When it was over, he called it a “contest.” Danny Jacobs lost a unanimous decision to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night, lost his middleweight title, lost his chance at becoming the unified middleweight champion of the world in the highest profile bout of his career. And when that opportunity had slipped, parried, and rolled its way beyond his reach, Jacobs marked its departure by complimenting the quality of the contest. There are several reasons why Jacobs fell short Saturday, not least among them this: when victory’s windfall demanded a fight, Jacobs would only contest for it.
Roy Jones once quipped that “You have to give ass to get ass,” meaning risk and sacrifice are necessary conditions for not only success but satisfaction in the ring. And the more ass you want, the more ass you have to give. Jacobs simply did not give enough. If he hadn’t it to give, that would be understandable, but victory was there for Jacobs if he dared. If he could not find a reason to do so presented with Saturday’s opportunity, is there any reason to want to see him in another one of similar stakes?
Two years ago, Jacobs, 35-3 (29), dropped a disputed decision to Gennady Golovkin, recovering from an early knockdown to fight “GGG” on mostly even terms for the remainder of the fight. But too often that night Jacobs fought to preserve himself rather than imperil his opponent, and the judges assayed his work accordingly. Jacobs may have beaten his chest that night, he may have waved Golovkin in, but when it was time to take by force another man’s consciousness he was content to preserve his own. Ringside Saturday, Golovkin was not wrong in his assessment of the action: “I saw no emotions, nothing special today. It was a nice sparring match. Boring. They should have given more to the fans.” And if your blood boils at Golovkin’s nerve, before you froth about Alvarez’s skill and Jacobs’s rally and a supposedly violent spectacle that produced hardly a glimmer of visible pain in either fighter, ask yourself if Golovkin could say the same thing about what transpired between Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai only a week ago.
Jacobs proved that if Golovkin is his better, he is barely so. Alvarez’s edge over Jacobs is hardly greater, which only makes the “Miracle Man’s” tempered effort all the more disappointing. Much has been written, and quite rightly, about the home-canvas advantage Alvarez enjoys seemingly everywhere he fights; it is something Jacobs himself was aware of, something he knew he would have to fight (there is that word again) to overcome. And yet, on this night the scorecards—116-112 and 115-113 (twice)—were just, a reflection of one fighter doing just a bit more than the other (because the other fighter let him). Jacobs admitted he started slowly, saying he needed to better parse Alvarez’s counterpunching style before going on the offensive. That strategy may have kept him safe for the first half of the fight; it may even have produced the second half success he enjoyed. Alas, there isn’t a middleweight alive who can beat Alvarez in six rounds.
Why? Because Alvarez, 52-1-2 (35), has world-class skill, but also because he has something Jacobs lacks—a fighter’s arrogance. And that arrogance provided a tangible difference between him and Jacobs: it made Alvarez, not Jacobs, the fighter you were inclined to focus on (no meager feat considering how massive Jacobs looked). Jacobs repeatedly caught Alvarez’s body-punches on his elbows, but Alvarez threw them so fervidly as to sell their effect with intent. More often than not, Alvarez’s lead left hook smacked harmlessly into Jacob’s guard, but the daring of that move seemed proof of its efficacy. Throughout the fight, DAZN blow-by-blow commentator Brian Kenny remarked on Alvarez’s harder punches, yet only Alvarez had the sturdiness of his beard praised because he took the fight’s only alarming punch. And while Jacobs defended well, keeping Alvarez from unleashing his creative combinations, there was nothing in his tight guard, his size, his sense of distance, that could rival the taunt Alvarez throws into each of his defensive tricks. More important, Alvarez, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, shows you how good he is even when his opponents go unharmed, so much so that—if the commentary on this night is any indication—harm is assumed. He has an understanding of the moment and how to own it, even by the slightest of margins, and he’s acquired this little intuition because for Alvarez, unlike Jacobs, defeat really is unthinkable.
And yet, Jacobs, Brooklyn, New York, was again only a round or two away from victory, falling just short in the biggest opportunity of his career to a fighter who represented just such an opportunity to everyone he’s faced since Floyd Mayweather outboxed him almost six years ago. Alvarez may have sneaked by Golovkin and Jacobs as he did Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, just as he may sneak by Demetrius Andrade or even super-middleweight Callum Smith. But disputed victories, however bitter they may be, are better than hypothetical ones if you care about fights more than fighters. And if you don’t, well, you’re probably not long for the fraternity anyway.
If Alvarez frustrates you or leaves you cold, know there is some solace to be found. Should you stick with boxing long enough to see him honor the remaining nine fights on his DAZN contract, know that there is little chance he goes that stretch without fighting men good enough to beat him. Which means at some point he will ratify the future, and to that extent, the fighter often disparaged as the new Floyd Mayweather will one-up his predecessor.