It’s been nearly three months since American middleweight contender Daniel “The Golden Child” Jacobs, 20-1 (17), suffered two losses in the span of a week. The first was the more devastating when, on the Monday before the biggest fight of his life against Dmitry Pirog for the WBO middleweight title, Jacobs’ grandmother, Cordelia Jacobs, affectionately known as “Lady Bird”, passed away after a battle with cancer. The 23-year-old Jacobs was understandably devastated. Any other fighter in this day and age might have backed out of the title fight. Many might not have even blamed Jacobs but like a true fighter, Jacobs pressed onward to the following Saturday and entered the ring with “Lady Bird” emblazoned on his trunks, vying in Cordelia’s honor for his first world title against a largely unknown but very tough fighter in Pirog. It was not to be. Jacobs suffered a knockout loss to Pirog when a right hand came from nowhere to put him on his back in the fifth round. He would try and rise but would be stopped when the referee, Robert Byrd, waved the fight off at the count of five.
Backlash ensued. Many said Jacobs was exposed. Others felt he was rushed to a title shot. Even more still hailed Pirog as the next pound-for-pound king off the win. Through all of this, Jacobs remained silent.
Last week, Jacobs agreed to speak with me about the loss, his grandmother and what lies ahead.
Cordelia Jacobs was not simply Daniel’s grandmother. She raised him much like a mother would and made him into the respectful, thoughtful, classy man I spoke to last week.
“My grandmother was like my mom,” Jacobs told me. “My mother was around but my grandmother, to me, she really put that foot in my butt to make me the young man that I am today. Everything I am is because of her. Including my mother and my father but at the same time, I think I was closer to my grandmother than anybody else in my family. And she’s a Jehovah Witness, so she led with a lot of principles and rules in life. She really set the tone for me coming up. So I really knew how to act. She really made sure I was brought up to be the good man I am now. She really meant a lot to me. So to lose her right before the biggest fight and the hardest fight of my life was just like, it was the worst thing in my life.”
Coming into the bout, on the undercard of Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz II on July 31, 2010, many pegged Pirog-Jacobs to be the fight of the night. Pirog was an unknown quantity, a Russian-born fighter trained to fight in a blend of Euro-American styles. Jacobs is a former amateur standout who has won every amateur award under the sun except with the exception of going to the Olympics. Both men were ranked #1 and #2 in the WBO and after that sanctioning body stripped Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez, a box-off for the vacant belt ensued. Jacobs appeared on the verge of stardom, if he could just get past Pirog and claim his first title.
But after Cordelia passed, the win came out of the always confident and prepared Jacobs.
“Well leading up to the fight, we had a great camp,” Jacobs explained. “Specifically, I was definitely prepared and in shape for the fight. I still, to this day, believe that I have the better skills than Pirog does. I’m faster. I still have a lot of power I possess. And just the technique that we had, the game plan that we had to get past Pirog, I still believe with the game plan that we had, we would come out with the victory. Me, personally, knowing myself and knowing my situation, you know boxing is a physical sport but, overall, it’s a mental sport. And mentally, I feel, I wasn’t right. I had the confidence and, physically, I was ready. But everything has to be equaled up. You have to have your confidence. You have to be physically in shape. You have to be mentally ready. I just think we were two things. We were confident and we were physically in shape. The third part, I was completely off.”
Try as he might to forge on in Cordelia’s honor, Jacobs could not get his mental ship right.
“It was one of those where nothing clicked,” Jacobs said. “If I can rely on anything, I can rely on my speed. You know with the Ishe Smith fight, the thing I had over him was the speed. He was the stronger guy. He definitely had the veteran skills but I had my speed and that’s what we used to win the fight. But [against Pirog] I didn’t even have my speed in that fight and it just sucked because I know I am way better and I can put on a better performance. But you know, things happen in life and sometimes you just have to deal with it and you have to move on and that’s what we have to do.”
It’s hard to imagine the focus it takes to prepare for a tough fighter in a big fight on a major pay-per-view stage in Las Vegas. When you add in the death of the equivalent of a parent, it’s harder still. Jacobs explained what was going through his mind on the night of the fight.
“Well to be totally honest, even from the first round, I was just thinking in my head like, ‘I do not even really want to be here,’” Jacobs admitted freely. “I did not want to be inside that ring at that point. It has nothing to do with Pirog and me being afraid of him me or even thinking he has the better skills because I don’t think he has the better skills. And I am definitely not afraid of him. At the same time, I didn’t feel comfortable inside my skin inside the ring that night. I was just thinking, ‘I should be home with my family.’ This is while he’s throwing punches at me. This is while I’m dodging and I’m slipping and I’m punching back. And I’m thinking. And it’s not thinking about the game plan. I was just thinking about me not wanting to be here right now. I felt lost. It was really emotional. Even before we went out, I was backstage shadowboxing and somebody, a part of my team, mentioned, ‘Yeah. We gonna do this for Grandma.’ And I just burst into tears right backstage. It wasn’t good at all for me. My mental state was really jacked up and it definitely showed that night.”
Now some would say, “Excuses, excuses. We saw the fight and you got iced.” But it’s always very telling to me when I speak to a fighter who has suffered a loss for the first time when I get the response to my next question.
“So do you want a rematch?” I asked.
“Oh, hell yeah,” Jacobs said with a laugh, all the pain of the previous moment gone in a flash at the mention of a Pirog rematch. “Hell yeah, man. That guy can’t beat Danny Jacobs, man. I’m telling you, like, I might not be the most experienced as a pro but me knowing what I possess and the capabilities that I have, I mean, I haven’t reached my full potential. I’m pretty sure we are going to get a few more fights but maybe three fights down the line, I want to get back in there. I don’t know how he would feel about that but I definitely want to get back in there because I really feel that that guy can’t beat Danny Jacobs at 100%.”
Pirog is an unusual European fighter. Normally, most Euros are upright and a bit stationary (think Wladimir Klitschko or Sergiy Dzinziruk). Not Pirog. The guy uses a shoulder roll, switches from lefty to righty and displays angles and turning unlike we’ve seen from a Russian fighter before. While Jacobs was impressed by the fighter, he did not chalk the loss up to being inferior in the skills department.
“He is very crafty at what he does,” said Jacobs. “And you can tell; it is residual with it. He is very comfortable with it and it’s something that he does all the time. Like he really doesn’t switch up anything; it’s just a one-two-three kind of thing. We really worked on that and even though I didn’t get a chance to show what we worked on at that particular time in the fight, I still believe, that me at 100%, that we can execute this guy. This guy is a threat but I don’t think he can beat me at 100%.”
When I asked Jacobs if he would go to Europe to get his revenge or if it’s too early to discuss venue or even rematch, he said, “It’s too early to even think about that. I mean, it’s three fights or four fights down the line, if he will even want to take the fight. So we might go with somebody else. But to me, it’s more personal than anything. So even if it’s the last fight of my career before I retire like Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, that’s something I have to do because I have to get that back. That’s just something that’s instilled in me forever until I get that back, you know?”
Jacobs and I often have spoken of the process of becoming a complete fighter. When I asked if he could ever be that without a Pirog rematch, he answered, “I think I’ll be complete because there are other guys in there that are giving me experience and will push me to my limits and that will make me be a better fighter. But I don’t think we need Dmitry to be a complete fighter. But I think my head won’t be right as a boxer, not as a man because it’s just a sport at the end of the day but as a boxer, I won’t be 100% knowing that I didn’t get that back.”
One of the criticisms of the loss was that Jacobs was rushed to a title shot. Before the fight, I had asked him if he felt rushed and he said, “No, it’s right on time.”
After the loss, Jacobs’ answer remains the same.
“No, I don’t think I got rushed to a title shot,” he said. “It wasn’t one of those situations where you have these promoters who push you and push and push you. I really didn’t feel that. Like some of these guys nowadays, their promoters are really rushing them because they want to make this money or whatever the reason. I didn’t feel like that because at that point in time, it was me saying, ‘I want to do this’ and ‘I want to do that.’ And I don’t feel that I rushed myself. I feel we going at a comfortable pace but the average boxer is actually slower than the pace that we were going. So, normally, somebody would say that we were going on the fast track. But in reality, I think that 21-0, going for my 21st fight and my first title shot, I didn’t feel rushed at all. I just think that not a lot of people get the opportunity to get a title shot at their 21st fight.”
Jacobs told me that he felt no negative backlash or loss of fans after the defeat. In the end, all he can do is control what he does and let the rest take care of itself.
“My feeling is that they love you then they hate you,” he explained with a wry laugh. “That’s all part of the game. I just want to focus on being successful in the sport. I won’t let it go to my head but at the same time, I can’t really rely on or focus or the negative things that people say. I can’t listen to people who say I’m not what I’m cracked up to be because you are going to have that in almost everything you do in life. It’s really irrelevant.”
Jacobs also told me that he’s experienced more sympathy and support for the loss than negativity.
“To be honest, even people who are true boxing fans that seen the fight, they came up to me, whenever we are in New York City and I’m walking around, they say, ‘You didn’t look like yourself’ or ‘You didn’t look there mentally.’ So these are fans of boxing that aren’t hardcore and they can tell,” he explained. “And a lot of people, like on Twitter, showed me a lot of love. And it gives me that boost to not get down on myself for something that was out of my hands from day one. I’m just looking forward to getting back in there. I just want to do what I do best and have fun in there and be myself again.”
In the fight, Jacobs seemed in trouble very early on, nearly getting dropped by a right hand right off the bat. He steeled himself and tried to fight his way back in but it was no use. By the time he began to get a rhythm in the fourth and fifth rounds, it was over. At the final moment, Jacobs had his back to the ropes as Pirog advanced, switching from orthodox to southpaw to orthodox before dropping a right hand hammer from out of nowhere that put Jacobs down face-first. Jacobs rolled over and waited for the count to begin. When Byrd got to five, Jacobs tried to get up but the fight was waved as he was pushed back down to the canvas. Jacobs felt robbed of the right to go out on his shield or even be given a chance to fight his way back into the biggest battle of his life.
“I was so disgusted with that referee due to the fact that this was not a regular fight. This was a world championship fight and you can’t count to five and decide to call it off,” Jacobs protested. “Give me the opportunity to make my own decision about whether I can get up or not. And for me to jump up and for me to push me down, that’s absurd, man, and kind of not fair. I don’t know what would have happened afterward. Maybe I would have got hurt or whatever but at the same time, this is a very important fight and you should leave it up to my hands whether I can continue or not. Because, clearly, I wanted to continue, whether or not he thought I could or not. But I think with a fight of this magnitude, I think he should let the fighter make the decision. Even though you are there for the fighter’s safety, I still feel, count to ten at least. Eight, at least but don’t count to five and call it off. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
Jacobs told me that he was not unconscious or unaware of his surroundings and in fact, he had experienced this moment before in the amateurs and was merely waiting to get his head clear.
“But you know what I did? I got dropped by the same exact shot I caught, I got caught with in the amateurs [against Shawn Porter] and I did the same thing,” Jacobs said. “I got up at like, five. I take my time because I remember Zab Judah when he got dropped [against Kostya Tszyu] and he jumped right back up and his equilibrium was off. So I remember the first time I got dropped; I thought about Zab and I said, ‘You know what? Let me take my time.’ This is in the amateurs. And the referee let it continue. And I got up and I finished and I won the fight in the World Championships. But this time, the referee didn’t even let me fight. He [Pirog] dropped me, right on the chin. It was the prettiest shot you ever can see. And I was on my back, relaxed; I was looking at the referee, watching him count. And I got up and he pushed me down. I’m like, ‘Oh, my god; let me up. He’s not going to do this,’ but that’s the part of the game that you take and deal with it and try and come back.
After the loss, Jacobs surrounded himself with his family; the perfect group of people when the world is upside down and your troubles are staring you dead in the face.
“We joked about it. As soon as maybe three days afterward, I had a whole bunch of family members in the house,” Jacobs continued. “Everybody’s reaction when I got knocked down, it was funny. At the end of the day, it’s a sport. It’s nothing personal. It’s not like I’m going to die. My family put me at ease. Instead of making it this devastating loss, they turned it into a positive and we laughed about it. My mom, she’s very supportive of me; she even joked about it. ‘Oh son, when you dropped, I was like this, ‘Oh, no; baby get up.’ We laugh about stuff like because, at the end of the day, it’s a sport and you can’t take it too personal. I have more important things to worry about in my life than one loss.”
So what’s next? Jacobs first has to be cleared to spar again and once that formality is taken care of, he can ramp up his training, which he has been doing off and on. A December return is what he wants most, a positive note to end the year on. He made it clear, however, the reason he has taken so long to speak on the fight and the events surrounding.
“Why I took so long to come back is I wanted to take the time like a normal human being to mourn the loss of my grandmother,” Jacobs explained. “So that’s why I chose to take so long and come back in December.”
I asked Daniel what he had learned, if this had somehow made him a better or stronger man.
“It’s made me more hungry,” Jacobs asserted. “As a man, I think I am put together well and that’s out of boxing. It definitely hasn’t made me grow up as a man but it just made me more hungry and want to get that back.”
I’ve been interviewing Daniel Jacobs since he turned pro in December of 2007. He’s always impressed me as a calm, professional, mature-beyond-his-years young man. This time around was no different with one exception: there’s a fire that has been lit in him that I have not seen before. Before, he was a young fighter making his way from blue-chip prospect to contender and then, hopefully, champion. Now? He’s a man on a much more specific mission.
“I just want to be a world champion. But I want to get Dmitry Pirog more so than being a world champion,” Jacobs declared.
When I asked him if there was anything we had not covered that he would like to, Jacobs said, “Yes. I would like to take the time to thank the fans and all the people who supported me because, you know, that really helped kind of push me up and lift me off the ground when, at times, I was down. To everybody that said I wasn’t what I was cracked up to be and that they knew that this was going to happen, I mean, that’s boxing. Even the greatest lost. All you can do is come back. So we’re going to do that.
Then he paused and added with a laugh: “Haters.”
And with a friendly goodbye and a mutual “Good luck,” Daniel Jacobs hung up the phone and continued on the next leg of his fighter’s journey.