HBO has been in the boxing game for 45 years. On Saturday, the death march of the brand begins in New York, with the first of the network’s (for now) final three cards, headlined by Daniel Jacobs vs Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF middleweight title.
Daniel Jacobs vs Sergiy Derevyanchenko
Quick reminder on how we got here: Gennady Golovkin was stripped of the IBF title for not fighting Derevyanchenko, his mandatory challenger, after the IBF did not sanction GGG’s May fight with Vanes Martirosyan. Derevyanchenko was a lock for the vacant title fight, and then in came Jacobs, who shares a manager with Sergey, making the fight easy if not painless to get done.
Jacobs (34-2, 29 KO) was a blue chip prospect when he was coming up, known then mostly as “Danny,” which New York types still call him out of habit. He was also known as “The Golden Child.” He tore through his early competition before a 2010 fight with Dmitry Pirog, where he was met with resistance and stopped in the fifth round. It was, at the time, a fairly shocking outcome. Jacobs had been promoted as the next big thing at 160, and then Pirog made him look entirely normal.
The loss to Pirog was a setback, but nothing compared to what came after. Plenty has been written and documented about Jacobs’ battle with cancer, which nearly ended not just his boxing career but his life, and his stunning return after beating the disease. I can’t add anything more, really, so I won’t even try. But now he’s the “Miracle Man” — and he deserves to be.
Jacobs fought twice more and won before his career was nearly cut short, then he came back slow in late 2012, staying active but working his way back up the ladder gradually, not wanting to take a misstep, not wanting to take on too much before his body proved capable. He handled the likes of Josh Luteran, Chris Fitzpatrick, and Keenan Collins, then bumped it up to face guys like Giovanni Lorenzo, Milton Nunez, Jarrod Fletcher, and Caleb Truax. He stopped every one of them.
2015 marked his arrival at the upper echelon. He scored a weird win over Sergio Mora, then demolished Peter Quillin in 85 seconds, turning heads all over the boxing world. This was the talent advertised at the start of his career. This was the “Golden Child” delivering on the promise.
A rematch win over Mora followed before Jacobs took his shot at GGG. Golovkin beat Daniel, but not by much, and it was Jacobs who ended the vaunted KO streak of Golovkin. He hasn’t been able to find a marquee fight since, but he’s stayed in the game, beating Luis Arias in November 2017 and Maciej Sulecki in April of this year, taking the “0” from both.
Derevyanchenko (12-0, 10 KO) hasn’t had quite the same fanfare. Big thing, of course, is he’s not American, though the Ukrainian now fights out of Brooklyn. He was a fine amateur, competing at the 2008 Olympics and winning bronze at the 2007 Worlds in Chicago.
He turned pro in July 2014, and has just the 12 fights, but along the way some solid wins for the levels: Vladine Biosse, Elvin Ayala, Jessie Nicklow, former titleholder Sam Soliman, and the best of the lot, an August 2017 win over Tureano Johnson, a contender that Derevyanchenko was able to outbox, wear down, and stop in the final round.
Derevyanchenko doesn’t have Jacobs’ story or his experience as a pro. He doesn’t have years of promotional hype behind him, and major TV networks haven’t featured him. But if you don’t think he has a shot here, you’re wrong.
Matchup Grade: A-. This fight has flown under the radar to some degree. For one thing, as much as they’ve tried to act like things are business as usual, HBO just doesn’t promote fights the way they used to, and it was no surprise to myself or many others that they pulled the plug on boxing. And I think a lot of folks may be underestimating how dangerous Derevyanchenko is here. When I ranked the middleweights after Canelo-GGG 2 in September, I had Jacobs a solid, clear No. 3 in the division. But I had Derevyanchenko No. 5, too. This is a matchup of, at worst, top eight fighters in the division. HBO’s final two cards coming in November and December don’t look particularly intriguing, honestly, at least for now, but this one is a main event that recalls the better modern days for the network.
- Alberto Machado vs Yuandale Evans: Machado (20-0, 16 KO) is a Puerto Rican southpaw who has emerged here in these dying days on the once-premium boxing outlet. At 5’10”, he’s tall for a super featherweight, rangy and dangerous, with some notable power. He rallied to KO Jezreel Corrales last year, then dominated mandatory challenger Rafael Mensah in July. Evans (20-1, 14 KO) is sort of a weird but live dog in this one. He’s a former prospect who got smoked by Javier Fortuna in 2012, a huge reality check, then was out of boxing for over three years before returning in 2015. In his last two, he’s beaten Billel Dib and Luis Rosa, not bad wins. Machado should be considered the clear favorite, he’s got the WBA “world” title, and he’s on a roll. But Evans is a talented guy who was once thought to be a contender in the making. Don’t completely count him out. Or do, and be shocked if he performs well. That’s just as much fun, really. I’d call this a C, but I’m intrigued enough by Evans’ comeback shot to bump it to a C+, a grade I have historically been proud to get because I like to aim low in life. Matchup Grade: C+
- Heather Hardy vs Shelly Vincent: If you need to be sold on Hardy-Vincent II, no words will mean as much as just watching their first fight from 2016, so here it is:
This fight is for the vacant WBO featherweight title, too. The first fight was a barnburner and the rematch deserves this outlet. Matchup Grade: A-