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Monday, June 7, 2010
Jacobs to fight Pirog for WBO belt

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

When middleweight Daniel Jacobs, the 2009 ESPN.com prospect of the year, got a phone call from Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer and manager Al Haymon on Sunday telling him he was going to get a shot at a world title, he couldn't contain his emotions.

"Whenever Al calls me it's usually with good news, so when he called me and he also had Richard on the line, too, I knew I was going to go crazy," Jacobs told ESPN.com on Monday. "They gave me the word and I screamed. I was so excited. It was a really good feeling."

They told Jacobs (20-0, 17 KOs) that he would be facing Russia's Dmitry Pirog (16-0, 13 KOs) for a vacant title on July 31 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Jacobs I feel blessed. A lot of people in my position, coming where I come from, to get an opportunity like this is one in a million.

-- Daniel Jacobs, who hails from the same part of Brooklyn as Mike Tyson
and Riddick Bowe

The fight will be on the undercard of the HBO PPV show headlined by the rematch between lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez and former titlist Juan Diaz, whose first fight was named 2009 fight of the year.

Schaefer is in England this week for various meetings, including with two of Golden Boy's most significant fighters, heavyweight titlist David Haye and junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan. But before he left, he said he came to terms on the Jacobs-Pirog deal with Artie Pelullo, Pirog's co-promoter.

"We are all done," Schaefer said from London. "I think it's a tremendous opportunity for Danny. He's come along very nicely. He's a well-spoken and charismatic fighter. He had a great amateur career and we have built him up nicely. We all feel he is ready to fight for a title. We are excited he will have the opportunity. We will see how he will do."

The title became vacant May 29 when the WBO stripped lineal champion Sergio Martinez, who had claimed the lineage and two sanctioning organization belts by outpointing Kelly Pavlik on April 17. But because Martinez also holds a junior middleweight belt, and the WBO wanted a decision on which title he would defend before Martinez had made up his mind, he was stripped.

"The WBO ordered negotiations since Danny and [Pirog] were the next contenders, and Artie and me very quickly put a deal together," Schaefer said. "We finalized it over the weekend."

Jacobs, 23, a standout as an amateur who just missed making the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, has been a professional since only December 2007, but Golden Boy has moved him quickly.

"I feel blessed," said Jacobs, who is from the tough Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., that also produced former heavyweight champs Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe. "A lot of people in my position, coming where I come from, to get an opportunity like this is one in a million."

Jacobs' most notable pro victory was a unanimous decision against veteran fringe contender Ishe Smith last August. But a hand injury in the fight kept Jacobs on the shelf for seven months. He returned in March and has notched knockout wins in both of his fights, a first-round blowout of Jose Berrio and a second-round knockout of Juan Astorga on May 15 on the Amir Khan-Paulie Malignaggi undercard.

Despite the limited professional experience, Jacobs said he's ready for a title bout.

"I feel like I am ready for a world championship fight," he said. "I don't think there are too many threats out there. I think if I get this world championship come July 31, I think we'll have more improvements to do, like getting experience and such. But if anyone has an opportunity to get a world title I don't think anyone would decline."

Pirog, 29, a pro since 2005, has a resume similar to Jacobs' in that it is light on notable opponents. His most significant victory is a June 2009 unanimous decision against onetime junior middleweight contender Kofi Jantuah, whom he defeated via shutout.

Although Jacobs is excited for his opportunity, he said he also understands that there probably will be some backlash from fans who consider Martinez the legitimate champion.

"I know they'll call me a paper champion when I win," Jacobs said. "But look at it from the other standpoint -- anyone in my position, they wouldn't decline it if offered. Believe me, if I had the opportunity to fight Sergio Martinez and win the title from him, I would want to do it that way. I would want to take the belt from him, but the opportunity hasn't been presented to me. This one was. I took it.

"I'm a fighter but I am also a boxing fan as well, so you never really like paper champions. You have to make a name for yourself and then I will get respect as a legitimate world champion down the line when I do fight those other top guys. I want to be a true world champion, but this is my opportunity to start down that road."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.