By Thomas Hauser
Danny Jacobs is being groomed for stardom.
Outside the ring, Jacobs is easy-going with a natural, almost disarming, quality about him. He likes to talk. “And I love to cook,” he offers. “Chicken, pasta, different sauces. Bread pudding is my favorite. I make it well.” He’s also a talented young fighter, who says without false modesty, “I’m capable of being the best in the world. I can make a big mark in this game.”
Jacobs was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn on February 3, 1987. His mother was a nurse. His father (“he was in and out of my life; I saw him every few months when I was growing up”) is a building superintendent.
“It was a challenging childhood,” Danny remembers. “I saw things on the streets that I’d have rather not seen. And I wasn’t one of the smartest kids in school. Some of the other kids used to tease me. But right now, I’m probably one of the most successful of the people I went to school with.”
Like many fighters, Jacobs found boxing by accident. He was just shy of fifteen years old.
“In school,” he remembers, “you’d fight, be friends; fight, be friends. Some of the kids I knew had been going to the Howard Houses Gym, which was two blocks from where I lived. One time, I went with them. The first time I was in the ring, it was weird. The gloves were heavy; I’d never heard of headgear; the cup didn’t fit; I got tired real quick.”
But Jacobs was hooked.
“There had been times,” he says, “when I’d sit in school, wondering what I’d do with my life. When I found boxing, I loved it from the first day. I learned early that I was good and that I had something special. The gym was someplace I needed to be. I even got used to getting hit. It comes with the territory; but getting punched in the nose still hurts.”
Within a month, Jacobs was working with Victor Roundtree, who, with Andre Rozier, trains him today. Eventually, the Starrett City Gym became his home and the plaudits started pouring in.
Jacobs won National Golden Gloves titles in 2004 and 2005, National PAL titles in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and a USA Boxing National Championship in 2006. His overall amateur record was 137 wins against 7 losses. He was knocked down only three times in 144 fights and never knocked out. He was stopped once (on the twenty-point rule by Matvey Korobov in a 2005 tournament in Russia). “I was eighteen years old and in over my head in that one,” he admits.
The downside to Jacobs’s ring success was that he dropped out of high school after tenth grade. “Boxing kept me behind,” he says. “I was addicted to boxing. I was in the gym a lot and going to tournaments all the time. I’d found what I wanted to do with my life and put all my dedication into that.”
It was widely assumed that Jacobs would represent the United States in the 165-pound division at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Then he lost to Shawn Estrada at the Olympic Trials and was forced to abandon that dream.
“Not making the Olympic team was heartbreaking,” he acknowledges. “It hurt bad for about a month. But I knew there were still good things in my future and it wasn’t the end for me. I’m a little ahead in my professional development of where I’d be now if I’d made the Olympic team.” Then he adds, “I’d love to fight Estrada again someday. Korobov too.”
Jacobs made his professional debut with a first-round knockout of Jose Jesus Hurtado on the undercard of the December 8, 2007, mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas. His record now stands at 14-and-0 with 13 knockouts, but the opposition has been soft. His toughest test to date was a six-round decision over Emmanuel Gonzalez (who began his career with nine straight wins but has since been shopped as an opponent and lost four bouts in a row).
“I set goals and then I try to achieve them,” Danny says. “I’m learning a lot and there’s a lot more to learn. The route that I’m on, I’m doing just fine. Last year, I wanted to be one of the top prospects in boxing. This year, I want to be a contender; 20-and-0 by the end of the year and rated in the top ten. Next year, I want to be a champion.”
But Jacobs wants to be more than a champion. He’s focused on becoming a superstar. He’s a high-profile prospect and he knows it. He isn’t arrogant, but he does have a full appreciation of his boxing skills and where they might lead him.
“A lot of it is natural talent,” Danny says. “I’m a very talented guy. The rest is dedication and hard work. I like attention. I like being in the spotlight. I’m used to people coming to see me fight and cheering me on. I like to read about myself. I go on the Internet every day to see what’s written about me. My level of fame isn’t high yet. I’m not a household name, but I’m getting to be famous. Sometimes people recognize me and come up to me and ask for my autograph or to have their picture taken with me, and I love it. I’d love to be someone like Derek Jeter and be appreciated for what I do and go to parties and have people know who I am. I can’t see it ever being a bother.”
The dream could come true. Jacobs has speed, power, good footwork, and a solid chin. His manager is the ubiquitous Al Haymon. Golden Boy has promoted most of his pro fights, although Danny says that he hasn’t signed with them and is a promotional free agent.
From a commercial point of view, Team Jacobs has yet to capitalize on Danny’s New York roots. He still lives in Brooklyn and unequivocally states, “I love New York. I don’t ever want to leave. And if I do leave, I don’t want to go far.”
But he has fought in New York only once as a pro (on the undercard of Joe Calzaghe vs. Roy Jones Jr) and hasn’t developed significant local media support. It wouldn’t hurt if, from now on, he entered the ring to the accompaniment of Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.
Still, whatever happens, Jacobs’s connections are good. More than half of his fights have been on the undercard of major bouts like De La Hoya-Pacquiao, Calzaghe-Hopkins, and Pavlik-Taylor II. And he has charisma outside the ring coupled with an exciting style in it.
Maybe too exciting.
“I’m very aware of the crowd,” Danny says. “It’s a big part of the experience for me. When you’re going toe-to-toe in combat and people are cheering you on, that’s the biggest high you can get. When I fight on the undercard of these big fights and there’s only a few hundred people in the stands, I do what I have to do but it’s not the same for me.”
And suppose he were to fight someone like James Kirkland?
“We’ll get in the ring and slug it out,” Jacobs answers. “If I got hit too hard, I suppose I’d fight smart. If something’s not working, you use an alternate route. But when your homeboys are there and the crowd is cheering for you, you want to do it the way they want you to.”
“It’s ego,” Danny adds by way of further explanation. “I don’t know anyone who would take a decision over a knockout. Knockouts are dramatic. They feel so good.”
In sum, Danny Jacobs wants to be a superstar, make tens of millions of dollars, and, lest one think he’s short-sighted, retire from boxing in perfect health at age thirty.
A lot of young men with dedication and prodigious physical gifts have that dream.
He has the potential to rise to the top. But it will be a hard road to fruition and some unanswered questions remain.
The last time Jacobs entered the ring as an underdog was against Matvey Korobov in 2005. That’s due in part to his ring skills and also, during the past sixteen months, to one-sided matchmaking.
To be a superstar, Jacobs will have to go in tough and he won’t always be favored to win. When crunch-time comes, will he rise to the occasion or crack and fold? Will he reign supreme or have the hope and optimism beaten out of him?
Time will tell.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (“The Boxing Scene”) was published this year by Temple University Press.