The middleweight division has failed to have a dominant champion since the Bernard Hopkins left the weight class several years ago. HBO invested much time and money trying to create new legends in Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik. But lackluster defenses, career-threatening injuries and shocking upsets have effectively ended the chances of those two being crossover stars.
Enter Danny Jacobs, a 23 year old rising prospect out of Brooklyn. Undefeated in 20 fights (with 17 KOs) with balanced speed and power, Jacobs has the skills and personality to engage the public while thriving in a wide open division. Tomorrow (July 31), he seeks his first belt in a WBO title match against slick Dmitry Pirog on the Diaz-Marquez II undercard. Is he looking to unify immediately? Is he comfortable with the now controversial Al Haymon’s handling of his career? Read on.
Ismael AbduSalaam: Since you’re still building your name, explain for people who don’t know you how you got into boxing over more popular sports like football and basketball.
Danny Jacobs: I used to play football but had a defining moment where I decided I should go into this boxing program. It was the last play and we were down, and if we would’ve scored a touchdown we would’ve won it. I was in the end zone and the quarterback decided to run instead of throwing me the ball and we lost the game. He got sacked.
As of that moment, I chose boxing because I wanted to have my fate and my destiny in my hands. And I’ve stuck with boxing ever since.
Ismael: Was it easy for you to find a gym and get mentored?
Jacobs: It was easy for me, I lucked up I guess. Being an inner-city kid I went to the local PAL which was free because I didn’t have any money or my family. It wasn’t the top trainer guys, but we worked with what we had. Me starting from ground zero shows you can make it when you set your mind to do something.
Ismael: Even from the start you’ve gotten work on the big PPV cards, beginning with Mayweather-Hatton in 2007. Being around all those stars, have you been able to interact with them and get advice?
Jacobs: Luckily I’ve been able to interact with all those guys. I never dreamed that I’d be sitting next to Mayweather just lounging and talking, or Oscar De La Hoya coming to me in the dressing room to see if I’m ok going into my fight. These are the guys I looked up to and couldn’t imagine being in my corner as I come up the professional ranks. It’s definitely a blessing; a lot of people don’t have this opportunity and I want to make the best of it.
Ismael: Before you, HBO put a lot of time in building up Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik as the next middleweight stars. It didn’t pan out that way for them. Based on the way you’re carrying the weight, do you see middleweight as a division you’ll spend a lot of time at?
Jacobs: Well, it’s a business at the end of the day. If I have to go to 168 to get a big fight that the fans want to see, I’ll do that. But I plan to campaign at 160 for a number of years. It’s not easy to make, but it’s good because it makes you work harder to lose the weight. So I think we’ll campaign at 160 for a little while and then move on up to 168 in a couple of years.
Ismael: Being that you mentioned the weight challenge, what is your normal walk-around weight when you are not fighting?
Jacobs: I walk around maybe 173 to 174. That’s where I was after my last fight so that would be probably it. So it’s not that hard to lose 15 pounds for a fight if you have five to six weeks to do it.
Ismael: This fight will be for the WBO strap. Just looking at the middleweight division if you win, is your team planning on making a few defenses or immediately trying to unify?
Jacobs: Well we’re taking it one step at a time. My manager Al Haymon has a plan, [but] I don’t know the whole plan as he doesn’t give it to us. We don’t like to look ahead; we look to focus on the near future. And the near future is July 31. Whatever he has in store after that [I’m ready]. He’s full of surprises so I’m blessed. I don’t know at this point what he wants to do with my career at this point, or what my team has planned, but my job is to just train hard and fight. Whatever success I have after that is in the hands of them. I just have to do my job.
Ismael: I hadn’t seen much of your opponent Dmitry Pirog before this fight was announced. He has a good knockout record at 16-0, 13 KOs. What’s your impression of him as a fighter?
Jacobs: I wouldn’t categorize him as a knockout puncher. He has a very large arsenal of just a volume of punches. He has good angles. He has a Mayweather-like defense. It’s not as good as Mayweather but he tries. So he’s a very awkward, strong Russian. But I think my speed, power, and ability to adjust will play a big factor in this fight.
Ismael: Your style is pretty versatile in that you can fight going forward or backward and still retain your power and speed. Was there anyone you modeled yourself after when you first training?
Jacobs: Well, I’d like to think I emulated the top amateurs. I loved the amateur system and a lot of the top guys were so finesse and fluid, so I watched a lot of their tapes. But as a professional I don’t think I modeled myself after anyone. I pick up things here and there from watching old and new fighters. But nobody in particular; I just train hard and try to form my own style and perfect.
Ismael: A lot of people say your toughest fight so far was against Ishe Smith. But I wanted to get your take on your toughest opponent.
Jacobs: My toughest test is between the Ishe fight and the Michael Walker fight. [With the Walker bout] I took that fight on like a week’s notice and then I fought the following week. So I fought two fights like within a week. That was pretty cool. But Ishe Smith was a rugged, defensive guy with crafty movement. I definitely learned a lot with him. You want to see a good prospect in fights like that to see if he’ll fold or make it. And I made it. Hopefully we’ll continue to climb up the ladder and have those tough fights to where I’ll have mastered every style and it’ll be nothing new to me.
Ismael: People and particularly networks believe you have to have strong back stories and characters to sell fights today. As someone coming up has your team brought that up to you, or have you been allowed just to focus on fighting?
Jacobs: They really don’t stress regarding the media because I think my personality speaks for itself. I think I have a very cool personality; I’m an outgoing guy. So it kind of goes along with it. If I was a real dog guy then maybe they’d pick up and say hey you got to get the people’s attention. I’m a respectable young gentleman so that’ll take me a long way. People like the positive but they also like the villain. But you’ll go a lot further if you’re the good guy. And it flows natural.
Ismael: Being that you loved the amateur style what was your biggest adjustment moving to professional boxing?
Jacobs: Taking my time because in the amateurs you fight two minutes as opposed to three. And the guys in the professional ranks have smaller gloves, no headgear, and no shirts. You have to get adjusted to being hit by grown men with man strength. You also have to get adjusted to running more miles and training harder. All around you have to train to have a bigger arsenal because these are not four two-minute rounds. Those were the biggest things. It wasn’t that hard but it’s a never-ending learning process.
Ismael: Looking at your last few fights, what is the biggest facet of your game that you want to improve on?
Jacobs: I think my offense is superb, it’s flawless. But there are defensive things I can work on; like gym habit things like pulling back with your hands down. Things you can get away with in the gym. But in the fight you have smaller gloves and the punches are coming a lot faster as opposed to sparring. Little stuff like that I have to get better at.
Ismael: Did you have a prediction for a main event between Juan Diaz and Juan Manuel Marquez?
Jacobs: Both those guys are great champions. They’re both coming off two losses. But they’re both as hungry as ever to get back to that level. It’s makes for a great show but I don’t have a prediction yet. But I’m looking forward to a great night of boxing.
Ismael: Young, creative ideas are always essential to any industry. What are the top changes you would make in the sport to make boxing better?
Jacobs: [Pauses] Well I could only bring what I possess, and that’s bringing a positive light to it. The true boxing fans know my skills. But if the opportunity comes to be in the spotlight more, I think the people would draw a liking to me and it would be a great, positive impact on the sport. A lot of guys talk trash and a lot of people don’t see their positive side because they’re so focused on trying to sell a fight. I bring a different approach. When De La Hoya came up he was like the best thing. He was the Golden Boy. And that’s why they call me the Golden Child [laughs]. I’m trying to follow in those footsteps but just put a little more spice to it.
Ismael: Are you comfortable with the pace you’re being brought along with?
Jacobs: I think the pace is perfect. The opponents have been stepping up every fight. The superstardom comes with time. So I can’t get mad and want it to come fast because it may come too fast and I won’t be able to handle it. I want to acclimated to it. I still young and hopefully we’ll get this WBO belt on Saturday. Everything is going according to plan.
Ismael: Anything you wanted to add to close?
To my fans you can follow me on Twitter @danieljacobstko and on Facebook through my email firstname.lastname@example.org. Just come on this journey with me. I’m always in tune with my fans and like to interact. I really appreciate it, man.