Column: After beating cancer, fight isn't too big for Jacobs
By Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The moment won’t be too big for Daniel Jacobs, of that he’s certain.
Not after going toe-to-toe with the fearsome Gennady Golovkin before dropping a narrow decision. Not after beating cancer that doctors were sure would end his career, if not his life.
Canelo Alvarez will be just another obstacle in front of him when they meet Saturday night in a middleweight title unification fight.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” Jacobs said. “I don’t look forward to being nervous. If anything I’m excited.”
A lot of boxing fans are excited, too, about a 160-pound title fight that is the prime attraction in this gambling city on Cinco de Mayo weekend.
On one side is the 28-year-old Mexican champion and one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the game. Alvarez ducks nobody, and his own two fights against Golovkin were textbook performances for those studying boxing styles in the future.
And then there’s Jacobs, the 32-year-old who has conquered the usual obstacles put in the way of any fighter — and then some.
He was once “The Golden Child,” a tough Brooklyn prospect with skills advanced far beyond his age. He became “The Miracle Man” after beating a cancerous tumor in 2011 that damaged his nerves and paralyzed his legs.
It’s a story that only boxing could deliver. And it’s one Jacobs is happy to let everyone know about.
“I never get tired of telling my story,” he said. “I know that there’s somebody out in the world who hasn’t heard it, so I share it as much as I can talk about it.”
Jacobs shared it a little more this week, taking a break from training to look back at the winding path his career has taken since turning pro a dozen years ago.
He talked about being knocked out in Las Vegas nine years ago. He talked about being particularly nervous for a fight he ended up winning with an early knockout.
And he talked about living on his mother’s couch as he tried desperately to beat a rare form of cancer while somehow keeping alive his dream of boxing, too.
“Sleepless nights,” Jacobs said. “Times where I used to cry. Times where I used to even doubt if I would walk right again.”
The cancer was osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of the disease that caused a tumor to wrap around his spine. Doctors removed it during a six-hour surgery, but not before they told Jacobs he would probably not walk again, much less fight.
And now he’s in a bout that will make him millions of dollars — and could make him one of the most sought-after fighters around.
“I never thought about this opportunity,” Jacobs said. “I always just wanted to give back to boxing and see how far I could take it. But I never thought I would fight for a world championship. I mean, this is the greatest opportunity that I could even have, let alone dream about.”
The opportunity came about largely because Jacobs put on the performance of his career before dropping a decision to Golovkin in 2017 in a fight that could have gone either way. He helped himself more by winning a piece of the middleweight crown his last time out, a split-decision win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
After two close battles of his own with Triple G, Alvarez was looking for a different opponent on what traditionally is a big pay-per-view fight weekend for him in Las Vegas. Instead of pay-per-view, the fight is on DAZN, and Alvarez-Jacobs is being counted on to sell subscriptions to the streaming service.
And while Alvarez is a 4-1 pick by oddsmakers to retain his handful of titles, Jacobs is not an opponent he or promoter Oscar De La Hoya is selling short.
“What impresses me most is his coming back from cancer,” De La Hoya said. “It’s a very special fighter who does that, a very special person who does that. It shows you his character, his will to win. That’s what worries me most in this fight, his mind and his heart.”
That could mean 12 rounds of a thinking man’s fight. It could mean an all-out brawl, or something in between.
The outcome of the fight is uncertain, yes. But for a time, the outcome of Jacobs’ life was uncertain, too.
“I’m self-motivated,” Jacobs said. “When everything was taken away from me, all I wanted was to get back to the sport of boxing. It’s nothing short of a miracle to get to this point. That motivates myself to be the best version of myself that I can be.”
Whether that’s enough to beat Alvarez won’t be known until Saturday night, though one thing does seem certain: A win for The Miracle Man might not be such a miracle after all.