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To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail

Boxing is something of an anomaly in the sporting world in so far as it is a business as much as it is a sport and commercial gain will determine whether or not two fighters meet in the ring. Whether or not a fighter makes it to the top of the sport is as much a matter of having the backing of a super-promoter as it is being talented. At the moment, the super-promoter of choice is Oscar de la Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions banner, as he holds a virtual monopoly over HBO dates. Such connections can virtually guarantee a fighter a title shot these days, but he must still be ready when that chance comes. A few weeks back on the undercard of the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz fight in Las Vegas, highly touted middleweight prospect, and Golden Boy’s big hope, Daniel Jacobs had his chance as he took on unknown Russian Dmitry Pirog for the vacant WBO title.

Boxing fans have been told for some time now that Jacobs is the real deal and a star in the making, but it all went wrong against Pirog. The Brooklyn native never looked comfortable as he struggled with the Russian’s unorthodox movement and was finally put out of his misery in the fifth round when a peach of a right hand crashed in to his jaw, sending him sprawling to the canvas. Seeing that he was gone, referee Robert Byrd did not even bother to count. The man from Russia had shocked the world and left Jacobs’ plans in tatters. So, was Daniel Jacobs ready for such a fight?

A cursory look at his record would suggest he was. Going in to the fight, he was 20-0 with 17 wins by way of KO. He is a tall, rangy fighter with solid boxing skills and power to match and he no doubt has the ability and physical tools to one day go on and become a world champion. However, if one looks deeper at his record, the problems quickly become evident. Jacobs was identified early in his career as a future star by Golden Boy and HBO and so he has been spoon fed cherry-picked opponents and been given plenty of TV exposure. He has steamrolled these opponents and been made to look better than what he is. A look down the list of Jacobs’ victims reveals names such as Sergio Rios, Tyrone Watson, Jose Rodrigo Berrio and Jose Varela. Heard of any of them? Thought not. The only opponent of any note is former Contender star Ishe Smith who Jacobs outpointed in August 2009. Still Golden Boy felt their man was ready to win a title against an opponent they probably knew very little about. They were proved wrong. Now, it must be said that this is not the first time Golden Boy has made such an error.

As soon as Jacobs hit the deck in the Madalay Bay ring, the name Rey ‘Boom Boom’ Bautista sprang to mind. For those who do not know, Bautista was a much publicised super-bantamweight prospect who was steamrolling hand-picked opponents much like Jacobs. In 2007, Golden Boy decided he was ready to fight for a title and put him in with another of their fighters, the crude but extremely hard hitting Daniel Ponce de Léon. The champion crushed Boom Boom within a round and he has never been the same fighter since. He was dominated by Heriberto Ruiz two years ago and is now fighting on unspectacular cards in the Emirates and in his native Philippines. The common denominator is the use of tailor-made opponents to make fighters look good. This is all well and good early in a fighter’s career but at some point, he must be extended and made to learn new skills and tactics. In the cases of Jacobs and Bautista this never happened as they blasted their way through average opposition.  So just how should a promoter build a fighter’s career?

Firstly, they should realise their fighters’ limitations. Fighters like Oscar de la Hoya who can win a world title in only their twelfth fight are extremely few and far between. Patience must be exercised by promoter and fighter alike. The promoter should temper any over-exuberance and confidence on the part of the fighter and perhaps somebody at Golden Boy should have pulled the plug on Jacobs-Pirog when Jacobs’ grandmother (who raised him) passed away less than a week before the fight. Secondly, the quality of opposition must be stepped up gradually as the fighter is steered towards a title shot. The type of opponent must be varied so that he can learn how to adapt to different styles in the ring and become a more rounded fighter. Thirdly, it is a good idea to let the upcoming fighter face off against a wily veteran, perhaps a former world champion. Such a fight will provide a stern test and a win will bring great kudos and confidence. Next of all, the promoter cannot be afraid of his fighter losing. As has been seen with David Haye and Amir Khan, a loss can be a great blessing in disguise. Finally, the promoter must research the opponent thoroughly prior to arranging the fight so that they know what their man will be up against. It looks as though this did not happen with Pirog who certainly looked a quality fighter and now has a bright future ahead of him with potential fights against the likes of Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams or Sergio Martinez on the horizon. In truth, it looked very much like Amir Khan-Breidis Prescott all over again.

Jacobs has the ability to bounce back and become a world champion. With Golden Boy and Al Haymon behind him, it will only be a matter of time until he gets a second opportunity. Let’s hope for his sake that he has been properly prepared for such a fight next time round.

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