Middleweight contender Daniel Jacobs embracing family, boxing after cancer battle

On Friday afternoons, many people are thinking about happy hour. But Daniel Jacobs had other things in mind.

A little before 3 p.m. on a recent Friday, Jacobs could be found in a Long Island gym, running on a treadmill -- the start of an intense 90-minute speed and conditioning workout, under the watchful eye of personal trainer Dave "Scooter" Honig.

As Jacobs moved rapidly from one piece of equipment to another -- dressed simply in gray sneakers, black shorts and a black hooded sweatshirt -- the boxer mostly stayed quiet, while Honig chimed in from time to time with directions, and a few words of inspiration.

"There is no next target. If I let this guy slip through the cracks, he can mess it all up for me. And then the whole Golovkin, Canelo future plans would be shattered. So I really can't look past this guy." Daniel Jacobs on fighting Luis Arias

"Look in the mirror and see what a champion looks like," Honig offered, while Jacobs furiously pedaled an exercise bike, seeing his reflection in the nearby glass.

Jacobs has been a champion, and some would say he always will be. After all, this is a man who overcame cancer and doctors' predictions that he would never box again.

Not only that, Jacobs won a middleweight title after his recovery and defended it successfully four times before a narrow defeat to unified champion Gennady Golovkin this past spring -- a unanimous decision, but close on all three scorecards.

Now Jacobs (32-2, 29 KOs), 30, is getting ready for his next fight -- against 27-year-old Luis Arias (18-0, 9 KOs), at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET). It's viewed by most as a stepping stone to a bigger fight -- perhaps a second chance against Golovkin, or a bout with Canelo Alvarez if Alvarez defeats Golovkin in their widely expected rematch. But Jacobs isn't looking too far ahead right now.

"There is no next target," Jacobs said. "If I let this guy slip through the cracks, he can mess it all up for me. And then the whole Golovkin, Canelo future plans would be shattered. So I really can't look past this guy.

"This guy is a young guy -- he's not really known but he's hungry, and if he has an out-of-body experience [on Saturday], then it could be all downhill for me."

Jacobs' training camp leading up to the Golovkin fight was 10 weeks long, but he's shaved it down to seven weeks this time around.

"I realized that in my last training camp I got kind of stale, and I had to do things to keep my mind motivated because we were in camp for so long," Jacobs said. "This one is not short, but it's perfect timing -- just enough to get me motivated, hungry, and ready to get inside that ring and take care of business."

He's not training alone, either. Jacobs has been joined by Chris Algieri, a former junior welterweight titleholder who fought Manny Pacquiao in 2014.

"It started out as a nutritionist role," said Algieri. "It's adapted over the past couple of months into a camp coordinator type of role. I review tape with him, I hold mitts for him, I've even jumped in and sparred with him a few times. His manager calls me a Swiss Army knife -- I fill the gaps, whatever the team needs."

Algieri, 33, hasn't fought since losing to Errol Spence Jr. in April 2016. He plans to resume his own boxing career, but in the meantime he's enjoying working with his fellow New York native.

"I always knew Danny as being a very sharp, good, smart boxer," Algieri said. "[But] then beyond that, just dealing with him on a day-to-day basis, and talking to him almost from a sports psychology point of view, he's an incredibly strong-willed guy. What he's had to overcome in his health and personal life is tremendous, and it shows in the ring. He's had a stellar career, and he's got a long way to go."

Honig feels the same way.

"What makes him special is that he does it because he wants to do it, not because he has to do it," Honig said. "He's so on point right now. His eating, his training, his sleeping, Chris Algieri feeding him -- it's just a whole 'nother level now."

Twenty-four hours later, Jacobs is back in Brooklyn, where he was born and raised -- if you know where to find him -- walking down the stairs to a dark boxing gym.

A Bruce Lee movie is playing on the TV above the entrance way door. You swivel your head back around, and a young boy is hitting one of the heavy bags on the far side of the room -- Jacobs' 8-year-old son, Nate, who is a frequent visitor to sparring sessions.

"This is his life, too," Jacobs said. "He loves it, he embraces it."

During the week, while Jacobs trains in Long Island, Nate is at home with Natalie, his mother and Jacobs' longtime partner. They reunite on the weekends.

"We've been together for 12 years," Jacobs said, of Natalie. "She's been my rock -- she's the best parent, co-parent that I could have. And she's my biggest supporter as well. If you see anybody at the fight, you always see her ringside screaming -- she's the one that you'll hear over anybody and everybody. I love her to death."

Nate was a busy young man on this Saturday -- helping his father stretch, shadowboxing with him in the ring, even pouring a drink into his mouth after he had his gloves on.

But then it was time to get down to business. Jacobs went three hard rounds with his first sparring partner, and then a second fighter entered the ring for Round 4. "Hit me hard, all right?" Jacobs said as he greeted his new opponent.

Three rounds later, a third fighter stepped in to face Jacobs. The sparring session was scheduled to go 10 rounds. "If you want me to go 12 [rounds], I'll go 12," Jacobs shouted at one point to his trainer, Andre Rozier. "I'm feelin' it."

Rozier has worked with Jacobs from the very beginning, since he was 14 years old.

"I remember the first time he came in the gym -- he was a spunky young kid, and he had braids in his hair," Rozier said. "And he just had a love for boxing -- he always wanted to box."

Rozier has been with Jacobs through it all -- from losing his grandmother just days before his first professional defeat, to being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that develops in bone, in 2011, and now his incredible comeback.

"I don't see any effects [of the cancer]," Rozier said. "I think he's become a better fighter, because he's more aware of everything going on. And of course he's matured immensely. Him struggling through and fighting and becoming the victor against cancer has given him a new breath, a new look on life, and he's just shining like a light right now."

The workout wasn't done after 12 rounds. After exiting the ring, Jacobs kissed Nate and then moved over to the side, where he and Algieri did several rounds of crunches and other exercises. Rozier continued coaching the fighters still sparring in the ring, but he has a clear vision for Jacobs in the months and years ahead.

"We plan to become middleweight champion of the world again," Rozier said. "And then we're going to move on to the super middleweight division, and our end goal is to be in the Hall of Fame -- and that's my job. My job is to make sure I get Danny to be a Hall of Famer."

But first things first, and Arias is up next -- the main event, on HBO, in Jacobs' own backyard.

"My spirits are at an all-time high," Jacobs said. "Most guys don't get this opportunity -- to headline their own card, in their hometown. So for me, I'm just really trying to capitalize on it, but have fun in the process."

With that, it was up the stairs and into the Saturday late-afternoon sunshine, wearing a big smile on his face -- a happy hour, indeed.