- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- Three years ago Daniel Jacobs was bedridden in a hospital, not knowing if he would live or die, having been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
On Saturday night, Jacobs knocked out Jarrod Fletcher of Australia in the fifth round of a dominant performance to win a vacant middleweight belt at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on the Danny Garcia-Rod Salka undercard.
And then the emotion flowed as he celebrated the victory in his hometown arena, surrounded by family, friends and cheering fans.
"It feels so great to win this belt," Jacobs said. "It's the greatest moment in my life. This was so important to me that I trained smart. I didn't want to overdo it and I had a great strength and conditioning coach to make sure that I didn't do it.
"This win inspires me to be the best that I can be and I hope it inspires everyone else to be their best too. You can have the strength to overcome anything."
While Jacobs was hospitalized and fighting for his life, he read a newspaper article about the impending construction of the Barclays Center and the fact that boxing was going to be a major part of its offerings. Jacobs said that part of his motivation to persevere through his illness was the dream to one day fight in the arena. Now, not only has he fought in the arena three times, including on the first card in October 2012 in his first fight after beating cancer, he's just earned the biggest victory of his career.
Although Jacobs claimed the belt, it is a secondary title in the WBA, an organization that regularly crowns multiple titleholders in the same weight class to drum up extra sanctioning fees. At middleweight, it recognizes powerhouse Gennady Golovkin, who defended his title two weeks ago in New York, as its top titleholder, and Dmitry Chudinov, who defended the interim belt on Saturday in Russia.
But none of that mattered to the 27-year-old Jacobs, who was thrilled to have a belt wrapped around his waist. He had an easy time with Fletcher, 30, a 2008 Olympian.
"It is a miracle. I'm just blessed to be able to perform and win this belt in front of all of these Brooklynites," Jacobs said. "[While fighting cancer] my son, my baby boy, was my first priority. But getting back into the ring was my second motivation. Boxing taught me to have the mental strength to overcome anything. And that's what I did."
Jacobs (28-1, 25 KOs) came out fast, dropping Fletcher (18-2, 10 KOs) with a clean left hook in the first round and battered him around the ring for most of the round.
Fletcher was eating left hooks, right hands and body shots as Jacobs landed 45 of 86 punches, including 40 power shots, according to CompuBox statistics. Fletcher was wobbling all over the ring as Jacobs fired away. Referee Michael Griffin showed great restraint in not stopping the fight.
Jacobs won the second round, but was patient and didn't go after Fletcher. Jacobs continued to work Fletcher to the body and use his left hand, which wobbled Fletcher again in the fourth round.
"I wanted to bide my time. The boy was tough and I didn't want to waste my strength. I had to pace myself," Jacobs said. "I didn't train to rush things."
Fletcher was having a decent fifth round until Jacobs nailed him with a right hand and he went down. Fletcher beat the count but Jacobs was blasting him with abandon when Griffin stepped in to stop the fight at 2 minutes, 58 seconds on advice of the ringside doctor, who had gotten on the ring apron.
"I got caught with a shot. That's boxing," Fletcher said. "I'm going to go back to the drawing board. He's a good fighter. I'm disappointed in my performance."
Jacobs' dominance was evident in the CompuBox statistics. He landed 117 of 294 punches (40 percent) while the overmatched Fletcher connected on just 37 of 229 blows (16 percent).
After the fight Jacobs called out fellow titleholder "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin, also of Brooklyn, who is a friend of Jacobs.
"I want to fight Peter Quillin next," Jacobs said. "That's a fight that Brooklyn deserves. He's my homeboy and we see each other every day but that's a fight that need to be made and it needs to be made in Brooklyn."
Peterson crushes Riovalle
Junior welterweight Anthony Peterson (34-1, 22 KOs), the younger brother of junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson (who fought in the co-feature), barely broke a sweat as he dusted Mexico's Edgar Riovalle (37-19-2, 26 KOs), 27, in the first round.
Peterson, 29, of Washington, D.C., had no problems whatsoever, taking it to Riovalle and finally knocking him out with a four-punch combination, including the final punch, a left hook, that landed on the chin and dropped him. Referee Tony Chiarantano counted Riovalle out at 2 minutes, 41 seconds. Peterson made the contract weight of 137 pounds, but Riovalle, who has lost five of his last six fights, did not appear in any kind of shape for the fight, weighing in at 144.4 pounds. He was fined for missing weight
"It feels awesome to be at the Barclays Center and to fight on the same card as Danny Garcia and my brother," Peterson said. "I'm happy the way it went. Any punch can end the night.
"I feel like I could fight again tonight."
Peterson is trying to get his career going again. He's now fought just four times since a disqualification loss in a lightweight title eliminator to Brandon Rios in 2010. But he has been busy this year by his standards, also having fought in March and winning a lopsided 10-round decision against Marcos Jimenez.
"All my layoffs were due to injuries," Peterson said. "Now I feel like I can fight anyone. I'd like to fight again before Christmas."
• Brooklyn welterweight Sadam Ali (20-0, 12 KOs), 25, a 2008 U.S. Olympian, survived a tough struggle to win a split decision against Jeremy Bryan (17-4, 7 KOs), 28, of Paterson, New Jersey, in an action-packed fight.
Two judges had it 96-93 for Ali while the third judge had it 96-93 for Bryan, who got knocked down in the ninth round.
Bryan, a decorated amateur who won two National Golden Gloves titles and owns an amateur victory against headliner Danny Garcia, had Ali in trouble late in the fourth round when he staggered him with a left hook. Ali rebounded in the fifth round to badly stagger Bryan with two left hooks as the fight became more of a brawl.
With about a minute to go in the ninth round of an obviously close fight, Ali dropped Bryan to a knee with a left hook. Bryan survived the round, in part, because he received extra recovery time for his dislodged mouthpiece to be washed out and replaced.
• Brooklyn junior welterweight prospect Zachary Ochoa (8-0, 4 KOs), 22, won a spirited six-round decision against Luis Cervantes (7-8-3, 2 KOs) of Palm Springs, California. All three judges had it for Ochoa, 60-54, 60-54 and 59-55.
Referee Eddie Claudio gave Cervantes a hard warning after he blatantly hit Ochoa low in the fifth round. As soon as the fight resumed, Cervantes tried to tap gloves, but Ochoa didn't and nailed him with a right hand instead, bringing the crowd to life. They spent the rest of the round exchanging heavy fire.
• Light heavyweight Marcus Browne (12-0, 8 KOs), a 2012 U.S. Olympian from Staten Island, New York, was in his first scheduled 10-round fight against Paul Vazquez (10-6-1, 3 KOs) of Oakland, California, but needed only 28 seconds to knock him out in a massive mismatch.
Brown went on the attack from the opening bell and immediately rocked Vazquez with a left hand. He put his punches together, driving Vazquez into the corner and finally dropping him to his backside and Claudio waved off the fight.
• Junior middleweight Prichard Colon (11-0, 10 KOs), 21, of Puerto Rico, was extended the distance for the first time in his career in an easy shutout decision against Lenwood Dozier (9-7-1, 4 KOs) of Washington, D.C. All three judges had it 60-54 for Colon, who was much busier and landed several solid left hooks in the slow-paced fight.
• In the opening fight on the card, super middleweight prospect Demetrius Ballard (6-0, 5 KOs), 21, of Temple Hills, Maryland, overwhelmed Barry Trotter (2-2, 1 KO) of Hayti, Montana, stopping him with a flurry of punches at 2 minutes, 35 seconds of the first round.