becoming danny “the miracle man” jacobs

words: chris isenberg

film: nick strini

These are postcards from the beginning—for boxer Danny Jacobs, for director Nick Strini, and for me. In 2005, I put a help-wanted ad on Craigslist with the subject line “Interested in Sports and Hip-Hop?" Nick Strini submitted an incredibly detailed and thoughtful answer to this question and traded in his job cutting fish at A & L to become the one and only employee at No Mas, an obscure and somewhat compulsive sport-and-culture t-shirt brand, whose warehouse was then a converted utility closet in my mom’s office at 902 Broadway. Strini helped fold and ship shirts and was my right hand man as I guest-edited FrankBook 24, The Sports Issue. He helped assemble a magazine that included a collection of photographs of Kronk Gym and a personal history from Merhar Mohav, an Israeli fighter who had suffered a traumatic brain injury and 18th century British Champion Daniel, the “Boxing Jew of Bethnall Green.” Along the way Strini caught the boxing bug and started to explore New York City’s boxing scene with and without me. He saw Danny Jacobs, then 17 and in pursuit of his fourth straight Golden Gloves title, at Van Dyke Community Center, a small venue in Brooklyn. He knew right away Danny was worthy of his time. He bought a Sony V1U camera and a Sennheiser and started following Jacobs—to his home at Brownsville, to the famed Starret City gym and to Madison Square Garden, where he did win his fourth Gloves—solidifying his nickname as the Golden Child. In following Danny, Strini also began chronicling the rising star’s inner circle: Dorothea Perry, Danny’s NY state boxing commission official and his surrogate mother; legendary trainer Jimmy O’Pharrow; and Andre Rozier, a coach and mentor whose skills with fabric and a sewing machine have made him the dominant force in creating boxing shorts for New York fighters. It was fertile ground—immediate all-access to real, complicated lives intersecting across boroughs, ages and backgrounds around a major talent. On tape Danny was handsome and funny, with quick hands, quick wit, and humility. Brownsville is not a place that lets your head swell. As Danny stepped up his training and went after a slot at the 2008 Olympics, Strini kept following him. The project that we wanted to make “Brooklyn to Beijing” died at the 2008 Olympic Boxing Trails in Houston, where he lost a controversial decision in the finals. Strini was there filming. Danny signed with Al Haymon, made his pro debut, got his first apartment, had a son. In 2010, He was 20-0 with 17KO and he fought Dimitriy Pirog for the vacant WBO World Middleweight Title. It was supposed to be his crowning moment. Instead, he got knocked out in the fifth. The next year, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and dangerous bone cancer. Life is a cruel sport. But Danny, improbably came back. 18 months later, he called Strini to come film his comeback fight. “The Golden Child” became the “Miracle Man.” Somewhere along the way we stopped filming. So these are postcards from the documentary we never quite made. But we’ve still been watching and rooting with pride. And looking back, it’s good to see that what motivated all of us then are the same things that drive us now—Strini is an amazing director and DP; I’m making Victory Journal; and on Saturday night, Danny Jacobs is fighting Gennady Glovkin at Madison Square Garden to unify the Middleweight title. So we thought this was a good occasion to break out some chapters from the unfinished novel in the desk drawer and to say, Danny Jacobs, we are forever in your corner.