Cancer survivor Daniel Jacobs now just one win from world title

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: Daniel Jacobs poses with Oscar De La Hoya after he knocked out Josh Luteranin their middleweight fight at the Barclays Center on October 20, 2012 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images for Golden Boy Promotions) (Getty Images for Golden Boy Prom)

The day Daniel Jacobs learned a major arena would be built in New York near his childhood home in Brooklyn, he was lying in a hospital fighting for his life in a battle against cancer.

When the promising young boxer learned the news, he immediately began using it to motivate himself to recover. He set a goal to recover in time to fight on the first boxing card in the new arena.

On Oct. 20, 2012, he reached that goal when he faced Josh Luteran at the Barclays Center.

Not quite two years later, Jacobs has another goal for the Barclays Center.

He wants to be the first hometown boy to win a world championship in the building.

Jacobs is 27 now, a dramatically different man from the uncertain, inexperienced hotshot prospect he was in 2010 when he fought for the WBO title in Las Vegas against Dmitry Pirog.

Jacobs' grandmother, Cordelia Jacobs, who had in large part raised him, died a week before the fight with Pirog. Jacobs was an emotional mess, probably underrated Pirog and was drilled in the fifth round of a fight he was never really in.

The loss was bad, but circumstances made it appear worse. Some people rise to the occasion, like Buster Douglas did against Mike Tyson in 1990, and deliver a masterful performance when forced to compete in the wake of a tragedy.

Far more, though, react like Jacobs – he was not himself, clearly unfocused and unprepared for an opponent who was unknown but far better than anyone gave him credit for being.

Pirog only fought three more times since that bout, all in Russia, and then hasn't fought since 2012 because of a serious injury that likely ended his career. Had Pirog been able to fight on, he would have proven himself to be one of the best in the world and his win over Jacobs would likely be viewed differently.

Daniel Jacobs (R) connects on a punch to the face of Chris Fitzpatrick on December 1, 2012. (Getty)
Daniel Jacobs (R) connects on a punch to the face of Chris Fitzpatrick on December 1, 2012. (Getty)

But Jacobs gets another shot on Saturday, in front of a hometown crowd and a national television audience on Showtime, when he meets Jarrod Fletcher for the WBA middleweight title.

The WBA isn't content with having just one champion per division, so it's added an idiotic title called the super champion. It awards that when a boxer holds two or more of the world sanctioning body belts.

So Gennady Golovkin, who is clearly the best middleweight in the world, is the WBA super champion, while the Jacobs-Fletcher winner will be the "regular" champion.

But a belt is a belt and Jacobs wasn't about to decline it, even though next to no one will recognize the winner as a legitimate champion. Golovkin is the champion in the eyes of the fans and media and nothing that happens in the Barclays Center Saturday will change that.

Having the belt, though, will put Jacobs in a vastly better position to land the major fights he wants. Fletcher is a much more difficult opponent than many realize, and the 6-1 odds favoring Jacobs seem artificially high.

But Jacobs isn't looking ahead because he knows much of the success of his career hinges upon a win over Fletcher.

"I know where I was just a couple of years ago, and when you were where I was, you hope you come back, you believe you will come back, but there are no guarantees," he said. "Now, a year or so later, here I am, getting to fight for the title. That's a huge thing in any boxer's life, but it's even more special for me because of where it is.

"I'm doing it at home. My friends and my family can be there. I never would have imagined being here just a couple of years ago. It's funny how life is and how things change."

A win would be life-altering for Jacobs. If he wins, he immediately becomes a legitimate potential opponent for Golovkin. He'll also establish himself as one of the sport's better fighters.

Though he's 27-1 with 24 knockouts, he hasn't gotten the acclaim he may have otherwise because of the loss to Pirog and the long pause in his career after getting cancer.

He's now known as "The Miracle Man," after winning the fight with cancer, but it will truly be a miracle to not only return to the ring but also to become a world champion.

He's allowed himself to dream about the ending of the fight, of hearing ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. saying, "And the new world champion," and calling his name.

Jacobs has thought what that moment is like, as the crowd cheers, his arm is raised and he's truly conquered the toughest foe he's ever faced.

"It may be tough not to," he said, chuckling, when asked if he'll cry. "I've come a long way, and getting that belt, that's going to carry a tremendous amount of meaning. It's going to be pretty emotional."