In what was likely the last HBO prize fight to take place in New York City, Daniel Jacobs edged his stablemate Sergiy Derevyanchenko via split-decision at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night to earn the vacant IBF middleweight title. The judges scored it 113-114 for Derevyanchenko and 115-112 twice for Jacobs. While it wasn’t the sort of classic that will be remembered as part of the cable network’s forty years of showcasing many of the sport’s greatest moments, the fight played out closely to its original billing as a competitive affair. By today’s standards, then, it was a worthy send-off.
Back in August, shortly after this fight was announced, Derevyanchenko, now 12-1 (10), was asked what he expected to see from Jacobs. He mentioned, in his basic English, that he expected Jacobs to move around the ring and employ the jab, before rifling off a combination here and there. This was not a matter of educated guesswork or clairvoyance, but experience, the result of nearly two hundred rounds waged with Jacobs inside a Brooklyn gym. So what appeared in the ring for twelve rounds on Saturday night was in many ways an addendum to their private sessions, sans headgear, and with lighter gloves—with Derevyanchenko, the smaller, stockier fighter, pitting his pace and volume against Jacobs’s quickness and power.
In the end, it was Jacobs, 35-2 (29), who was better able to implement the data he collected from those countless sparring sessions. Far from looking comfortable, Jacobs nonetheless appeared largely in control, even under duress, using his quickness, lateral movement, and more seasoned professional background to consistently thwart Derevyanchenko’s aggression with timely uppercuts and thudding left hooks. Most of all, Jacobs won many of the eye-catching exchanges.
Toward the end of the first round that Derevyanchenko was winning, Jacobs landed a hard right that made Derevyanchenko’s knees buckle and cause him to touch the canvas briefly with both gloves. It was the lone knockdown of the fight. But Derevyanchenko quickly recovered and would go on to re-establish himself in a strong second round.
At first, Jacobs had trouble finding his groove against Derevyanchenko’s blistering pressure. But by the ninth round, Jacobs found successful ways to out-craft Derevyanchenko, peppering him with uppercuts as he waded in artlessly, completely squared.
After the fight, Jacobs wanted to credit his stablemate for offering a genuine challenge. “Like I said before, many people didn’t know about Sergiy,” Jacobs said with his promoter Eddie Hearn and trainer Andre Rozier flanked by his sides. “I knew exactly what he had to bring to the table. He’s a tough competitor and I’m happy we put on a show for the fans and I earned the IBF middleweight title.”
The fight also put an end to what had been a slightly awkward division, as the trainers for Jacobs and Derevyanchenko, Andre Rozier and Gary Stark Sr., respectively, are longtime collaborators.
“Oh my God, I exhaled (after the fight),” Rozier told Hannibal Boxing after the fight. “I’m so happy it’s over, it’s not even funny.” Then, like a proud parent, he added, “Sergiy put on a valiant effort and gave Danny everything that he could handle and think of. They put on a wonderful show. A wonderful, wonderful show.”
Keith Connolly, the manager for both fighters, was also alleviated. “It’s a relief,” admitted Connolly. “It’s been a long three months (since the fight was announced). It was an emotional fight. You know, I represent both guys so I was proud of both of them tonight. I think both of them have great futures.”
Despite the somewhat somber, valedictory air of the evening, there figures to be a bright and lucrative future awaiting Jacobs. While his handlers preferred to stay mum on their charge’s network free agency, it does not take much to deduce that there is really only one option for Jacobs, and that is for him to join DAZN, the new streaming platform helmed by Hearn himself, and where, crucially, the middleweight kingpin Saul “Canelo” Alvarez now resides. Indeed, it is Alvarez, who owns two of the belts in the division, that Jacobs is now setting his sights on.
“The marquee fights, the big fights, the fights that will solidify my legacy,” Jacobs said during the post-fight press conference. “We’re looking for those fights.”
“The plan now is to take a couple of months off and start camp for ‘Cinco de Mayo,’” Hearn explained, referencing the Mexican holiday on which Alvarez often fights. “[Jacobs’s] team has always told me that the Canelo fight is one that they really, really believe they can win.”
Jacobs’s latest victory adds perhaps some gloss to his recent career. Though he has been lampooned for being the undeserved beneficiary of unwarranted support from the boxing bigwigs, given that it stemmed from a close decision loss to Gennady Golovkin, it bears repeating that Jacobs has taken on more meaningful challenges than most fighters in the division— say, Jermall Charlo and Demetrius Andrade— have in the past eighteen months.
“And this is what my fourth undefeated fighter in a row?” Jacobs exclaimed. “I mean we’re creating a good legacy for myself. I’m just trying to prove to the world that I’m the best middleweight. All these guys are picking and choosing who they want to fight, they’re not picking the best fights out there yet they’re claiming the title of ‘I’m the best,” or ‘I’m the most feared.’ You gotta show and prove. And tonight I fought one of the best middleweights in the division.”
Granted, such talk would normally be construed as typical post-fight puffery, but with fighters across the industry publicly endorsing their own company lines, there is something endearing about Jacobs’s earnest assertion. Credit must also go to Hearn, who, since simultaneously signing Jacobs to a network contract with HBO and a promotional contract with Matchroom Boxing, has delivered on his promise to offer Jacobs a predictable schedule, the implication being that he did not have such assurance in the past. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that Jacobs would have received more than two fights in the past eighteen months had he not made the decision to abandon the PBC flagship, where there are too many fighters and too few network dates to satisfy their demands, though that will likely improve in 2019 when PBC’s new network deal with Fox gets underway.
On a night in which HBO was, in effect, preparing the coffers for its boxing program, Hearn was especially grateful. “Tonight is about giving thanks to HBO,” said Hearn, as Jacobs nodded silently. “We want to thank Peter Nelson and all the guys at HBO. It’s sad to see them leave boxing. They backed Danny. Tonight, it’s not about talking about the future and networks and stuff like that. It’s about thanking them for their support.”
Jacobs agreed. But with his future ensured, irrespective of HBO’s demise, Jacobs knows that there is nothing really to feel sad about. “I’m in good hands right now, I’m in the best position of my career,” Jacobs reflected. “Right now, I think it’s the Danny Jacobs show.”