Two the hard way: On Daniel Jacobs and Jarrell Miller

Former world middleweight championship challenger Daniel Jacobs (right) vs. Maciej Sulecki. Photo credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

 

BROOKLYN, NY –There was nothing meretricious about Daniel Jacobs’ hard-fought, unanimous decision victory over Maciej Sulecki, on Saturday night, at the Barclays Center, but only in a sport that abounds in flimflam could a competitive contest also serve as an occasion to reflect on the tenuous nature of boxing. Official scorecards were 116-111, 117-110 and 115-112.

 

In particular, there is nothing more tenuous than the status of a fighter. If the merits of Jacobs, 34-2 (29), as an elite prizefighter are by now an unassailable fact, consider that he was written off early in his career after Dmitry Pirog stunned him with a fifth round TKO in 2010. Shortly after the upset loss, Jacobs would find himself strapped to a hospital bed, trying to fend off an especially rare and virulent form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. To his eternal credit, Jacobs would not only prevail over the disease but also make an improbable return to the ring, rising in the middleweight ranks until, with the cunning help of his adviser Al Haymon, he earned a shot for a vacant title against the woeful Jarrod Fletcher, whom he would stop in the fifth round. Next, Jacobs would consolidate his status as a name with whom to be reckoned in the 160-pound division by snuffing out fellow Brooklynite Peter Quillin in the first round.

 

But of all his accomplishments, perhaps Jacobs’ 2017 close decision loss to the division’s most feared and laureled champion Gennady Golovkin – who was then riding a much ballyhooed 23-win knockout streak – has had the most positive ramifications for his career. While a spirited loss against an elite opponent can occasionally do wonders for a fighter’s reputation, rarely does it lead to financial and promotional gain in the way it has for Jacobs. In this regard, he is alone among contemporary fighters. After his points defeat to Golovkin, Jacobs would go on to ink plummy multi-fight deals with ambitious U.K. promoter Eddie Hearn and, most surprisingly, with HBO. After all, for decades the legacy network was associated with only the ne plus ultra of the sport. To see it offer the kid-glove treatment to a fighter who was neither a bona fide draw nor an undisputed champion seemed like a very uncharacteristic institutional move.

 

As Jacobs struggled to avoid Sulecki’s straight rights in the second half of their honest tussle on Saturday night, there was a temptation to think how easily this promotional edifice could come crashing down, and what that might mean for a network that had ceded its place in the boxing world as the premier cable network for the sport (for the moment, that distinction belongs to Showtime) and for a fighter who not only has a day – April 22 – dedicated to him in Brooklyn but is increasingly advertised as the face of the Barclays Center venture “Brooklyn Boxing.”

 

Perhaps Jacobs’ newfound fortune was, in part, due to timing. For HBO, the addition of Jacobs to the network helps stems the loss of Top Rank fighters – most notably Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford – who jumped over to ESPN, For Hearn, Jacobs provides an entrypoint for his company Matchroom Boxing to compete in the U.S. market. (Hearn has hinted recently that he will be announcing a landmark U.S. TV/streaming rights deal, in the second week of May). As of now, his reputation still rests on the fact that he fought valiantly in a loss, which is perhaps why, even with a designated publicity machine backing his ventures, Jacobs drew all but a reported 7,892 to the Barclays on Saturday night. By comparison, Adrien Broner, the boxer from Cincinnati, Ohio, drew nearly 14,000 the week before.

 

By assiduously sticking to his jab, Sulecki, 26-1 (10), was able to prevent Jacobs from using his own, especially in the mid-to-late rounds, thus forcing the Brownsville native to rush in with hastily considered overhand rights. When Jacobs tried switching to southpaw a few times, he did not find much success. For example, in round seven, Jacobs came out as a southpaw, only to immediately switch back to the orthodox stance after Sulecki tagged him with a clean one-two. It was a closer fight than the scorecards indicated.

 

After a dreary outing against grab-happy Luis Arias at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, last year, Jacobs needed to offer something more emphatic on this night. He got his answer in the 12th round with a thunderous right hand that dropped Sulecki, just as the Pole was uncorking his own. Sulecki, however, recovered quickly and fought back until the final bell.

 

After the fight, Hearn seemed to acknowledge that Jacobs’s options are dwindling and he will need a major fight soon.

 

“The most impressive thing that Danny has done is that he has fought two fights and he has nothing to gain and (the opponents) had everything to gain,” said Hearn. “He’s the guy going out there fighting the undefeated guys but now he must have a marquee fight next, someone like a (Jermall) Charlo or Golovkin.”

 

The carefully articulated Jacobs narrative remains intact, for now, but his handlers well know that there is only one path to ensuring that Jacobs can become the star the posters and glitzy promotional teasers all claim he is.

 

“We came to HBO to fight (Gennady) Golovkin and ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez)” Hearn stated, at the post-fight press conference. “It’s really on the network to deliver the fights that we came for.”

 

But with the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch having been pushed into a future unknown date, it remains to be seen when Jacobs will get his chance to prove his worth anytime soon. In the meantime, Jacobs could do no worse than fight another undefeated fighter like fellow HBO contractee Demetrius Andrade or, if politics allow, Premier Boxing Champions/Showtime’s Jermall Charlo.

 

***

 

On the undercard, heavyweight Jarrell Miller dominated French journeyman Johann Duhaupas, en route to a 12-round unanimous decision. Miller once again demonstrated that, though he can throw a lot of punches, he lands few of them with the kind of crippling power typically associated with heavyweights. A lack of power, along with his massive weight – Miller scaled a plump 304.4 – make it difficult to foresee a scenario in which “Big Baby” can outclass the champions of the division. Both WBC beltholder Deontay Wilder and IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Anthony Joshua have one-punch knockout power and are superbly athletic.

 

Undefeated heavyweight contender Jarrell Miller (left) vs. Johann Duhaupas. Photo credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

 

Miller’s reluctance to commit to fighting at a lower weight has been a topic of great curiosity for the public, in a time when body shaming is considered to be a social vice. Yet the truth is Miller has yet to demonstrate that the additional pounds have made him a better, harder-punching fighter. On Saturday, he looked slower than usual and seemed fatigued in the late rounds. After the fight, Miller conceded that a change might be necessary, “My conditioning is good but my legs were a little bit slow, so maybe this weight is a little too heavy for me.”

 

 

 

Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.

 

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