In Danny Jacobs’ third fight since his close decision loss to Gennady Golovkin last year, the former WBA middleweight champion stepped up to take on IBF titlist Sergiy Derevyanchenko in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Jacobs (34-2) was coming off an impressive decision victory over unbeaten prospect Maciej Sulecki, but against Derevyanchenko (12-0), “The Miracle Man” was facing a bigger, stronger, career middleweight, not to mention one known for his punching power.
Former IBF mandatory challenger Derevyanchenko pressed hard for a chance to face then champion Gennady Golovkin back when the Kazakh was scrambling to find an opponent following Canelo Alvarez’s failed drug test for clenbuterol in February. Golovkin opted to instead defend against Vanes Martirosyan before rematching Canelo, but he was forced to vacate the IBF belt to Derevyanchenko as a result. Regardless of how the Ukrainian would have fared against Golovkin had they fought, the fact that the 12 fight prospect had the confidence to pursue such a match-up made an impression and put him on the middleweight radar. If anything, that may carry more weight than the IBF strap he brought into the ring.
Jacobs proved his own mettle when he fought the Kazakh champion in the Garden in March of 2017, surviving a fourth round knockdown to snap Golovkin’s 23 fight knockout streak in a nail-biting affair. Jacobs may not have won, but his subsequent performances against Luis Arias and Sulecki showed that the Golovkin defeat didn’t affect his career trajectory the same way it did the likes of Daniel Geale, Matthew Macklin, and Marco Antonio Rubio, who were ruined by the “Kazakh Thunder.” A victory over Derevyanchenko figured to not only propel Jacobs back into the middleweight title picture, but also set him up for big money fights against Canelo and Jermall Charlo down the line.
In fact, Jacobs nearly got a shot at Canelo earlier this year prior to the Canelo vs Golovkin rematch being finalized, as Jacobs’s promoter Eddie Hearn was in active communications with Golden Boy Promotions to make the fight happen.
“We were close,” said Hearn when I asked him about the negotiations. “But unfortunately he [Eric Gomez] rang me up and said they had reached a deal [on Golovkin vs Canelo 2].” But with Canelo having signed with DAZN in the most lucrative sporting contract in history, Hearn remarked that, “Danny gets a chance to become a world champion tonight and, if he wins, I really think he’s one of the favorites for Canelo in May.”
In the first televised bout of the night, Heather Hardy scored her second victory over Shelly Vincent with a hard-fought unanimous decision win. Despite scores of 97-93 (twice) and 99-91 for Hardy, Vincent gave a spirited effort, leaving the new WBO female featherweight champion winded and swollen by the end of the 10 round battle. I had Hardy up 98-92 as she did appear to pull away in the later rounds by exploiting her height and reach advantages and superior boxing skills. Kudos to HBO for making the match part of their broadcast and bringing more attention to women’s boxing.
In the show’s co-feature, Alberto Machado scored an explosive first round knockout of Yuandale Evans, scoring three knockdowns, the last one leaving Evans temporarily unconscious on the mat after Machado detonated his final picturesque right hook off Evans’s chin. Evans was definitely concussed, but thankfully he appeared okay as he was escorted out of the ring on his feet after receiving immediate medical attention. It was an impressive statement win for Machado who now targets some of the bigger names at super featherweight, including Tevin Farmer, Gervonta Davis, and perhaps the winner of the upcoming Miguel Berchelt vs Miguel Roman match.
The Main Event:
Jacobs vs Derevyanchenko started off as a highly tactical duel with both wary of the other man’s power. While Jacobs utilized more lateral movement than the champion, it was “The Miracle Man” who struck first, dropping Derevyanchenko for the first time in his career with a overhand right to the temple in round one. But the champion rebounded in the second with a hard left hook and while Jacobs took the punch well, from that point forward it was clear Derevyanchenko would be a threat for as long as the match lasted.
The defending champion fought much of the middle rounds on the front foot, scoring effectively to the body and head when he pinned his quarry against the ropes. Jacobs was effective when he countered his Ukrainian stablemate, especially with body punches, but he appeared to drop several rounds due to inconsistency. Derevyanchenko also showed a commitment to the body, pounding away to Jacobs’s rib cage when he pinned the former champion against the ropes. Additionally, Derevyanchenko applied intelligent aggression, often getting off a combination in close and then pivoting around Jacobs to prevent the former champion from countering.
Although Jacobs fought much of the fight on the backfoot, his punches were audibly louder and appeared harder, often driving Derevyanchenko back in the exchanges. “The Miracle Man” made excellent use of the uppercut, utilizing it as a counterpunch and on the inside. With Jacobs seemingly holding a slight lead going into the final round, Derevyanchenko fought perhaps his best stanza of the fight. It briefly looked like Jacobs would have to hold on to make it out alive against the Ukrainian tornado, but eventually he responded by going head-to-head with the champion in a truly spectacular finish.
I had the fight 114-113 for Jacobs, with the only edge being the knockdown. Judges Steve Weisfeld and Tom Schreck saw it for Jacobs as well, each favoring “The Miracle Man” by margins of 115-112, but judge Julie Lederman saw Derevyanchenko on top by a score of 114-113 (dissenting from her father Harold’s card, incidentally).
You couldn’t ask for a better fight for the middleweight division. We saw one of its biggest names pushed to the brink, and one of the younger prospects in Derevyanchenko show his class as an elite-level fighter. The bout exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations, especially considering that Derevyanchenko was coming in with only 12 pro fights to face a seasoned veteran in Jacobs.
While he came up short, Derevyanchenko showed that he would be a sizable test for any top middleweight. The problem is, the risk of fighting a man of Derevyanchenko’s caliber far outweighs the reward of beating a relatively unknown 12-1 fighter with limited accomplishments on paper. But regardless of how the Ukrainian works his way back into title contention, he will undoubtedly be a pleasure to watch even as he might be avidly avoided by many of the division’s top pugilists.
As for Jacobs, the new IBF champion stated in the post fight press conference that he is in the “best possible position of his career.” And in a middleweight division that has all of its alphabet champions fighting under the same network (DAZN), it’s hard to argue the point. His promoter, Eddie Hearn, continued to talk up the possibility of a Jacobs vs Canelo match for 2019’s Cinco de Mayo weekend, a fight that doesn’t have many obstacles in front of it besides Alvarez’s relatively unknown December 15th opponent, Rocky Fielding. Jacobs and his trainer Andre Rozier also discussed the possibility of moving up to 168 in the future, as “The Miracle Man” stated that he rehydrated up to approximately 175 after Friday’s weigh-in.
As for HBO Boxing, this does mark the beginning of the end, though they are slated to have two more telecasts before calling it quits after 2018. Given that last night’s event was promoted by Matchroom Boxing, it almost served as a passing of the torch from HBO to DAZN, as boxing fans look forward to more meaningful showdowns for the middleweight division, but without having to pay over $80 to watch them on PPV.
— Alden Chodash