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No secrets between Jacobs, Derevyanchenko

When Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko — two of the most highly regarded fighters in boxing’s star-studded and loaded middleweight division — come face to face for a vacant world title, there will be no secrets between them.

It is not uncommon for top fighters to have experience sparring with a future foe, but Jacobs and Derevyanchenko take that practice to an entirely new level. They have swapped punches for, by Jacobs’ estimate, more than 300 rounds helping prepare each other for other fights, including when Derevyanchenko served as one of Jacobs’ top sparring partners when he was preparing for what would be a close decision loss to Gennady Golovkin in March 2017.

They have even more in common than just that in-ring familiarity. Their teams are entwined and they have known each other for years. They share a manager in Keith Connolly. They also share a trainer, Andre Rozier, and for ages shared an assistant trainer in Gary Stark Sr.

So when they meet for a vacant 160-pound world title in the main event of a “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, there will be few surprises.

It will be a matter of who was able to come up with a wrinkle in the game plan, because the truth comes out in 300 rounds of sparring.

“I’d definitely say we’re very familiar with each other’s styles, weaknesses and strengths,” Jacobs said. “This is an individual sport and when we spar it’s some really great sparring matches and when the fight comes it will be the same thing. We’re both standing in the way of each other’s opportunity and I can’t stand for that from anybody — not my friend, not my associate, not anyone. I want to be the middleweight champion of the world, undisputed, and he’s in the way of that.”

Derevyanchenko (12-0, 10 KOs) agreed with Jacobs (34-2, 29 KOs), a former secondary world titleholder, that their sparring sessions were good for both of them.

“The sparring was very good. We helped each other out,” Derevyanchenko said through an interpreter. “It was a lot of technical work that we both learned from each other and at the end of the day it was just a lot of good work.”

As they trained together and were establishing themselves as the top fighters in the division, it became apparent they would potentially have to face each other for real, not just practice.

“I’d definitely say we’re very familiar with each other’s styles, weaknesses and strengths. This is an individual sport and when we spar it’s some really great sparring matches and when the fight comes it will be the same thing. We’re both standing in the way of each other’s opportunity and I can’t stand for that from anybody — not my friend, not my associate, not anyone. I want to be the middleweight champion of the world, undisputed, and he’s in the way of that.” Daniel Jacobs

“Yes, I always thought about it. I mean, when we were working together in the gym and training, I always thought about what it would be like if we were fighting together, but I think about that with other folks so now the time has come and it’s just reality,” said Derevyanchenko, who may have only 12 pro fights but has had more than 300 fights in a huge amateur career.

Jacobs, 31, of Brooklyn, New York, made it clear that while they know each other, respect each other and are friendly toward each other, he does not consider Derevyanchenko, 32, a 2008 Ukrainian Olympian now fighting out of Brooklyn, a friend, in part because of a language barrier that has prevented them from getting too personal with each other.

“We have a good relationship but it’s mostly inside the gym,” Jacobs said. “We see each other because we have the same stable. We have the same trainer. But it’s not a relationship where we call each other friends. In this sport of boxing if you have someone campaigning in the middleweight division you always have to keep it in the back of your mind that someday you might fight them.”

The fight presented itself after Gennady Golovkin was stripped of one of his world title belts for taking the September rematch with Canelo Alvarez rather than face Derevyanchenko, the mandatory challenger. Jacobs was next in line to fight for the vacant title.

At that point it was obvious that Rozier could not train both men. But it was not complicated to figure out what would happen.

Rozier, who has been with Jacobs for his entire career and considers him like a son, would train Jacobs. Stark, an assistant to Rozier with Derevyanchenko, who also used to work as a Jacobs assistant trainer, would take over as Derevyanchenko’s head trainer.

“(In sparring) Gary would work Sergiy’s corner and Andre would work my corner. It would never be Andre working Sergiy’s corner and Gary’s working my corner because I haven’t been with Gary for some time now as far as him being in my corner,” Jacobs explained. “Andre knew he couldn’t go anywhere else. He’s been with me since Day 1 and I would assume he wouldn’t want to go anywhere else other than to be in his, quote, unquote, his son’s corner.”

The winner of the fight not only will claim a world title but will put himself in a tremendous position for an even bigger fight and more money.

“If I have the belt, that opens up all the opportunities for me and for other fighters, and real fighters who want to be champions should fight guys that have the belts. And if I have a belt, all it should do is make people excited and hungry to challenge me.” Sergiy Derevyanchenko

Their fight is on HBO, but HBO will end its association with live boxing coverage after 45 years as the leader in American televised boxing at the end of the year. That means Jacobs, who has been under exclusive contract with the network, will be a broadcast free agent and Derevyanchenko will also be able to go where he can make the best deal.

“If I have the belt, that opens up all the opportunities for me and for other fighters, and real fighters who want to be champions should fight guys that have the belts,” Derevyanchenko said. “And if I have a belt, all it should do is make people excited and hungry to challenge me.”

Alvarez recently signed a gargantuan five-year, 11-fight, $365 million contract with new streaming service DAZN, which also has a long-term deal with Jacobs’ promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. Win or lose, it is likely Jacobs will be fighting on that broadcast platform and there is a strong possibility of a fight between Alvarez and Jacobs in May should Jacobs win Saturday and Alvarez win his Dec. 15 fight with secondary super middleweight titlist Rocky Fielding.

“Right now I think the middleweight division is the key division in boxing,” Hearn said. “You’ve seen two great fights between Canelo and GGG, and also (Hearn-promoted) Demetrius Andrade becoming WBO world champion (last) Saturday. And I think the winner of this fight is particularly primed to fight Canelo next May, as well.”

Jacobs has heard about a possible fight with Alvarez before so he’s not paying much attention to it, especially with Derevyanchenko in front of him.

“I heard a little bit about it but my main focus is truly on this fight,” Jacobs said. “You hear a lot of things about things after your fight, and even with my last fight we heard about a potential Canelo fight but it didn’t pan out to be anything. So I’m not putting my focus into that.

“I have a task that’s coming up, a tough task, a task that I respect. So I’m not really truly thinking about any of this. My thought is: If I become a champion, I’m in a good position because I’m a champion. But any fight after that it would be unjust to think about it or put too much attention into it because I have a tough task in front of me.”

There will also be two other world title bouts on the telecast:

  • In the co-feature, junior lightweight world titlist Alberto Machado (20-0, 16 KOs), 28, a Puerto Rican southpaw trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, will make his second defense against Yuandale Evans (20-1, 14 KOs), 29, of Cleveland.

  • The opener will be only the second women’s bout in HBO history — the first was in May — as Heather Hardy (21-0, 4 KOs), 36, of Brooklyn, New York, and Shelly Vincent (23-1, 1 KO), 39, of Providence, Rhode Island, will meet for a vacant featherweight title in a rematch of Hardy’s 10-round decision win over Vincent in an action-packed fight in August 2016.

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