In his words: How Daniel Jacobs became boxing’s ‘Miracle Man’
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Apr. 25, 2018
A SMALL, BLACK door, just off a run-of-the-mill corner block in Brooklyn, opens to a dark, narrow flight of stairs that you’d hesitate to descend if not for the pictures of boxers, belts and trophies on the walls. At the bottom, once your eyes adjust, a boxing ring and a fighter with a deep well of gratitude take shape in the low light.
Daniel “The Miracle Man” Jacobs, a complete middleweight with lightning-quick hands, stout defense and a powerful left hook, was surging up the ranks seven years ago when his legs were paralyzed by a life-threatening tumor that wrapped around his spine. Incredibly, he returned to the ring after 18 months, winning a title and defending it four times before narrowly losing to world No. 1 Gennady Golovkin last March. With his unanimous 12-round decision in November over previously undefeated Luis Arias, Jacobs (33-2, 29 KOs) hopes for another shot at Golovkin. First, though, he’ll have to get past undefeated Polish fighter Maciej Sulęcki (26-0, 10 KOs) on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Jacobs, 31, broke from a speed-and-conditioning workout to talk about staring down cancer, defying doctors’ orders and why his left pinky toe is a constant reminder of his great fortune.
OUT OF THE BLUE
In March 2011, Jacobs buried Robert Kliewer with punches from the opening bell, sending him to the canvas for the second and final time at 1:44 of the first round. Weeks later, Jacobs (22-1) had joined a tour of Iraq to visit troops when he noticed pain and tingling in his leg.
“The doctors misdiagnosed me at first — they told me I had a pinched nerve. But my situation was getting worse. The tumor was cutting off the circulation in my nerves. And in two weeks’ time, I was left paralyzed. I went from a cane to crutches to a walker to a wheelchair. The second time I went to the hospital, they had to do more tests. That’s when they were able to pinpoint exactly what was wrong. They were gonna cut through my chest — if you know anything about boxing, anything like that and your career is over. Fortunately for me, I was able to get surgery through my back.”
‘ONLY PLACE I WANTED TO BE’
Jacobs says the aggressive tumor on his spine might have been a death sentence, but it was detected with only days to spare. His rehabilitation took more than a year of not-so-patient healing and extremely grueling physical therapy — pain worse than anything he’d felt in the ring.
“We were in the ICU, and I remember just being in a really, really dark place. It was a hard process. But once I got out of the hospital, once I learned how to walk again, I went back [to the gym] immediately. It was against doctor’s orders, obviously — the doctors told me I would never be able to box again. I just remember getting out of the hospital, and the only place I wanted to be was the boxing gym.
“I had such severe nerve damage that I didn’t get the nerves all the way back. My pinky toe on my left foot is still numb, and I feel it when I’m in bed at night or when I’m by myself. That pins-and-needles feeling reminds me that life is precious, and don’t take for granted what you have. But being in that hospital bed for so long, I was missing those things that I couldn’t do, that my trainers used to have to force me to do. I was like, man, if I could only run that extra mile, if I could skip rope that extra two or three rounds or spar an extra five rounds. There’s no bigger motivator.”
FROM ‘GOLDEN CHILD’ TO ‘MIRACLE MAN’
He returned to the ring in Oct. 20, 2012, with a first-round demolition of fellow Brooklynite Josh Luteran. A right hand followed by a left-right combo sent Luteran back, his head bouncing off the canvas. It was the first of 10 successive knockouts for Jacobs, including his TKO of Jerrod Fletcher for the vacant WBA title on Aug. 9, 2014. Jacobs credits his post-cancer success to a change of perspective.
“Prior to this whole cancer situation, I remember reading — I’m not really religious, but I’m a spiritual guy — a word called ‘meek.’ And I remember at that time I was called ‘The Golden Child,’ and that was a guy who had seen all the glitz and glamour as a kid and wanted to live that life. I was living life in the wrong way, and I was just like, ‘Man, I don’t want to lose my sense of direction. [God] allow me to understand what the word meek means.’ And about two months later, that’s when I was diagnosed with cancer. So after getting back to a place where I could finally box again, I remember sitting down, and it was like, ‘Wow. This was a really great experience for me, to understand what the word meek means and apply it in my life.’ And from that point on, I just adopted a whole new mentality.”
HIS HAPPY PLACE
On March 18, 2017, Jacobs gave GGG the toughest fight of his career, taking him to 12 rounds at Madison Square Garden. Jacobs was knocked down in the fourth after briefly switching to a southpaw stance, but he rallied late, landing a solid right in the 10th that seemed to stun Golovkin. Two judges scored it 115-112, and one had it 114-113, all for Golovkin.
“You really don’t know what you’re made of until you get in there with the best. Some argue that I won, some argue that I lost. Draw your own conclusion, but at the end of the day, it was a win-win situation. For me, it let me know that I belong, that I can go in there and bang with the best of them. And it’s a great feeling. Because I truly believe that I won the fight, and I truly believe that I am the best middleweight in the world. And having that chip on your shoulder, having that in the back of your head is a great little boost to have inside that ring.
“All of this is destined. All of this wasn’t a coincidence. I think of all the things that I dreamed of, and they’re slowly but surely starting to come true. Who would’ve thought I’d have these opportunities, especially years ago when I was in that hospital bed, when pretty much everyone wrote me off? I’m at the most blissful place in my life, the happiest place in my career.”