Brownsville, Brooklyn is the birthplace of some of the best boxers the sport has ever seen. Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Zab Judah have all come out of that New York City neighborhood.
But, the boxer from Brownsville who owns the greatest victory out of all of them is Danny Jacobs, and it took place outside the boxing ring against a more formidable opponent than anyone donning a pair of boxing gloves.
In May of 2011, "The Golden Child" was riding high after a first-round knockout victory over Robert Kliewer. That was his second victory after suffering a knockout against Dmitry Pirog, in a fight for the WBO title, the first professional loss of his career.
Soon after, Jacobs would receive some devastating news: he had cancer. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the young fighter had a tumor that was wrapping itself around his spine, damaging his nerves and causing partial paralysis in his legs.
"It was one of the hardest things I ever had to hear," said Jacobs, who will defend his title against Caleb Truax on Premier Boxing Championship, tonight (April 24, 2015) live on Spike TV at 9 PM ET. "When you hear cancer... the first thing I thought about was just my family members.
"My family has been victims of cancer and they actually lost their lives. I knew it was hereditary and it could be passed on to my son. I just thought the worst. It's never a good thing and I just at one point, once I got it in my mind that there was nothing I could do about it, I just had to go up from there."
Jacobs had to undergo two procedures, both at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, to remove the tumor from his back. Then, the next step was robotic radiation treatment at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, Long Island, to make sure the cancer wouldn't spread to other parts of his body.
After overcoming the life-threatening illness, boxing was out of the question going forward, according to the doctors. After all, Jacobs still had to learn how to walk again--a battle he said was one of the "hardest challenges" he's ever had to face -- and there was no guarantee he would regain full function of his legs. However, the Brooklyn native was determined to not only make a full physical recovery but, to get back to the sport he loved.
Luckily, he didn't have to go through the battle alone. Jacobs credits his girlfriend Natalie Stevens, godmother Dorothea Perry, and son Nathaniel as a "critical link" to his mental strength to aid him through the physical challenges he endured throughout his recovery.
19 months later, Jacobs made a successful return to the ring at The Barclays center in Brooklyn, defeating Josh Luteran by first-round knockout. Five fights after that, Jacobs defeated Jarrod Fletcher by technical knockout last August--once again in front of a hometown Brooklyn crowd--to win the WBA middleweight title, making history as the first cancer survivor to ever become champion. There inside the ring at The Barclays Center, as reality set in, he was overcome with emotion. His road to recovery was a long and tumultuous one, and it led him on the path to a title.
The WBA middleweight champion recalled his emotions from that overwhelming evening.
"The first thing I thought was 'thank you heavenly father,'" Jacobs said. "It's because of him I had the opportunity. It's because of him that I had a second chance of life. All I could think about was giving him praise and thinking about when I was a 14-year-old boy starting out. How I set this goal and it had finally been accomplished. And in the back of my mind all I could think about as well was just how I was proving everyone wrong so this opportunity would be possible, like the doctors and everybody else who said I would never box again."
Now over four years later, with the dark times behind him, Jacobs assessed how far he has come from then until now and described the whirlwind of being diagnosed with cancer to winning the WBA middleweight title.
"I've definitely come a long way from where I was about four years ago when everything was stripped from me," he said. "I didn't think this opportunity was possible. The hurdles I had to jump over to get to this position, it definitely wasn't easy. Any time you come back to the sport of boxing... Boxing is definitely a tough challenge in itself. For me to go through what I've gone through and to come back to the sport and become a champion...
"I had to go through tons of talented guys to become that. It was one of the those things, I had to put my mind to it and the mind frame that I did have was one of the strongest mind frames I've had in all of my life. Cancer has taught me to be so mentally focused and so mentally strong that I don't feel that anything can break me."
His opponent, Truax, falls under that category
"I think our matchup is what it says on paper: champion versus contender," Jacobs said with confidence. "I don't think he's ever seen a guy like myself inside there when it comes to speed and sheer talent. I think I'm very gifted. I think he has to work to be as good as he is. Not undermining what he brings to the table, but when you are mentally and physically prepared in the way that I am, I don't see how he can beat me."
The champion was recently featured on a Spike TV special called "Never Give up: A Boxing Survival Story," along with fellow cancer survivor Anthony Dirrell, who is a good friend and also fighting on tonight's card at the UHI Pavilion in Chicago. Jacobs is excited to bring his brand of boxing to Spike TV and to have his remarkable story of survival told to a whole new fan base.
"This is everything I always wanted," said Jacobs, about fighting on cable TV. "We always had to compete with the NBA and the NFL and other sports to get that national exposure. We've always been the guys who kind of got the second hand. Now it's our opportunity to shine and I just feel that America loves great stories as well. I think lot of people in America can relate to my story with Cancer affecting so many people throughout the world. I just feel that I will have that much more supporters and I can be a superstar in the sport."