When Danny Jacobs enters the ring at the Barclays Center on October 20, the kid from Brooklyn will be overflowing with emotion. While it is certainly a big deal to participate in the first major boxing card in the city of Brooklyn in nearly 80 years, it is the fact that he’s actually able to walk to the ring that resonates with him more than anything.
“The history of boxing in Brooklyn is very rich,” Jacobs (22-1, 19 KOs) says as he prepares to step back into the ring for the first time since overcoming spinal cancer last May. But more on that later. “It means a lot to me because there were a lot of great champions from Brooklyn that didn’t have this outlet like Mike Tyson, Zab Judah and Riddick Bowe. They never had a stadium that they could call home and perform in front of their home crowd. This moment means everything to me.”
When Jacobs’ career under the Golden Boy Promotions banner began on December 7, 2008 as part of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Ricky Hatton undercard, the four-time New York Golden Gloves champion’s stellar first round TKO victory appeared to set the stage for a future star. For the next two years and twenty fights, Jacobs went 20-0 with 17 knockouts. For his breakout performance, Jacobs was set to face fellow undefeated fighter Dimitry Pirog when the proverbial wheels came off of the Brooklynite as he was dominated and subsequently knocked out in the fifth round. When an undefeated fighter ends up on the wrong end of a knockout loss, the naysayers come out in droves suggesting that Jacobs was little more than a blown up fighter who was exposed. While the loss was a devastating blow to his career, it paled in comparison to what Jacobs was dealing with in his personal life. Jacobs’ grandmother – who raised him – lost her battle with cancer four days before the then-23-year-old was set to step into the ring. Rather than taking the time to grieve, Jacobs pressed on. It was a decision that cost him dearly.
“I was criticized for not pulling out of that fight,” Jacobs reflects on the hours leading up to the fight. “My family and manager asked me to pull out. I told them I wanted to do it in my grandmother’s honor. What I didn’t know was that mentally I wasn’t ready. Knowing that she wanted me to fulfill those dreams I thought I could get over that hump. I just couldn’t.”
They say when it rains, it pours and the loss in the ring would be but a microcosm for what Jacobs had to deal with next. After getting back on track with back to back knockout wins, Jacobs joined Oscar De La Hoya and other fighters to support the troops in Iraq last April. Upon his return, Jacobs realized that something wasn’t right with his legs. After a visit to the doctor, Jacobs walked away thinking that he had nothing more than a pinched nerve. “I was believing what they told me but then it got worse,” Jacobs recalls. “I couldn’t walk. I went from walking with a cane, to crutches, to a walker and then to a wheelchair within three weeks.”
A second visit delivered the news that Jacobs was suffering from osteosarcoma; a life threatening form of spinal cancer. A tumor was growing dangerously fast in Jacobs spinal area and doctors revealed to the young fighter that his life was on the line. “The doctor said luckily I got to them when I did or else I would have died,” Jacobs says. “If I had waited four days I would have had brain damage and my heart would have stopped.”
Fortunately, the surgical procedure was a successful one. However, the road to recovery would be harder than any training camp he has ever participated in. The primary goal was to walk, boxing was a mere afterthought. “They said walking regularly was in jeopardy so boxing was definitely out of the picture,” he says. But “The Golden Child” wouldn’t take no for an answer and was determined to get back inside of the squared circle. “I thought about how I would be able to take care of my family,” Jacobs continues as things such as playing with his son all became challenges to overcome. “To not be able to do normal activities a father does with his son all came to my mind. It was heartbreaking to not really know what I would be doing after this. This was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with in my life.”
But here we are, one year and five months since his diagnosis and Jacobs is ready to get back into the ring. His battle outside of the ring has made the one inside of it a whole lot easier to digest. Waking up at the break of dawn to run several miles was no longer a chore, rather, it was a blessing. The opportunity at a second chance will not be wasted and Jacobs has worked tirelessly as he waited for the phone call announcing his next fight. Wouldn’t you know, his return bout would just so happen to be in his backyard at the brand new Barclays Arena.
“I was jumping for joy, it was a dream come true,” Jacobs says when he found out he would be facing Josh Luteran (13-1, 9 KOs) on Showtime Extreme. “Everyone in Brooklyn has the pride, the swag and culture here. To show people what I do best is an indescribable feeling.”
To try and imagine he emotions that Jacobs will feel when he walks to the ring on Saturday night in front of his fellow Brooklynites is incomprehensible. For all that he’s overcome, this has become a story that is destined for Hollywood. If Jacobs were to get caught up in the moment, surely we’d all understand.
“I try my best to tell myself to just enjoy the moment and not put too much pressure on myself,” Jacobs says. “Sometimes, in life, you have to understand that there are moments that you just have to cherish and really appreciate. This moment, October 20th, will be the moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”