Inspiration comes in many forms, and in boxing, it doesn't get more inspirational than WBA middleweight champion, Daniel Jacobs. The 28-year-old Brooklyn native made his professional debut in 2007 on the undercard of Mayweather vs. Hatton and subsequently went on to amass a near perfect 22-1 record before a potential career-ending medical diagnosis was delivered to him. Daniel had osteosarcoma, a life-threatening form of bone cancer.
Jacobs went through a period of partial paralysis before undergoing surgery to remove the tumor that was wrapped around his spine, but just 19 months later, he was rehabbed, cancer free and medically cleared to fight again. His return to the ring was a triumphant one, and in front of a hometown crowd in Brooklyn, he finished his opponent inside the first round.
As a way of paying his good fortune forward, the "Miracle Man" has established a charity called Get In The Ring that is designed to provide assistance to children with various issues ranging from cancer to kids that are being bullied in school. It's pretty safe to say that Jacobs' positive karma points are aplenty.
Tomorrow night, Daniel will be paying it forward for his fans when he steps in the ring against another boxer riding a super-hot streak, Caleb Truax. The fight will be the co-main event of Spike TV's Premier Boxing Champions card airing live from Chicago via the University of Illinois' Chicago Pavillion.
Bloody Elbow recently caught up with Jacobs who fielded a variety of questions about his upcoming fight, future goals for his charity, lingering effects from his battle with the big C and more. Here's what he had to say:
Bloody Elbow: I know a lot of combat sports athletes time their training so they "peak" at a certain point. With the date change for your fight, did that affect you any, or is it pretty much business as usual?
Daniel Jacobs: Well, I think we're a little bit more educated now because we've added some new people to my team. We added a new strength and conditioning trainer and also a nutritionist, so with the date being changed, I think we just had to alter the course of the things we were doing. I stopped going 100% and just kind of coasted for these last two weeks. Right now we're at the point where we're just about to turn off everything and get ready for the fight on Friday.
BE: Truax will now have more of the "home ring advantage" with the venue being in Chicago. Is that a factor that you've ever given any credence to, or does it not really matter?
DJ: It's actually something I wanted. You know, I got kind of spoiled with always fighting in Brooklyn at the Barclay Center. I've always wanted to not be the guy that people rooted against, but it just adds a little controversy to it, knowing that I will be that guy on fight night. You know boxing is controversy in itself, so when you have a guy that's a fan favorite coming to a guy's home town and not be the favorite in that arena, it just serves as a great motivation for me. Hearing those boos takes the pressure off of me and puts it on him. At the end of the day, I've got a job to do, so it doesn't matter where it would be. It could be in Thailand. I'll meet him in Thailand and we can get the job done there.
BE: All athletes experience pressure in varying degrees before competition. How do you "de-pressurize" before a big bout?
DJ: With a lot of meditation. I'm really big into meditating, and Deepak Chopra is one of my biggest influences. It just takes away a lot of stress and gives me the relief that comes with having my mind at 100% clarity, so I can take on the task at hand. I realize as an athlete there's always challenges, there's always things that you have to overcome, and being nervous or having added pressure, is one of those things, but I feel like I've found a cure to it.
BE: Truax has said that your speed and KO power are a huge factor, and he will try to counteract that by taking you into the later rounds. What are your thoughts on that strategy?
DJ: I think with any fight, I have to be 100% ready because you just never know. This is one of those sports where anything can happen. I suffered a loss before where I was 100% sure I was going to be the victor. Boxing is one of those things were you just have to be prepared, and it's all about the work that you do before you step into that ring to compete. The fact that he's gone 10 rounds and he's had the more experience with going to those later rounds, just makes me run longer, makes me train harder and gets me in the best shape that I can possibly be.
You know he's right, that's probably his only opportunity to win in this fight, to take me into later rounds, but I have a little something up my sleeve once that opportunity comes, if it comes. So, like I said, it just serves as great motivation to be the best that I can be inside that ring, to prove not only to the world, but to myself, that I'm capable of going a strong 12 rounds with a solid guy.
BE: Which of your fellow middleweights would you like to fight next?
DJ: I really don't have anyone in particular in mind that I would like to face. I've never been one of those guys who does the match making after one of my fights, but I want to be the undisputed middleweight champion, so obviously I want to go after one of those guys with the belts and take over the division step by step. Thing is, you just can't fight everybody back to back. You have to give yourself time, you have to rest and you have to go about it the right way. I let my team take care of that and I will just do my job in there and perform the best that I can.
BE: Aside from yourself, who do you think presents the biggest threat in your division, Golovkin or Cotto?
DJ: Definitely Golovkin. I don't think Cotto serves as the biggest threat, not because of his skill set or because of his accomplishments or what he possesses inside the ring, I just think that he's too small of a middleweight to be able to compete on an elite level with guys like myself and the rest of the big boys. He fought Sergio Martinez, but Martinez was injured and he didn't really have a chance to give his best. When you see guys like myself, who have big knockout power, and GGG who has big knockout power, and you're dealing with a smaller guy, 5'6" or 5'7"like Miguel Cotto, it's kind of hard to see how he can take that kind of power from the top boxers.
BE: You've experienced great success with your Get In the Ring program. Are you interested in expanding your philanthropic efforts by incorporating more branches to your charity program (helping homeless, setting up scholarship programs, community free clinics, soup kitchens, etc)?
DJ: We're definitely trying to branch out, but right now what we're trying to do is make sure that our current programs are on solid ground and thriving. With the attention we've been getting and with the traffic that's come our way, we're on a successful trajectory which will make it easier to attain our goals for the future.
BE: I know the long term effects of surgery, chemo, and radiation can last a lifetime. Do you have any lingering effects that you deal with, or has it been a fairly smooth recovery for you?
DJ: I have a numb pinky toe and it's always fuzzy like it's on pins and needles. I feel it mostly right before I go to bed, but it's actually cool for me because to me it serves as a reminder of how blessed I am. Right before I go to bed, I thank God for how fortunate and blessed I was to be able to overcome all that I did.
BE: If you could only pick one of your fights to show a new fan that just started following you, which fight and why?
DJ: I would pick my first comeback fight, because to me, that serves as such an inspirational story. Every time I watch it, I get chills because of the back story that follows it, and it was a devastating knockout, as well. For me to overcome all that I did, and to come back to perform at the Barclay Center with so many cheering fans from Brooklyn supporting me...that was probably one of the greatest feelings I've ever had in my career.
BE: Were there any fighters that you tried to mimic growing up?
DJ: Even before I got the passion for boxing, I always used to mimic Roy Jones, Jr. He was one of my biggest heroes, and I just loved everything about him. Once I started boxing, I tried to emulate things that I would see him do in the ring. I would try to portray myself like him, I would talk like him. I was just a real big Roy Jones, Jr. fan, and to this day, he's someone that I still look up to because he's what I think a true champion embodies.
BE: If you could fight any boxer of any era, who would it be and why?
DJ: Probably Marvin Haggler, because he was considered to be one of the greatest middleweights ever. He was the toughest, grittiest, most skillful athlete of that generation, and if I ever wanted to be considered among the greatest boxers, I would need to test myself against a guy like Marvin Haggler.
BE: If you could change one thing about boxing today, what would it be?
DJ: I think that question is already answered because we have PBC now and we have a broader audience. We're in a much better position to attract more fans. In other sports, the massive coverage collegiate athletes get is a major asset to their budding careers, so by the time they turn pro and go into the NFL or the NBA, they already have a huge fan base. I think that was the missing link that boxing has had. We sort of had that years ago, when boxing was still on primetime, network television, but there was such a long span where we didn't have that kind of exposure. Now, we have all these major outlets like NBC and Spike TV reaching so many people throughout the world. You couldn't ask for a better platform to display your skills.
BE: Who takes it, Mayweather vs Paquiao?
DJ: Mayweather by decision. Normally I don't give out fight picks; I always say the fans are going to win, but if you think about it, the fans have been wanting this fight for a very long time, so ultimately they are going to win anyway. It's probably going to be one of the best fights that we've seen in years
BE: Do you think they waited too late to make that fight?
DJ: On a competitive level, I think they probably waited just a little bit too late. When you think about it, these guys are probably still facing the best opponent of their respective careers. Bearing that in mind, we'll likely see them both going that extra mile on fight night.