“It’s a gift from God,” Danny Jacobs said while onlookers watched, mouths agape, as he shadow boxed in his barebones gym in Coney Island, Brooklyn. When describing his breathtaking talent—a boxer-puncher with equal parts power and grace—it doesn’t come off as braggadocio but as fact, as if he were simply telling you his height (6’0’’) or his current amateur record (131-4).
Having just won his fourth New York Golden Gloves and with numerous national and international titles to his credit, “The Golden Child” is the best 165-pound amateur in the U.S. Many cognoscenti go well beyond that, saying he’s the best since Mark Breland was tearing it up in the early to mid-80s. Although he has yet to make the Olympic team for Beijing, he’s already discussed as his country’s best hope for Gold. (Partial disclaimer: Respected trainer “Iceman” John Scully believes Providence, Rhode Island’s 152-pound Demetrius Andrade, who owns a win over Jacobs—2005 US Championships, 18-12 in the finals—is the best amateur in the land.)
A lot can happen between now and that (potential) moment when he’s standing atop a podium and the Star Spangled Banner is being played. Yet so much is expected of the 20-year-old that it seems as if Olympic glory is viewed as merely one of many triumphs he’ll collect along the way. This reporter isn’t trying to puff him or play Nostradamus. But while Danny floated around the ring, slicing the air with his fists, I called my wife and asked her if she wanted to take a friend instead of me to the Joffrey Ballet that night. “They couldn’t do any better than this,” I protested.
Jacobs was the only fighter of note in the gym on this recent evening. Even his trainers Victor Roundtree and Andre Rozier were elsewhere. He went through his usual paces—skipping rope, stretching, shadow boxing and bag work—but his normally open, confident face was dour. Usually he’s sweating beside the best pros in the city—Luis Collazo (27-3), Jaidon Codrington (15-1), Curtis Stevens (17-1), Joe Greene (14-0) and Gary Stark Jr. (18-2). But the previous night Stark Jr suffered a wicked KO in the fifth at Lou DiBella’s Broadway Boxing series in Manhattan. In misjudging a single overhand right, a once-promising career had come undone.
Until that fateful punch, Jacobs, sitting ringside, howled, “Meldrick! Meldrick! Meldrick!” He was petitioning his friend to throw combinations like a prime Meldrick Taylor. As Gary lay on the canvas, clearly staying there for a while, Jacobs vanished. He didn’t want to ghoulishly rubberneck with the rest of us. As concerned as Danny was for his friend, all he wanted to do was be sure that he’s on the other end those violent exchanges.
The fact that he was back at the gym the next day, regardless of everyone else’s plans, bodes well for him.
Between rounds, I volunteered that in his last fight he was looking too hard for a knockout and playing too much to the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
“Oh, my coaches were giving me hell me about that!” he said. “I’m still an amateur and am capable of making amateurish mistakes. It’s a learning process.”
The USA Boxing National Championships will be coming up soon. In September, the World Championships will be held in New York. Russian Matvey Korobov, the #1 ranked amateur middleweight in the world, will be meeting Jacobs for the second time. At the 2005 World Cup held in Russia, Korobov stopped Jacobs via a large points lead—after a 20-point lead fights are stopped. Jacobs doesn’t accept the loss as such. In his defense, reliable sources who saw the fight say that biased Russian judges were practically giving Matey points for blinking.
As Jacobs shoe-shined uppercuts, I could almost hear James Brown’s “The Big Payback” playing in his head.
“This all comes natural to me,” Jacobs said. “I was fighting in school a lot as a kid. I’m from Brownsville [Brooklyn], and in Brownville we fight. At 15 I started coming to the Howard Houses gym. I beat everyone up and scared them off. I wasn’t that friendly of a guy back then. But I’ve changed. Boxing has matured me. And this isn’t just a craft but a business. You’ve got to conduct yourself in a professional way.
“I knew that I had a future in boxing when I sparred Joe Greene”—the undefeated pro won the National Golden Gloves at 18 and dominated the local scene—“with very little experience. He banged me up. But I did well against him, I held my own. Most importantly, I came back to the gym the next day.
“For a long time I’ve been dreaming about and working towards that gold medal in 2008. I want to win it for me and for the two closest people in my life, my mother (Yvette) and my grandmother (Cordelia). I want to make money in this game and not stay too long and risk brain damage.”
There are no sure things in boxing. But every now and then someone makes you want to anoint him as such. Since Jacobs is already called “The Golden Child,” it looks like someone’s beat me to it.