Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Eric Raskin
August 22, 2009. What makes that date significant? If you’re deeply into global diplomacy, you might know it as the date of a rare meeting between North Korean and South Korean officials. If you’re a Red Sox fan, you might fondly recall that your boys beat up on the Yankees 14-1 at Fenway Park behind six RBIs from Kevin Youkilis. But if you’re a boxing fan, what makes that particular summer Saturday evening more than 7½ years ago historic is that it marked the last time either Gennady Golovkin or Daniel Jacobs was in a fight that didn’t end in a knockout.
On August 22, 2009, a then 17-0 Jacobs won a unanimous 10-round decision over Ishe Smith at the Toyota Center in Houston. He’s had 15 fights since, and every single one of them has ended inside the distance. Oh, and if you’re looking for Golovkin’s last experience with hearing scorecards read, you have to go back another 14 months, to June 21, 2008, when he outboxed one Amar Amari over eight rounds in Brondby, Denmark. Since then, “GGG” has had 23 fights and racked up 23 knockout victories. Suffice it to say, Golovkin and Jacobs are punchers.
They’re also true middleweights and have been for the entirety of their pro careers. For all 36 of his pro fights, Golovkin has weighed between 158½ and 161¼ pounds; Jacobs, over a span of 33 pro fights, has always weighed in between 159½ and 169 (he’s fought as a super middleweight a handful of times for non-title affairs). Without getting too deep into the weeds of Canelo Alvarez’s controversial title reign that has yet to see him or any of his opponents fight at the 160-pound limit, Golovkin vs. Jacobs, on Saturday, March 18 at Madison Square Garden on HBO Pay-Per-View, pits the two best actual middleweights in the world against each other. Everything is on the line – and the fact that neither man remembers how to go the distance is just a bonus.
“Daniel has great power,” Golovkin acknowledges. “His knockout over Peter Quillin was very impressive. I know I have to be smart in the ring against Daniel and use all of my skills to win.”
You can dismiss that comment as the always-respectful Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) showing his typical diplomacy heading into a fight, but when you listen to those around him speak, you get the sense that they legitimately view Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs) as the most dangerous threat yet to GGG’s perfect record and pound-for-pound ascension.
Promoter Tom Loeffler told the HBO Boxing Podcast of Jacobs, “He’s physically bigger than Gennady. A lot of people think he has faster hands than Gennady. … This is where Gennady has to be on his A game.” Asked if Jacobs is the biggest puncher Golovkin has faced, trainer Abel Sanchez told Inside HBO Boxing, “I would say he is, because along with his punching prowess, I think he’s got skills. He’s a very good boxer, very good amateur pedigree. I think that he’s a guy that’s going to be able to use his skills right off the bat instead of thinking about how many knockouts Gennady’s got. And he’s beaten some odds in his life that this fight really is secondary to.”
Sanchez is referring to Jacobs’ well-documented battle with bone cancer that began in 2011 and threatened much more than his boxing career. Recovering from it – and rattling off 10 straight knockout wins since – has earned Jacobs the nickname “The Miracle Man.” Most notable among those 10 victories are a pair of TKOs over tricky veteran Sergio Mora and the eye-opening first-round upset blowout of Quillin to which Golovkin referred. At age 30, nearly seven years removed from his lone loss, Jacobs has the look of a man hitting his absolute prime as he steps up to face his ultimate challenge.
“[Jacobs] has got the power, he’s got the speed, but that’s not what’s going to be the difference in this fight. It’s going to be his boxing ability,” welterweight contender Chris Algieri, the nutritionist in Jacobs’ training camp, told the HBO Boxing Podcast. “I think in terms of hand speed and athleticism, Danny definitely has the advantage. But GGG is very good at cutting off the ring, and his punches, when he decides to throw them short, they’re very short, very quick. And then when he decides to throw the punches wide and powerful, he does that well too. … Danny just needs to be smart.”
Head trainer Andre Rozier points to Jacobs’ versatility: “Danny can go from being up on his toes, flash and jab and quick combinations, or he may come at you like a wild beast – bang and dig and scruff you out. He has many, many options. Gennady can punch but Danny can punch too. Gennady is rough and Danny can be rough too. Danny’s hands are a lot faster than his opponent. You are going to see some of the differences play out in this fight.”
If ever there was a time for a fast-handed fighter and his team to feel confident of their chances of upsetting the 34-year-old Golovkin, it’s now. In his most recent fight, against Kell Brook last September, Golovkin struggled in the early going with his opponent’s speed and, though he pounded out a stoppage in the fifth round, didn’t lead on any of the three official scorecards at the time. And if Brook could snap Golovkin’s head back with a couple of uppercuts, Jacobs, a much bigger man than Brook, has reason to believe in the impact his punches can have.
“I have a different type of power [than Golovkin]. I have athletic power that people can’t see,” Jacobs said on a recent media conference call. “That sharpness –
the big bang that hits you. It’s a different type of power … It’s just a matter of going in there and putting it together because you can have all the power but [it doesn’t matter if you] can’t do anything with it.”
Who’s the bigger puncher? Who’s the superior boxer? We should get those answers on fight night. But first we’ll get an answer to a less significant, but no less intriguing, question: Whose side will the MSG crowd be on? Jacobs is a native of Brownsville, Brooklyn, who has fought in New York City nine times before, whereas Kazakh-born Golovkin has cultivated one of boxing’s most enthusiastic region-independent fan bases and will be headlining at the Garden for the fifth time. Much like the Brook fight in London, the atmosphere promises to be tense and electric.
If the fight goes according to Team Golovkin's plan, there’s talk next of a June fight in Kazakhstan, followed possibly, all fingers and toes crossed, by a massive showdown with Canelo for all the middleweight marbles in September. Loeffler claims Canelo would make as much money for that mega-event as he did against Floyd Mayweather in 2014. Sanchez, however, is hesitant to even talk about the prospect of GGG-Canelo.
“If it gets done,” Sanchez told Inside HBO Boxing, “I think all of us as fans are going to see the best fight that’s available in boxing today. But until it’s a done deal, we’ll just continue doing what we’re doing. They’re talking. But I can’t worry about that. I have to worry about Daniel Jacobs.”
With all those consecutive knockouts, he’d be a fool not to. Fortunately for Sanchez, though, he works the corner of the one elite middleweight with an even longer KO streak going. Chances are we won’t get a full 36 minutes of combat after Golovkin and Jacobs touch gloves. Using the last 7½ years as a guide, whoever turns out to be the second-best true middleweight in the world is going to finish his night looking up from the canvas at the one 160-pounder better than him.