Daniel Jacobs’ professional career was cruising along in mid-2010, when he was 20-0 with 17 KOs and about to fight for his first world title. Then the harsh realities of life punched him square in the face.
It started when Jacobs’ grandmother succumbed to cancer a week before his 160-pound title bout with Dmitry Pirog on July 31, 2010, in Las Vegas. Then he was knocked out by Pirog in the fifth round, immediately left the arena and flew home for his grandmother’s funeral.
As mind-numbing as that experience was, it paled in comparison to what Jacobs would face 10 months later, when the disease that killed his loved one came after him in the form of osteosarcoma, a life-threatening form of bone cancer.
Following a nine-hour surgery in May 2011 to remove a malignant, paralysis-causing tumor that was wrapped around his spine, Jacobs was told he would never walk—let alone fight—again.
But after many grueling rounds of chemotherapy and painful physical therapy, Jacobs knocked out the toughest opponent of his life. Fully healthy, he then ended a 19-month ring absence on October 20, 2012, with a first-round knockout of Josh Luteran, one of 11 consecutive victories—all by stoppage—since his loss to Pirog.
Along the way, Jacobs reached his lifelong dream of becoming a world champion when he beat Jarrod Fletcher for a 160-pound title in August 2014.
On Friday night, “The Miracle Man” will defend his crown for a fourth time and pursue his 12th straight win when he faces Sergio Mora (28-4-2, 9 KOs) at Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania (Spike, 9 p.m. ET/PT). The bout is a rematch from August 1, 2015, when the fighters swapped first-round knockdowns before Jacobs scored a second-round stoppage victory, with Mora breaking his leg after being knocked down a second time.
As with every fight since overcoming cancer, Daniel Jacobs (31-1, 28 KOs) is preparing for the rematch with Mora with a passion and dedication that wasn’t always there prior to falling ill.
“Daniel’s cancer almost ended his life. That scared him,” says longtime friend and co-manager Keith Connolly. “He had gotten by on God-given athletic abilities, but he’s more dedicated, appreciative and making the most of his second chance."
“ People counted me out against Peter Quillin, but that’s nothing new to me. I’ve overcome much more than that. ” Daniel Jacobs
For proof, just look at what Jacobs did in his last fight in December at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York: In what was thought to be a toss-up clash of Brooklyn-based friends, Jacobs needed all of 85 seconds to destroy previously unbeaten ex-champ Peter Quillin.
Jacobs was frighteningly efficient, staggering Quillin with a right to the temple, followed by two more to nearly the same spot amid an onslaught that forced referee Harvey Dock to end matters.
“Daniel has a charismatic smile outside of the ring,” Connolly says. “But when he smells blood, he goes for the kill."
Says Jacobs: “People counted me out against Peter Quillin, but that’s nothing new to me. I’ve overcome much more than that.”
A self-proclaimed “dirty kid from Brownsville, Brooklyn, who wore his brother’s hand-me-downs,” Jacobs’ journey from nadir toward apex has inspired his Get in the Ring charity that focuses on cancer support as well as battling obesity and bullying.
“I’m blessed as a celebrity in position financially to encourage and bring awareness to certain issues,” says Jacobs, 29. “My passion for life generates directly from a childhood growing up in a rough area.”
Jacobs’ ability to fight back in the face of hardship wasn’t lost on the Boxing Writers Association of America, which in April 2013 honored Jacobs with the Bill Crawford Award for Courage in Overcoming Adversity. The award meant as much to Jacobs as any victory in the ring.
“The sport I love was almost stripped from me forever,” he says. “That award for overcoming obstacles was everyone celebrating and supporting me saying, ‘We’ve got your back. We love you.’”
These days, in addition to his work in the ring, Jacobs occasionally serves as an analyst for Showtime, Premier Boxing Champions and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He was ringside for Carl Frampton’s victory over 126-pound champion Leo Santa Cruz on July 30, as well as unbeaten 147-pound southpaw Errol Spence’s sixth-round stoppage of Leonard Bundu on August 21.
Both fights were in Jacobs’ hometown of Brooklyn, where he is 5-0 with five knockouts. While immensely proud to represent his city, Jacobs knows his triumphant story resonates far beyond the borders of his borough—and he’s proud of that, too.
“My gratitude shines through in my personality, my charities, ring performances and commentary opportunities,” Jacobs says. “I value every moment that people are beneficiaries of my past struggles.
“God has his hands in my life, giving me purpose as a ‘people’s champion.’”
For complete coverage of Jacobs vs Mora, hit up our fight page.