Jacobs' road from Brooklyn to hell and back
October, 10, 2012
By Michael Woods | ESPNNewYork.com
Danny Jacobs had the talent and the sort of standout personality that made it a natural for boxing power brokers to look at him, tab him a future star and craft a push to make it so.
"The Golden Child" was his nickname, as the Brownsville, Brooklyn, native piled up national, amateur and New York Golden Gloves titles. The moniker stuck even after he failed to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad. Jacobs turned pro Dec. 8, 2007, and promoter Golden Boy thought enough of him to put him in tough, against Ishe Smith, in his 18th pro fight. He passed that test, but three fights later, he encountered a speed bump in the form of Dmitriy Pirog. Jacobs hit the deck and the fight was halted in Round 5, but even then, he wasn't tossed into the rubbish bin as a failed prospect.
His beloved grandmother Cordelia's death a week before the fight hit his heart, and head, hard, and in the dressing room before the July 2010 Pirog bout, he was emotional. His heart and head were elsewhere, it was understood, so he soldiered on, and snagged two wins post Pirog. And then his world collapsed.
In April 2011, he was riding his bike, in New York, and the pedal started skipping. He shrugged it off, just figured his legs weren't in top shape. But he started having muscle spasms in his legs, kept getting a pins-and-needles sensation on the bottom of his feet. A doc told him it was a pinched nerve. It was not. It was something much more monstrous. A couple weeks after symptoms appeared, he couldn't walk normally.
Jacobs was reduced to a cane, then crutches, and then a wheelchair. The athlete whose stubborn streak served him well on 5 a.m. roadwork sessions, and in not becoming a statistic, another lost soul never to make it out of Brownsville -- which some folks refer to, in a bid to reduce the understandable sadness, as "Baby Iraq" -- was dragged to a neurologist. Tests were done, news came back, and it wasn't good. There was a tumor, on his spine. The mass was malevolent, like something out of a sci-fi flick, and it was sapping the life out of Jacobs.
In May 2011, he had surgery, which was a modified success. The tumor came out, but docs said he wouldn't be able to walk properly, and he would not be able to box. "It was the worst thing you could possibly tell me," he told NYFightBlog. "I've been boxing for half my life."
The stubborn streak re-emerged; he respectfully blew off the docs, and after not too long, started working out. By December 2011, he was sparring, against doctors' orders. On Oct. 20, the 22-1 fighter, age 25, will fight for the first time since March 2011, vs. Josh Luteran at the Barclays Center, and really, he earns a win just by getting to this place.
Could it be that the whole experience scars him, proves to be too emotionally and perhaps physically draining? "Mentally, I feel stronger," he said, "everything I've fought in the last year and a half, re-learning how to walk, and the radiation treatments, that's a fight in itself. It's just the physical part I have to do, and I've been boxing for almost eleven years. I have a three-year-old son, and to see his father give up ... I want my son to be able to say, 'My dad never gave up, my dad always reached for his dream,' because that's a man. I want my son Nathaniel to grow up to be a fine young man."
Jacobs admits that he doesn't know how he will react, not physically, but emotionally, at Barclays. He told his girlfriend that she shouldn't be surprised if he sheds a few tears on the walk to the ring. "I get to show people that no matter what, you can overcome," he said. "No matter what your circumstances are, no matter where you live, Brownsville, or Bed-Stuy, no matter where you live, you can overcome, achieve all your dreams, and everything you set out to be."