Just by virtue of the neighborhood he comes from, it's understandable why some consider middleweight Daniel Jacobs a prospect.
After all, the 22-year-old is from Brownsville, the tough Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood that has produced several top fighters, including former heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe.
But it's more than geography that makes Jacobs a must-see young fighter. He possesses two-fisted power, an exciting style, a deep amateur background, maturity and a strong team behind him.
Jacobs (18-0, 15 KOs), who relies heavily on his left jab, has come a long way in a short time. He first entered a boxing gym at 14, after getting in trouble at school for fighting. When he heard some of his friends were going to a gym, he joined them.
"I went down there to box so I wouldn't get in trouble," he said. "I sparred the second day and I did good, and I stayed out of trouble."
At 15, he had his first amateur fight and by 2006, Jacobs was an elite amateur, winning a U.S. national title. If anyone questions the toughness of "The Golden Child," just remember this: In the 2006 National Police Athletic League championships, he suffered a deep cut during a bout. He got stitched up sitting on a pool table and went on to win the tournament.
The following year, Jacobs lost in the finals of the 2007 U.S. Olympic trials, which tabbed members of the 2008 Olympic team. After the loss, Jacobs turned pro in December 2007 and has stormed to the top of the class.
Jacobs has been kept extraordinarily busy by manager Al Haymon and Golden Boy Promotions. He fought 12 times in 2008 and five times in 2009, limited only because of a hand injury that ended his year in August. But he kicked butt in the first eight months, earning rave reviews and honors as the 2009 ESPN.com Prospect of the Year.
"I truly feel there is no limit for his potential," said Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya. "He's on the verge of breaking out and really becoming a complete fighter. We've been keeping him very busy. We've been stepping him up in competition and he's been passing with flying colors. He's a fighter we really believe in."
Rafael's Prospects of the Year
Jacobs' first real test came in May, when he got a high-profile slot on the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton pay-per-view card and dominated rugged Michael Walker for a lopsided decision. The following month, Jacobs, who is trained by Victor Roundtree, headlined ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" against another experienced veteran, George Walton, in his first scheduled 10-rounder. Jacobs thrashed him en route to an eighth-round knockout.
However, the 6-foot-1 Jacobs injured a knuckle on his left hand during the fight. He didn't think it was serious enough to tell anyone.
"After the fight my hand was really swollen, but I didn't think it was anything major," Jacobs said. "I recovered over the next three weeks. I didn't see a doctor because I didn't think it was that intense of an injury."
Two months later, Jacobs made his HBO debut against cagey veteran Ishe Smith, the kind of guy nobody looks good against, win or lose. But Jacobs bucked the trend and looked superb as he outboxed and outslugged Smith for a unanimous decision. But the hand didn't hold up.
"I injured it again, which is why I couldn't do the damage I wanted to do," Jacobs said. "This time the doctor looked at it and said I had a problem."
The result was a short surgical procedure in September on a tendon in his left hand that kept him on the shelf for the rest of the year. Jacobs is back in the gym and expects to be ready in a couple of months.
"I'm 95 percent right now," he said. "I'm training and running in the cold weather. I think 2010 is going to be good for me. The middleweight division is wide open to become a champion or superstar. It's me. I think it's going to be a big year."
If his recovery goes as planned, De La Hoya said Jacobs would get a slot on the Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather HBO PPV undercard March 13, assuming that deal is finalized.
"I'm really looking forward to being on that big undercard," he said. "That would be amazing. This is like fight of the decade, one of the biggest fights of my lifetime. To be on the undercard would truly be amazing."
Jacobs has already had the opportunity to fight on some big undercards.
In December 2008, he fought on the Pacquiao-De La Hoya card in Las Vegas and showed just how dedicated to boxing he is. When his longtime girlfriend, Natalie, gave birth to their son, Nathaniel (a combination of their names), Jacobs was at the hospital. As soon as he knew they were OK, he flew to Las Vegas later that day. Two days later, he knocked out Victor Lara and flew right home.
"He seems very, very mature," De La Hoya said. "He really knows what he wants for his career. He wants to be a world champion and be one many times over. It's exciting to be working with a young prospect like that who will go very far."
Jacobs also got to fight on another major undercard when he had his first hometown fight on the Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones show at Madison Square Garden in November 2008. That meant a lot to Jacobs, because Jones is his boxing idol.
"He was everything to me, how he carried himself, the excitement he brought to the sport," said Jacobs, who had a chance to meet Jones. "He drew me to boxing. I looked up to him and wanted to be like him. When I fought on his undercard at the Garden, I thought, 'what could be more perfect?'"
If Jacobs keeps developing like many believe he can, here's what could be more perfect: Jacobs, the rising star, headlining his own big card.
It could happen.
Other future stars (in alphabetical order with age, division, promoter and record):
Saul Alvarez (19, welterweight, Tuto Zabala Jr.'s All-Star Boxing, 30-0-1, 22 KOs): Despite no amateur experience, "Canelo" has emerged as Mexico's top prospect, a young, aggressive brawler who punches well in combination and also has skills, not to mention a rapidly growing fan base and the backing of television giant Televisa. He also has legendary adviser Rafael Mendoza, a Yoda-like figure in Mexican boxing circles, working with him. Alvarez, who with red hair and freckles looks like Howdy Doody, has seen the competition level steadily increase, and he's handled it well, going 7-0 with six knockouts in 2009, including wins against solid opponents such as Lanardo Tyner and Michel Rosales. Alvarez fought twice in the U.S. in 2008 and there's a good chance he'll be back in 2010 with the possibility of Golden Boy becoming involved in his career.
Demetrius Andrade (21, junior middleweight, Banner Promotions/Star Boxing, 8-0, 6 KOs): The best pro prospect from the 2008 U.S. Olympic team was a decorated amateur before turning pro in 2008. Boxing since he was 6, Andrade won a world amateur championship, two U.S. national titles and two National Golden Gloves titles. As a pro, the 6-1 Providence, R.I., native stayed busy with six bouts in 2009 and displayed the attributes that make him one of boxing's most dynamic prospects: dazzling hand speed, power and ring intelligence. Andrade kicks off his 2010 campaign on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" on Jan. 15 by moving into his first eight-round bout.
Chris Avalos (20, bantamweight, Gary Shaw, 14-0, 11 KOs): Avalos is an aggressive fighter with good punching power, although he can be a bit reckless. But that's one of things that makes him so entertaining. Avalos, of Lancaster, Calif., received excellent exposure in 2009 with two knockouts on Showtime's "ShoBox" against Andre Wilson and Giovanni Caro as he gradually increased his level of competition. Avalos is a hungry fighter, too, which is why, despite having a bad case of the flu for about 10 days, he went through with the Caro fight and knocked him out in the fourth round in September. Expect to see more of Avalos on "ShoBox" in 2010.
Adrien Broner (20, lightweight, Golden Boy, 13-0, 10 KOs): Broner is as energetic and aggressive as any prospect. Golden Boy and manager Shelly Finkel kept him busy with eight fights in 2009, including appearances on major undercards. The Cincinnati native had an excellent amateur background, winning the Silver Gloves tournament in 2002 and 2003 and advancing to the semifinals at the 2005 Junior Olympics. He's got good skills, extremely fast hands and an unmistakable swagger that makes him fun to watch. He just needs experience and maturity.
Danny Garcia (21, junior welterweight, Golden Boy, 15-0, 10 KOs): The 2006 U.S. national champion just missed making the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, losing in the trials finals to finish his amateur career 107-13. As a pro, he's one of several Golden Boy-promoted, Shelly Finkel-managed prospects being moved nicely. The confident Garcia, an excellent counterpuncher, went 5-0 in 2009, although he was slowed slightly by a hand injury. But he finished the year strong, scoring a sensational second-round knockout of Enrique Colin, the best opponent of his career, in December in his first pro fight in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (22, featherweight, Top Rank, 19-0, 16 KOs): Garcia, who was 58-7 as an amateur, hasn't gotten the hype of some prospects, but this kid can fight. He's a well-schooled crowd-pleaser who throws short, accurate punches. He's one of co-manager Cameron Dunkin's prized prospects and is trained by former world titlist Robert Garcia, his brother. "Mikey" grew up in a boxing family, one reason why he's so patient and mature in the ring despite his youth. The Oxnard, Calif., resident can box and bang, winning all four of his 2009 bouts by knockout, including an impressive third-round knockout of Yogli Herrera, which got airtime on the Dec. 19 Kelly Pavlik-Miguel Espino Top Rank pay-per-view undercard.
Frankie Gavin (24, junior welterweight, Frank Warren, 5-0, 5 KOs): The 2008 British Olympian looks like the best pro prospect from the trio of teammates Warren signed, including gold medalist James DeGale and Billy Joe Saunders. In 2007, Gavin, a southpaw, became the first British world amateur champion. But Gavin, a gold-medal favorite, never competed in Beijing because he failed to make weight and was disqualified. He turned pro in February and ripped through his first five opponents with a crowd-pleasing style. He opens his 2010 campaign Feb. 13 in London.
Gennady Golovkin (27, middleweight, Spotlight Boxing, 18-0, 15 KOs): Golovkin was a 2003 world amateur champ (beat Matvey Korobov and Andy Lee and stopped future super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute) and a 2004 Olympic silver medalist (beat American Andre Dirrell in the semifinals) for Kazakhstan, although he now lives in Germany. Since turning pro in 2006, Golovkin has moved steadily and is close to a title eliminator. He was 4-0 in 2009, winning each bout by early knockout against decent competition. Golovkin, who considers Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones his boxing idols, has an awkward style, solid defense and good power. He projects as another in a long line of German-based middleweight and super middleweight contenders.
Fernando Guerrero (23, middleweight, Prize Fight, 17-0, 14 KOs): Guerrero, a southpaw, is exciting and aggressive with good power. He had a strong amateur career that included Junior Golden Gloves, International Junior Olympics, National Golden Gloves and U.S. national titles. In a sport in which how well you draw is as important as your talent, Guerrero also has that covered. Although born in the Dominican Republic, he's lived in Salisbury, Md., since childhood and been embraced by the community. He sells out when he fights at home, a big reason why Guerrero, who needs defensive work, can become a major factor. The Barry Hunter-trained Guerrero, who has gotten good sparring from Paul Williams, went 5-0 in 2009 and closed with an impressive fourth-round knockout of Jesse Nicklow on "ShoBox" in December. Guerrero is scheduled to open 2010 on Feb. 19 on ESPN2 against Jesus Gonzalez.
Omar Henry (22, junior middleweight, Top Rank, 7-0, 6 KOs): Stocky and strong with fast hands, Henry may develop into a complete fighter, but right now the eye-catching element of his game is pure power. Some of his knockouts have been of the absolutely devastating variety. Check out YouTube to see for yourself. Henry wasn't a big-time amateur, going just 60-5 and making it to the quarterfinals of the 2007 National Golden Gloves, but manager Cameron Dunkin excels at signing diamonds in the rough and he may have one here. Outside the ring, Henry also has a lot going for him. He's a straight-A student at Houston Community College.
Marcus Johnson (24, super middleweight, Lou DiBella/Antonio Leonard, 18-0, 14 KOs): Johnson was a standout amateur who made it to the 2004 Olympic trials finals only to lose to eventual Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward. Johnson then signed with promoter Don King, and it was a terrible mistake. King buried him, gave him no exposure and did nothing to actually promote him. He sat for 11 months waiting for his contract to expire and then signed in June with DiBella, who quickly got him two fights, one which was a standout performance on "ShoBox" in October, a lopsided decision against Victor Villareal. Now the Houston resident with good pop and excellent conditioning is in position for a breakout 2010.
Mike Jones (26, welterweight, Russell Peltz, 19-0, 16 KOs): A lanky puncher with an appealing style, Jones is a mystery man to many because Peltz, his Hall of Fame promoter, has built him in Philadelphia with very little television exposure. He tried to interest the networks, but to no avail. So Jones, a pro since 2005, has stayed busy at home and in the dark, building a local fan base. The single father of two daughters, who works part-time at Home Depot, went 3-0 in 2009, but would have likely added a couple of more wins had it not been for injury setbacks. Jones will get some much-needed TV exposure Feb. 27 thanks to an arrangement between Peltz and Top Rank. Jones will face Henry Bruseles in Atlantic City, N.J., on Top Rank's new Fox Sports Net series.
Matvey Korobov (26, middleweight, Top Rank, 9-0, 7 KOs): Top Rank's prized prospect was a decorated Russian amateur, winning two world championships, two world cups and fighting in the 2008 Olympics. Manager Cameron Dunkin had his eyes on Korobov for years and got his man, who relocated to Florida, where his parents had moved years earlier. The southpaw has a pro style and good power, but is learning the finer points of fighting on the inside. He teamed with star trainer Kenny Adams two fights ago, and that marriage should be a big plus. Korobov should be in the hunt for a major fight by the end of 2010.
Erislandy Lara (26, junior middleweight, Golden Boy/Arena Box, 9-0, 5 KOs): Lara, a southpaw, is one of several Cuban defectors to turn pro in recent years. He may turn out to be one of the best. He won three consecutive Cuban national titles and a world amateur championship in 2005. He was a gold-medal favorite for the 2008 Olympics, but was caught attempting to defect at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. He was kicked off the team and returned to Cuba before finally escaping in 2008. With loads of amateur experience, Lara is moving quickly in the pros. On Dec. 12, he fought his first 10-rounder and pitched a near-shutout against experienced Luciano Perez. Lara is fast with outstanding skills and the ability to mix it up if necessary. Manager Shelly Finkel's confidence is so great, he says Lara is ready to face titleholder Sergio Martinez.
David Lemieux (21, middleweight, Yvon Michel, 20-0, 20 KOs): Rather than attempt to make Canada's 2008 Olympic team, for which he was a virtual lock, Montreal's Lemieux turned pro at 18 in 2007 because he'd always had his eye on pro glory instead of Olympic gold. A three-time Canadian amateur champion, Lemieux ranks as his country's top prospect, ripping through opponents with bone-jarring power. The charismatic slugger went 8-0 in 2009, including a first-round knockout of "Contender" alum Donny McCrary and an impressive second-round knockout of Delray Raines in his first 10-rounder.
Roberto Marroquin (20, junior featherweight, Top Rank, 11-0, 8 KOs): The Dallas native has an energetic style and carries a dynamite left hook, which he used in 2009, going 6-0 with 5 KOs. Top Rank knows how to move young fighters and will take its time with Marroquin, who is developing a fan base in his home state. He was a standout amateur, winning the 2006 Junior Olympic nationals, going to the 2007 Pan American Games and making it to the finals at the 2007 U.S. Olympic trials.
Vanes Martirosyan (23, junior middleweight, Top Rank, 26-0, 17 KOs): It seems like Martirosyan, born in Armenia but living in Glendale, Calif., has been around forever, but the 2004 U.S. Olympian was just 18 when he turned pro. He's been slowly and properly developed by Top Rank matchmakers Brad "Abdul" Goodman and Bruce Trampler and manager Shelly Finkel to the point where he's on the verge of facing a top contender or challenging for a title. The lanky 6-footer was 4-0 in 2009 and is primed for a serious move in 2010. Trainer Freddie Roach believes he's ready for a big fight right now, and he'll take a major step up when he faces former titleholder Kassim Ouma on Jan. 16.
Shawn Porter (22, junior middleweight, Prize Fight, 12-0, 10 KOs): Porter gained attention in 2009 because he did very well as one of Manny Pacquiao's main sparring partners. But Porter isn't just a sparring partner. He was an outstanding amateur and has a bright pro future. He was a 2007 National Golden Gloves champion and 2008 U.S. Olympic alternate. The Cleveland resident is 5-7 and stocky, so perhaps a little undersized for his division. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed, power and determination. The former high school football player was exceptionally busy in 2009, capping a 9-0 year with a fourth-round knockout of previously undefeated Jamar Patterson in his "ShoBox" debut in December. Porter returns Feb. 19 on ESPN2.
Rico Ramos (22, junior featherweight, Dan Goossen, 14-0, 8 KOs): The Pico Rivera, Calif., southpaw is a quick, accurate puncher who was impressive when he got television exposure on "ShoBox" in November and soundly outpointed previously undefeated Alejandro Perez in an eight-round slugfest. That moved him to 6-0 in 2009. As an amateur, Ramos won 2006 National Police Athletic League and National Blue and Gold Tournament titles before turning pro in 2008 under the guidance of powerful manager Al Haymon.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (29, junior featherweight, DeCubas Presents/Caribe Promotions, 4-0, 3 KOs): Rigondeaux is a special prospect. Professionally, he has just four fights, but he was one of the most decorated amateurs ever. He had around 400 fights before defecting from Cuba and turning pro in May. He won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004, won two world amateur championships and a Pan American Games gold medal, among a slew of other amateur accolades. He has two-fisted power, speed, technical ability and poise. His handlers expect him to challenge for a world title within 10 fights. In June, he began working with trainer Freddie Roach, who was blown away by his potential. "When we worked the mitts together, it was like when I worked with Manny [Pacquiao] for the first time," he said. Rigondeaux's 2010 debut comes Feb. 5 on ESPN2.
Edwin Rodriguez (24, super middleweight, Lou DiBella, 13-0, 9 KOs): Born in the Dominican Republic but living in Worcester, Mass., Rodriguez, who dealt with surgery to remove bone spurs from both elbows, closed a 5-0 2009 by knocking out experienced Brian Norman in the fifth round. It was a good measuring stick for Rodriguez, because Norman had gone 10 rounds with Jean Pascal, who would later win a light heavyweight title. As an amateur, Rodriguez had solid credentials, going 84-9 and winning the 2005 U.S. nationals and 2006 National Golden Gloves. He is the father of 3-year-old twins, who have had medical problems because they were born prematurely.
Odlanier Solis (29, heavyweight, Top Rank/Arena Box, 15-0, 11 KOs): The 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist defected in 2007 and has emerged as a heavyweight to watch. He has fast hands, good power and ring smarts, but he also fought just three times in 2009 and needs better conditioning. In his last fight, he scored a second-round demolition of ex-title challenger Monte Barrett in October for his best pro win. But the 6-1 Solis was a career-heavy 271 pounds. Normally, he's in the 250s. Although co-promoters Bob Arum and Ahmet Öner talk him up as somebody who could dethrone either Klitschko brother, Solis still has a lot to prove. But the potential is there. He'll make his 2010 debut March 20 on Top Rank's new Fox Sports Net series.
Antwone Smith (22, welterweight, Lou DiBella, 17-1-1, 8 KOs): Smith wasn't a blue chipper when he turned pro in 2006, but the Miami resident earned his way into prospect status. For several fights, he was the so-called opponent, but disregarded the odds, showed dogged determination and kept winning, including pulling some upsets on ESPN2. In February, he outpointed undefeated and favored Norberto Gonzalez, and followed with an easy decision against Richard Gutierrez in May. DiBella saw Smith lose a controversial six-round decision to house fighter Ed Paredes in 2007, but was impressed. Then DiBella watched him fight a few more times. When he found out he had no promoter, he signed him in June. DiBella got Smith an opportunity on "ShoBox," where he looked good stopping Henry Crawford in October. Smith could move quickly in 2010.
Deontay Wilder (24, heavyweight, Golden Boy, 8-0, 8 KOs): Despite very limited amateur experience, Wilder won the 2007 National Golden Gloves and U.S. national titles and saved the U.S. Olympic boxing team from a medal shutout by winning a bronze in the 2008 Beijing Games. He signed with Golden Boy and manager Shelly Finkel and turned pro in late 2008. In 2009, Wilder fought seven times with seven first-round knockouts against extremely limited opposition. But that was by design. Wilder is a project with a lot to learn, but he's a willing student. He has excellent size (6-7) and is bulking up his lean, 215-pound frame with a weight program. His calling card is a tremendously powerful right hand, but trainers Mark Breland and Jay Deas are working on the rest of his game, especially his jab. If Wilder develops, it's going to take a few years, but he has time on his side.
Also coming: awards for knockout, round and fight of the year
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.