Anthony Dirrell and Danny Jacobs aren’t bonded by blood, but they call themselves brothers just the same. They were brought together by something that threatened to tear each of them apart.
In December 2006, Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Four and a half years later, Jacobs learned that he was afflicted with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
Both were told that their careers could be in jeopardy.
Both underwent physically draining chemotherapy, siphoning their energy, testing their will.
Both survived, beating the disease like it was just another opponent to be vanquished, like they had done so many times before in the ring.
Now, they're fighting on the same card tonight, when Anthony Dirrell faces Badou Jack, and Daniel Jacobs goes toe-to-toe with Caleb Truax at Chicago’s UIC Pavilion, with the action airing on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
They got here together, two friends with one goal.
Dirrell, who successfully resumed his career in October 2008, recalls speaking with Jacobs when he learned of his diagnosis.
“It was just something to keep his head up, keep pushing,” Dirrell says. “If you keep pushing and fighting, you can get through it."
Jacobs did just that, returning to the ring in 2012, 18 months after undergoing surgery to have a tumor removed from his back.
“I remember my first conversation with Anthony [following my cancer struggles] and all we talked about was just the radiation and the chemotherapy and our experiences in battling it,” he says.
Both took the talk to heart.
“We’re brothers now, just from that incident,” Dirrell says. “It’s great to have somebody like that by your side.”
Jacobs and Dirrell have known each other for years, back to their amateur days when Dirrell and his older brother, Andre, were both highly lauded prospects and the younger Jacobs wasn’t far behind.
“Me and Anthony talk all the time,” Jacobs says. “I don’t think he knows, but I used to look up to him and his brother. If you didn’t know who Anthony and Andre Dirrell were, something was wrong with you.”
All these years later, they’re headlining a card together, the fighting they’ll do in the ring a reflection of the fight it took to get here.
“It means everything. It’s bigger than the both of us,” Jacobs says. “What it represents is just so much more than we ever thought we could be in a position to represent. To be two cancer survivors, battling it and coming back and becoming champions, that says a lot to so many people throughout the world. No matter what you go through, if you never give up, your dreams can be fulfilled.”