past pretenders.
“This guy has tremendous power,” Jacobs said.
“You can’t take that away from him. He’s a very strong guy. And (he has the) ability to cut the ring off and apply pressure to people who really don’t know how to have that educated footwork. It mentally drains them and it brings them down to where they drown. But me being a guy who knows how to use my feet, me bring a guy who has speed and has that power to kind of stand my ground, I believe I have all that it takes to slow his main attributes down.”
Golovkin is slotted first at 160 pounds by the Independent World Boxing Rankings, which include all fighters regardless of what title belts they possess. Jacobs is the IWBR’s No. 2 in the weight class, and the two men have combined to compile a 23-1 record against Top-50 competition.
Ironically, though, Jacobs’ defeat of then-No. 2 Quillin in 2015 statistically trumps Golovkin’s best win, a third-round blowout of ex-IBF/IBO/WBA champion Geale in 2014. His most recent opponent, 147-pound champion Kell Brook, was ranked third at welterweight when they fought in September.
“Who has he beaten that was great?” Jacobs said. “If he fought maybe a (Miguel) Cotto or a Canelo, even though those guys are still kind of small, then I would have at least said, ‘All right, man, maybe.’ But the most notable guy on his resume by far is Kell Brook, and Kell Brook was a full-fledged welterweight. Nothing taken away from this guy, but you have to fight guys in your division.
“You have to fight guys that are great. I do believe that I’m great. Everything inside me believes I have what it takes to be the best. This will be his real test in my opinion.”
The final prep for Team Jacobs has included extensive video breakdowns of Golovkin’s past fights, a strategy some fighters suggest is perilous but one Jacobs wholeheartedly endorses.
“I don’t understand how fighters don’t look at fights, to be honest with you, and study opponents especially if they’re fighting them,” he said. “That’s bizarre to me. I’m definitely one of those guys who loves to see what my opponent does because I’m one to study bad habits. Though certain fighters will do certain things differently in fights, they can’t refrain from not doing their same old bad habits.
“When we study those bad habits and we work on those things, and we also work on implementing my strengths inside the fight, that’s a recipe for a nice night of boxing.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC middleweight titles -- New York, New York
Gennady Golovkin (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Daniel Jacobs (No. 1 IBO/No. 2 IWBR)
Golovkin (36-0, 33 KO): Fifteenth IBO title defense; Twenty-three straight KO wins (100 total rounds)
Jacobs (32-1, 29 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Fourteen straight KO wins (50 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: Jacobs claims to be Golovkin’s best opponent and he may very well be right, but it’ll be a surprise if he’s kind of got the firepower to keep the Kazakh from steamrolling him. Golovkin in 5
WBC super flyweight title – New York, New York
Roman Gonzalez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (No. 2 WBC/No. 11 IWBR)
Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KO): Sixth title defense; Eighth fight in the United States (7-0, 4 KO)
Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38 KO): Fourth title fight (2-1); Held WBC title at 115 (2013-14, one title defense)
Fitzbitz says: Gonzalez may not be as dominant at 115 pounds as he’d been at lower weight classes, but an older foe without a big-stage win in more than three years doesn’t seem a threat. Gonzalez in 9
Last week's picks: 2-2 (WIN: Niyomtrong, Yamanaka; LOSS: Garcia, Rungvisai)
2017 picks record: 16-6 (72.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 838-280 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.