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Daniel Jacobs beats cancer, now looks to beat ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

Daniel Jacobs didn’t dare dream of a middleweight unification title fight in Las Vegas against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Not from his mother’s couch in Brooklyn, New York, with legs that wouldn’t work, fists that couldn’t fight and a form of bone cancer that could have killed him.

But here he is.

The IBF champion, one of the world’s best boxers and, most important, a survivor.

“All of that is behind me,” he said. “I feel like this is my time. I feel like this is destined for me.”

Jacobs, known affectionately as the “Miracle Man,” was diagnosed in May 2011 with osteosarcoma, a rare cancer that manifested in a tumor wrapped around his spine. Forget boxing. He couldn’t even walk and was forced to move for a period back to his native New York, where he often doubted a return to the ring.

But his faith didn’t fracture, and after radiation and surgery to remove the tumor, he returned to boxing in October 2012. On Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, his lifelong journey continues when he fights Alvarez for the WBA, WBC and IBF titles.

Make no mistake, though, it’s the second most important fight of his life.

He beat cancer.

Good luck topping that.

“His will to not be defeated by that makes him stronger for any fight that he’s in,” said former six-division champion Oscar De La Hoya, Alvarez’s promoter. “Especially this one.”

Jacobs, 32, grew up in Brownsville — the neighborhood in Brooklyn that produced heavyweight legend Mike Tyson, his idol as a child — and began boxing in elementary school to mitigate bullying. He posted a 137-7 amateur record, turned professional in 2007 and began his career with 20 straight victories before losing to Dmitry Pirog via knockout in 2010.

But Jacobs rebounded with two victories and was on the track toward stardom. Until he started feeling pain in his legs in 2011.

Pain that led to his diagnosis.

“It was really hard to maneuver and walk and do all of these different things,” Jacobs said. “Times where I used to cry. Times where I used to just even doubt if I could even walk right again. I always just wanted to get back into boxing and see how far I could take it.”

Jacobs endured dozens of rigorous radiation treatments and grew stronger and stronger while defying his diagnosis. He walked before he ran. He ran before he boxed. And he boxed brilliantly before winning the IBF championship in October.

“With Daniel Jacobs, you have a message of complete hope for anybody who is suffering,” said Jacobs’ promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. “This young man is inspirational.”

Jacobs (35-2, 29 knockouts) thinks he’s at the peak of his professional powers — steeled mentally by the doldrums of his disease and physically by the fighters he has faced. He’s cool, calm and collected, confident in who he is and what he can become.

After all, he’s the “Miracle Man.”

Now, he hopes to be the unified middleweight champion, too.

“I never thought that I would fight for a world championship and fight the biggest names in boxing,” Jacobs said. “This is the greatest opportunity that I could ever have, let alone dream about. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of it.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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