By Sarah Deming
Brooklyn boxing is more than just the sport. It’s the hang, the swag, the way you wear your trunks. It’s “Bed-Stuy, do or die!” and “Brownsville. Never ran, never will!” It’s the hip hop, and it used to be the jazz.
“Brooklyn style is a style of pressure and power,” says trainer Andre Rozier. “Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Zab Judah: All these guys had the ability to kayo you.”
His middleweight Danny “Miracle Man” Jacobs (33-2-0, 29 KOs) looks to flex that power for his hometown fans and get one step closer to regaining his world title when he battles undefeated Polish prospect Maciej Sulecki (26-0-0, 10 KOs) in a twelve-round main event at Barclays Center, live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Opening the HBO telecast is Jacobs’ fellow Brooklynite, undefeated heavyweight Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (20-0-1, 18 KOs) in a twelve-round clash with former world title challenger Johann “The Reptile” Duhaupas (37-4-0, 24 KOs).
Billed as “Straight Outta Brooklyn,” UK promoter Eddie Hearn’s second fight card in the USA showcases emerging talent from the borough that has become the heartbeat of New York boxing. Why come all the way across the pond? To scope out Brooklyn for heavyweight king Anthony Joshua’s coming out party.
Hearn says, “We’re already in talks with Brett Yormark at the Barclay Center to bring Anthony Joshua to New York for his US debut, and to come and do it against Jerrell Miller would be perfect for us.”
Yet despite its cachet, Brooklyn has lacked a male titleholder since Jacobs lost his middleweight crown last March to Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. A breakout performance on April 28 by either Jacobs or Miller could herald an end to the drought.
A big, slick, powerful switch-hitter, Jacobs is currently ranked in the top three by all the major sanctioning bodies. If he gets past Sulecki, his people hope for a shot to rematch GGG or a big-money date with Canelo Alvarez. Also in the mix are British world title holder Billy Joe Saunders, or perhaps even Jermell Charlo, with whom Danny exchanged some fun backstage trash talk after Wilder-Ortiz.
Meanwhile, GGG and Canelo are embroiled in a telenovela of their own. The two kings of the middleweight division were set for a May rematch of their disputed draw until Canelo twice tested positive for the controlled substance clenbuterol. While GGG and trainer Abel Sanchez mocked Canelo’s “tainted meat” excuse, the Nevada Commission handed Canelo a six-month suspension, ending on August 17.
Vanes Martirosyan now steps in as a last-minute replacement to face GGG at the StubHub on May 5, and the GGG-Canelo rematch gets pushed back to September.
Where does that leave Danny Jacobs?
“I’m just gonna continue to climb this ladder of success,” Jacobs says. “I believe in my mind that I am the best middleweight in the world, and now it’s about proving it.”
No stranger to comebacks, Jacobs earned his nickname “The Miracle Man” after recovering from bone cancer in 2012. He also weathered an early crossroads loss against Dmitry Pirog that would have ended a weaker fighter’s career.
“You’re looking at a guy who got a second chance,” Jacobs says. “Not only in life but in boxing.”
Some observers, especially in Brooklyn, felt Jacobs deserved the nod against GGG last March. Certainly Jacobs’ stock rose after his fierce stand, which put an end to GGG’s 23-bout knockout streak and – by making Golovkin look vulnerable to a strong, mobile boxer – perhaps laid the foundation for the Canelo draw.
Jacobs came back to trounce previously unbeaten Luis Arias last November, but he was disappointed not to get the knockout.
“Danny wants to get back to his roots and stop Sulecki,” trainer Andre Rozier said. “Pressure, pressure, and more pressure. Undeniably, vicious pressure will reap the rewards of a kayo in this fight.”
A tough, rangy fighter, the 28-year-old Sulecki trains out of Florida and is ranked #4 by the WBO and #5 by the WBA. He scored an impressive knockout over Hugo Centeno, Jr in 2016 but looked hittable in his most recent outing, squeaking by Germany’s Jack Culcay.
“Sulecki is going to bring a fight,” Jacobs cautions. “Don’t sleep on him.”
While Jacobs looks to make a statement against a relatively unknown foe, Brooklyn’s Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller – ranked No. 3 in the world by the WBA, IBF, and WBO – will try to distinguish himself against a veteran contender.
Frenchman Johann “The Reptile” Duhaupas, 31, is a durable big man, ranked in the top ten by both the WBA and the WBC. He took a fight with Povetkin on a day’s notice and got stopped in five. He took a beating from Deontay Wilder, but he just kept coming, enduring 11 punishing rounds. Wilder later told talk show hosts Desus and Mero that Duhaupas was the toughest opponent of his career.
“Yeah, he’s a tough guy,” says Big Baby. “He’s good at taking butt whoopings. So April 28 he’s gonna take another butt whooping, and on to the next.”
It is a Wednesday afternoon at Atlas Cops and Kids in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and Big Baby is about to spar. The fight is two weeks away and he weighs 307 pounds. His legs look like tree trunks, but his background as a professional kickboxer has given him exceptional mobility, and he skips rope like a flyweight as house music blares through the gym.
“I didn’t like how I felt last time being so light,” Big Baby says.
He tried to impress everyone by slimming down to 289 for his fight last November. He looked good in his trunks and stopped Mariusz Wach in the ninth, but he felt fatigued and weaker. He likes the way his punches pop when he’s big. He likes feeling that he can’t be moved.
“He’s looking fast,” says trainer Aureliano Sosa. “He’s looking strong. He’s hitting harder. I told him, don’t even worry about the weight. Just be in shape to go hard rounds.”
Sosa sees Duhaupas as a slightly better version of Wach: “He’s a little faster, but nothing that would oppose Big Baby. We’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this.”
Big Baby gets in the ring and spars two easy rounds against a light heavyweight. Then he gets in with a tubby, undefeated heavyweight named Adam Kownacki. The two have been sparring since they were 15.
All the youngsters gather around to watch Big Baby and Adam. They go ten brutal but gentlemanlike rounds. Big Baby’s punch output is astonishing, and he gets in some hellacious body shots. At the end, he collapses onto a stool, drenched in sweat but still nodding his head in time to the beat.
“The music is the most important thing,” Big Baby says. “It helps me get my rhythm.”