LAS VEGAS — Daniel Jacobs, boxing’s Miracle Man, the cancer-survivor-turned-middleweight-champion who will attempt to burnish his resume with what would be his biggest win when he takes on Saul Alvarez Saturday night, stepped in front of a podium on Wednesday with admittedly very little to say.
“What can I cover that we haven’t covered already?” Jacobs said, smiling. “What questions can I answer that you guys haven’t asked already?”
Indeed. In recent years, there has been a thorough airing of Jacobs's story. In 2011, Jacobs was a rising star. Then, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a life-threatening form of bone cancer. A softball-sized tumor was wrapped around his spine. He was told he would never walk again. He not only walked, he fought. He not only fought, he won. He not only won, but he won titles, the most recent the IBF middleweight belt he picked up last October when Jacobs outpointed Sergiy Derevyanchenko, his first legitimate world championship.
His story, Jacobs will confess, is pretty well known.
What’s unknown? Jacobs's place among boxing’s best.
Alvarez is elite. The 28-year-old, cinnamon-haired unified middleweight champion has the resume to prove it. He did at 154 pounds, beating back junior middleweight bogeyman Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout. At 160 pounds, he has a win over Gennady Golovkin. He may not have the natural talent of Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko, but he has earned a place among them on boxing’s pound-for-pound lists.
Jacobs has not. Not yet, anyway.
Here’s what we know about Daniel Jacobs, the fighter. He’s good enough to beat Caleb Truax, Sergio Mora (twice) and Peter Quillin. He’s got excellent power (29 of his 35 wins have come by knockout), terrific defense (just 7.1% of opponents power shots catch Jacobs, per CompuBox, well below the middleweight average) and has shown a knack for maintaining, even bettering, his work rate in the later rounds.
But he lacks a signature win. His first opportunity came in 2017 when he challenged Golovkin. It was a good, close fight, but all three judges—and most of the ringside media—scored it for Golovkin.
Against Golovkin, Jacobs proved he could compete at an elite level.
He still has to prove he can win.
Alvarez represents another opportunity. Canelo is the real deal. He’s got blurring hand speed that magnifies head-snapping power. He’s got an iron chin, evidenced by his decision to stand toe-to-toe with Golovkin last fall. His trainers, Eddy and Chepo Reynoso, cooked up a brilliant game plan against Golovkin and undoubtedly will have a good one for Jacobs.
This will be Jacobs's stiffest test.
Inside Team Jacobs they believe, unsurprisingly, that he will ace it. Jacobs talks about how he has benefitted from his experience with Golovkin. “The mental battle is past me,” said Jacobs. He points to holes in Alvarez’s game that he can exploit. In studying tape of Canelo’s razor-thin win over Golovkin, he zeroed in on Alvarez’s lower body.
“What I took from that fight is how uneducated Canelo's footwork [is],” Jacobs said. “He's great as far as offensive—coming forward as much as punches and bunches and especially his body shots, but a moving target, he really has a hard time with. Looking to exploit some of those things come fight night."
His trainer, Andre Rozier, believes it. The relationship between Rozier and Jacobs runs deeper than fighter and trainer. Rozier has guided Jacobs since the amateurs. He considers Jacobs a surrogate son. He saw the fear in Jacobs's eyes when he was diagnosed with cancer and the joy in them when he beat it. He was disappointed with the decision against Golovkin but believes it made Jacobs stronger for Canelo.
“This is actually a stage in Danny's career that he has earned and prepared himself since an amateur to be ready to represent himself as the No. 1 middleweight in the world,” Rozier said. “This is no telltale issue; this is no streak of fate. This is Danny's destiny. He was destined to be middleweight champion of the world, destined to be a Hall of Famer, and he is destined to show those that greatness comes from hard work and dedication.”
Perhaps. Alvarez offers Jacobs his biggest fight—and maybe one of his last. At 32, Jacobs only has so many years at the top level left. He’s not hiding his enjoyment of this moment. He smiles at the sight of his image adorning the side of the MGM Grand. He gets excited by the size of the crowds. He will collect an eight-figure payday after this fight, courtesy of DAZN, the fledgling streaming service that signed Jacobs to a multifight deal earlier this year. As a kid in Brooklyn, Jacobs grew up watching big fights on Cinco de Mayo weekend. Now he gets to be a part of one.
“I think it's incredible,” Jacobs said. “It never ceases to amaze me the opportunity that arises for me after my cancer scare. I've been able to not only fulfill my dreams and become a world champion, but there's been so many different opportunities that just blow my mind and opportunities that I never thought I'd have.”
Saturday night will be a big one. Jacobs is a 4-1 underdog against Canelo, with many experts believing Jacobs’s lack of an effective jab could be his undoing. Jacobs disagrees. The comeback story has already been written. The story of Jacobs's boxing career still needs a conclusion.