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Monday, August 10, 2020

A Look Back: Gary Jacobs

The Jewish Boxing Blog is continuing a series called "A Look Back" in an effort to link the past with the present through a profile of notable former Jewish boxers.

A British, Commonwealth, and European welterweight champion and world title challenger, Gary "Kid" Jacobs is an overlooked, underappreciated, and underrated fighter whose career was a story of promise, disappointment, and redemption.

It is August 26, 1995. Pernell Whitaker, the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world stands in a ring in Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. Across from him is a curly-haired Jew from Scotland who isn't given a chance against the living legend. The Scot is little known in the United States, even among his Jewish brethren.


On the Way Up
Gary Jacobs was born on December 10, 1965 in Glasgow, Scotland. As a kid, Jacobs enjoyed playing soccer. Anti-Semitism wasn't a major concern of his childhood in the Scottish capital. At 15, he took up boxing at his father's urging. After twelve amateur fights in three years, he turned professional. "If I'm doing this, I'm going to get paid for it," Jacobs rationalized.

On May 20, 1985 in Glasgow, Gary "Kid" Jacobs earned £200 in defeating John Conlan in his pro debut. He had been working as a goldsmith. "I'm working all week for 50 quid," Jacobs explained to Ian Probert as to why he turned professional, "That was it for me."

A southpaw, Jacobs won his first nine professional fights before losing to journeyman Dave Douglas on June 24, 1986 for the Scottish welterweight title by half a point on the referee's scorecard. Jacobs knocked out his next two opponents before avenging his lone defeat on January 27, 1987. Jacobs grabbed the Scottish welterweight belt with a one-point victory over Douglas on the ref's card.

Jacobs kept winning, and his stock rose. A skillful fighter, Jacobs credits his work ethic for his success. "I loved training," Jacobs explains. "My thing was fear of getting hurt. And I knew the fitter [I am] the more punches I'm throwing and the less I'm getting hit. I never thought of myself as special."

On April 19, 1988 Commonwealth welterweight champion Wilf Gentzler traveled from Australia to Glasgow to defend his title against Gary. At that time Jacobs was a pressure fighter. In the fight, he was shrewdly aggressive and exhibited his two best punches for Gentzler, the straight left and the right uppercut. Gentzler could have done without the demonstration. The Australian was caught in between styles. He didn't lead but couldn't catch Jacobs on his way inside either. Once inside, Jacobs roughed up the champion. The referee's score was a bit too close, but Jacobs snatched away the Commonwealth belt.

That year, Jacobs moved to London to further his boxing career. Glaswegian crime boss Arthur Thompson, a friend of a Glasgow-based promoter, didn't appreciate the move. He ordered hitman Paul Ferris to cut up Jacobs with a razor. Ferris, usually a loyal enforcer, happened not to like the go-between Thompson had sent and ignored the order. Jacobs knew of the rumor and initially didn't realize he was safe. "Eventually on one of my visits [to Glasgow] a pal told me, 'You're all right now,'" he says.

In London, Jacobs entered the office of Mickey Duff hoping the famed Jewish manager would represent him. Working with Duff was one of the major reasons why he had moved to London. Mike Barrett shared an office with Duff, and Jacobs unintentionally signed with Barrett without realizing it. "I was just a lad," Gary recalls, " A novice. What did I know about people managing me?" During their partnership, Barrett would guide Gary to international acclaim in the welterweight division, but he also made some key managerial mistakes.

By that point Jacobs had dramatically improved his game. He was most comfortable darting forward, but he wasn't a face-first fighter. Never a one-punch knockout artist, Jacobs was one of the rare men to score more knockouts as his career developed and the opposition's ability increased. Scoring just two KOs in his first ten fights, Jacobs gradually learned to wear down his opponents. He scored 11 KOs in his next 16 fights and four in a row after the win over Gentzler. One of those KO victories came in September of 1988 against contender Javier Suazo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Suazo had knocked out future world belt-holder Vincent Pettway and gone the distance against 1984 Olympic gold medalist and current world champion Mark Breland. Gary's tenth round KO was a better result against Suazo than either champion could muster.

Around this time, Gary met Queen Elizabeth's husband at a function. Prince Philip asked the Jewish pugilist, "Did you get that nose from boxing?"
"No, I've had it all my life," Gary retorted.

On April 4, 1989, Jacobs was an underdog against a 35-0, 21-year old named George Collins. "That was a monster fight for me," Jacobs remembers. BoxRec lists Jacobs as 5'7" and Collins as 5"10". The younger, taller man not only had more professional boxing experience, he had more amateur fights than Jacobs as well. Jack "Kid" Berg, the legendary Jewish fighter from London who fought from 1924-1945 was in attendance to see Jacobs. In the fight, the new "Kid" was able to get on the inside against the younger Collins where he landed eye-catching right uppercuts and the occasional headbutt. Both actions served to frustrate the English prospect. In the twelfth and final round, George's eyes were badly marked when a straight left floored him. He got up, but Jacobs won the referee's decision.

Each victory added to Jacobs's confidence. "I think I'm the greatest thing," he told David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post at the time, "I'm very quick. I don't take a lot of punches. I don't smoke, don't drink, and I don't have doubts."  He had a showcase bout scheduled in New York against journeyman Tyrone Moore which was to be a stepping stone to a title shot against Mark Breland. Edwin Rosario got hurt and had to pull out of a fight, so a replacement bout was concocted. Gary would face James "Buddy" McGirt.


The Fall
"Mike Barrett could have picked anybody, but he picked Buddy McGirt," Jacobs recounts. "He was a brave manager, but I was glad to take it." McGirt, a future Hall of Famer, was a very underrated fighter at the time. Before the fight, the Associate Press added 19 extra losses to McGirt's ledger, describing his record as 43-21. BoxRec lists him as 43-2-1 before the fight with Jacobs. The New Yorker had lifted a junior welterweight belt off a Frankie Warren and then lost it to Meldrick Taylor. He would later win a welterweight world title strap and later lose it to Pernell Whitaker in a disputed decision. For Jacobs's part, he claimed, "I'd never heard of McGirt."

Early in the fight, McGirt looked like the wrong choice of opponent. Jacobs couldn't get inside as McGirt was too crafty and Buddy possessed the quicker hands. Jacobs was competitive throughout, and landed his right uppercuts in the eighth and ninth rounds, but McGirt finished the fight strong. Barbara Perez and former junior welterweight titlist and Saoul Mamby conqueror Billy Costello had the fight 8-2 while the third judge scored it 7-3 for McGirt. "He was just too good for me," Jacobs admits, "but I gave him a fight. He had to be on his game."

The world title shot evaporated for the moment. Three months later, the Commonwealth belt disappeared too when Donovan Boucher of Canada won a decision in Scotland. On April 26, 1990 Gary stopped Pascal Lorcy in the second round on cuts. Jacobs would earn most of his knockouts by showing a propensity to induce lacerations above his opponents' eyes. Gary fought for less than a minute before knocking out his next foe in May. In October, Jacobs was cruising by Mickey Hughes, a solid fighter who was not on Kid's level. In the eighth, Jacobs succumbed to carelessness and was knocked out. It was his fourth career loss and his third in five fights.

Every announcer of Gary's subsequent fights referenced this moment as the low-point of his career. Something to come back from. His march to a title shot had seemingly vanished, and the question of whether Gary should even continue boxing became real. He decided to try to leave Mike Barrett, who had steered his boxing career into a wall. He had to pay Barrett  £30,000 to void the remaining six years on the contract. Years later, Gary was gracious. "I think he helped progress me," Gary says. "At the end of the day, it was all my choice. It was all part of my apprenticeship and it probably made me a better fighter."


Redemption, Part 1
Jacobs tapped Mickey Duff, the man he originally wanted to manage him, to guide his career. After a win over Chris Eubank's brother Peter, Gary faced Del Bryan in a rematch; this time for the British welterweight title. Also a southpaw, Bryan pushed forward and launched shots early in their second fight though many missed the target. Jacobs subtly slipped the in-coming fire. Gary was economical with his shots and landed the cleaner blows during the first half of the fight. A game Bryan came back to begin the second half of the bout, but Jacobs finished strong, cutting Bryan by the right eye in the eleventh. Gary won the British welterweight tile and would not relinquish it in the ring.

On October 16, 1992 Jacobs challenged undefeated southpaw Ludovic Proto for the vacant European welterweight championship in Paris. Even the French press described the split decision victory for the France-based Proto as "a miracle." The British simply called it a robbery. The EBU ordered a rematch for February 6, 1993 in Paris. Jacobs aimed to mute the judges. In the second stanza, Jacobs knocked down the champion with a right hook.  Proto also suffered a cut by his right eye in that round. Kid used smart pressure and skilled in-fighting to control the contest. A Jacobs's right hook in the eighth shook Proto to the core and forced him to question whether keeping the belt was worth this level of punishment. Jacobs smelled the leather strap and jumped on Proto. The man from Guadeloupe survived the round, but after absorbing a perfect right hook in the ninth, his corner threw in the towel.

Gary Jacobs had won the European welterweight championship. He later called it, "My finest hour in the ring... That was my greatest achievement."

Jacobs continued to improve. He was a fighting champion defending his title against deserving yet outclassed opponents including Daniel Biccchieray, Tusikoleta Nkalankete, and Alessandro Duran.  "The only thing I have yet to win is a world title," Gary told Damon Quigley. "I am at the stage of my career when I need incentives. Even defending my European title is insufficient motivation in some ways but I have to do it because I am still hungry for a world title shot."

He could have fought Northern Ireland's Eamonn Loughran, the holder of an alphabet organization's world title. Ultimately, the two would never meet in the ring. No one will ever know, but most boxing people felt Jacobs would have been favored to win the belt. "It was a joint decision between myself and Mickey," Gary says. Jacobs wasn't a championship belt chaser. He wanted to fight the best.

Mickey Duff went to work. He managed to position Jacobs to earn a title shot against the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Pernell Whitaker.


Fighting the Best
It is August 26, 1995. A Scottish Jew enters Convention Hall to the sound of bagpipes. He's nervous and tense but not afraid. Wearing purple trunks with a white Star of David on his trunks, Jacobs enters the ring with Mickey Duff. When referee Ron Lipton, an ex-amateur boxer, stops by to check Gary's gloves, the red corner holds 30% of a minyan, an exceedingly rare occurrence in boxing by the 1990s.

Gary holds a three inch height and reach advantage, and he's in shape. "I was super fit, unbelievably fit," Gary remembers. Michael Buffer bellows, "Let's get ready to rumble!" The bell rings.

Jacobs proves immediately he isn't scared. He's here to win. He pumps a jab to the body in the opening second of the fight. Jacobs isn't a jabber. Whitaker, a fellow southpaw, is one of the best jabbers in the history of boxing. Most of the first round is fought in close quarters. Jacobs targets the body, hoping to slow down the supremely speedy man nicknamed "Sweet Pea." Whitaker catches Jacobs with a couple of eye-catching straight lefts, but Jacobs shows a good right hook. More impressively, Gary is able to track and slip Whitaker's supersonic punches.

Jacobs lands over 40% of his punches in the first round against the defensive master. Though he lands four fewer shots, he connects at a greater accuracy than the sharpshooting champion. In the second, Jacobs continues to slip and work his way inside behind the jab. He follows the cliched advice to "jab with a jabber." But Whitaker's jab is quick and creates swelling by Jacobs's right eye. The world's best fighter lands a blur of a right hook. With twenty seconds remaining, Jacobs ducks a Whitaker left. Pernell trips and falls. Jacobs helps direct him down. "No knockdown," declares referee Lipton. Yet Jacobs has seen Whitaker tumble to the canvas, which serves to buoy his spirits after a close but lost round.

Jacobs is still landing over 40% of his punches, an unconscionable number on the great Whitaker. Kid opens the third with several quick jabs, a punch he is landing with astounding frequency. His right hook is doing damage on the inside. He even flings a lead left from the outside that smacks the target unimpeded. Two minutes in, Whitaker pulls Jacobs's head down and secures him in a headlock. He coyly flings his left glove behind his back and hits Gary with a thrilling but illegal behind-the-back punch. An embarrassment to be sure, but Gary wins the round on the strength of the those first two minutes.

According to The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, Bert Sugar and Teddy Atlas rate Pernell Whitaker as the second best southpaw in the history of boxing at any weight class. They believe he possessed the eighth best footwork in boxing history. Individually, Sugar and Atlas each put Whitaker in their top 5 best lightweights ever, just behind Benny Leonard and Roberto Duran, and ahead of  Henry Armstrong and Barney Ross. They rank "Sweet Pea" as the second best defensive fighter of all-time. "I don't care who I'm fighting," Whitaker once theorized, "I don't care if it's G-d. If I don't want G-d to hit me, He's not going to hit me." Jacobs out-lands the legend in the third round by connecting over half of his punches. Gary isn't G-d, but he has better a right hook.

Jacobs starts the fourth with a left to the body. Most of the round is contested on the inside, and Jacobs is outworking the great champion. Halfway through the round, another of Gary's divine right hooks meets Whitaker's chest and forces Pernell to stumble backwards. Forty seconds later, Whitaker doubles up on his own right hook out of a clinch and nails the Scot's nose flush. At the end of the round, Whitaker grants Gary a subtle nod of respect, touching gloves on his way back to the blue corner.

HBO's longtime unofficial judge, Harold Lederman, has the bout even after four. So does the network's curmudgeonly announcer and veteran journalist, Larry Merchant. Jacobs throws an elbow in the fifth and receives a stern warning from Lipton. His right hook continues to be his best weapon in this fight, but Whitaker lands several telling blows in the final minute of the round. In Atlantic City, the tide is turning towards the American.

Whitaker's class is increasingly showing. His handspeed controls the sixth round. Halfway through the bout, Jacobs is still more accurate than Whitaker and is still landing at a 40% clip, but his workrate is dissipating. The seventh is bad for Gary, and the ninth is worse. Whitaker exhibits a masterclass in defense and begins to clown Jacobs. Jacobs's right hook reappears with a minute to go in the tenth, but Whitaker answers with a counter left immediately. Gary's corner is begging him to summon up something, anything to change the fight.

In the eleventh, Whitaker misses with a left as Jacobs rushes forward. Whitaker starts to fall and a right from Gary helps him down. Pernell pounds the canvas, distressed over mistiming his punch. Puzzlement overtakes his face when he realizes Lipton is counting. Jacobs has scored a knockdown against the pound-for-pound best! "It was a bit of a clip and a slip at the same time," Gary later remembers. "It wasn’t a fully blown knockdown. But I hit him, and he went down. I’m definitely claiming it!"

The twelfth turns out to be a disaster. Whitaker touches Gary at will. With one minute left in the fight, Lipton takes a point from Gary for holding. "[He's] the greatest fighter on the planet. How much help does he need?" the challenger wonders. Lipton mistakes in-fighting for holding the entire night but is perhaps too lenient on other fouls- rabbit punching, low blows, use of the elbow, and leading with the head- from both fighters. Whitaker smiles sheepishly, and the two men touch gloves. Sweet Pea scores two knockdowns, the first on an overhand left, in the last twenty seconds. Gary is hurt, but determined to finish the fight on his feet.

"I chased him all over the place, but he was so slick he makes you miss," Gary recalls. "The secret of boxing is to not get hit, to be elusive, and show good movement. When you get to the top level of boxing it’s not about how tough you are, that’s a given, it’s a human chess match. It’s about pinning your opponent down. And Pernell was brilliant at that.

"I don’t think the scorecards should have been as wide as they were. It was a competitive fight, it really was, the whole way through," Gary later said. After Whitaker passed away last year, Gary reminisced, "It was great for me to fight Pernell Whitaker. My legacy is that I fought one of the greatest fighters there ever was. I went the distance with him, and lost on points.”

The Whitaker fight gave Gary Jacobs a name in the sport, but at 30 years old his career was coming to a close. He had trouble making 147 pounds and fought only twice more at the weight, including an upset loss to Patrick Charpentier. He moved up and fought his last three bouts weighing over 155 pounds. In his final bout, he lost by unanimous decision to Russian journeyman Yuri Epifantsev. With a record of 45-8 and 26 KOs, Gary Jacobs retired at age 31.


The Nightmare
Boxing might be a metaphor for life, but it doesn't prepare a person for life outside the ring. "I've been... through the mill a wee bit since I stopped boxing. It was a nightmare for the first four or five years," Jacobs told The Scotsman in 2011.

In 1999, Jacobs opened a gym in Glasgow. By 2001, his debts had piled up too high, and he had to declare bankruptcy. He had a wife and three children. "We can't afford a family holiday, and we can't take the kids to the cinema," Gary told David Leslie in 2003. Things got worse.

When Jacobs was working as a boxing analyst for Sky Sports, he was booted out of two separate night clubs. One club said he was ejected for taking drugs in the bathroom, an allegation he denies. In 2003, he was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. He refused to take a breathalyzer test and was suspended from driving for a year. He went to court for possession of the drug Ecstasy and was found not guilty. All of the trouble was too much for the network and Gary lost his television gig.

That same year, Jacobs co-promoted a celebrity charity boxing event with fellow former boxer Paul Weir. The money was to go to sick kids at a hospital in Glasgow. Instead, Weir skimmed quite a lot of the funds for himself and only a tiny fraction made it to the hospital. Gary was angry and dejected.

Locals turned on him. When he was thriving as a boxer, his Judaism wasn't an issue, but things changed when he went through his nightmare. "I never experienced any discrimination during my career," Gary told The Scotsman in 2011. "Sadly I have to say I've come across some anti-Semitism in recent years."

"I am Jewish first and foremost, but not in a way that I ever pushed into people's faces," Gary explained.

In 2010, his wife Linda received a dreaded diagnosis. She had breast cancer, and all of his previous misfortune was put into perspective.


Redemption, Part 2
Gary isn't the only fighting Jacobs. Thankfully, Linda beat the cancer. Gary helped raise money by lacing up the gloves and boxing in an exhibition match for a cancer charity in 2012. This charity event was considered a success. He has been involved in other charitable endeavors as well. In 2010, Jacobs was inducted into the Scottish boxing Hall of Fame.

During his years away from boxing, he spent some time working with a maintenance and cleaning business in Glasgow. He missed boxing though. In 2015, Jacobs had returned to boxing as a trainer in his hometown. He has stayed out of trouble and avoided negative press.

From goldsmith to a hardworking professional boxing prospect. From mafia target to managerial switcheroo victim. From skilled British, Commonwealth, and European champion to gutsy world title challenger. From a nightmare beginning to his post-boxing career to redemption. Fifty-four year old Gary Jacobs has lived an eventful life.


Bibliography
Glen, Fraser. "Legendary Glasgow boxer Gary Jacobs is back in the ring..." GlasgowLive. April 4, 2016.
Halliday, Stephen. "Interview: Gary Jacobs, ex boxing professional" The Scotsman. July 15, 2011.
Horovitz, David. "Gary the Kid is Still Climbing." Jerusalem Post. November 28, 1988.
Leslie, David. "I can't event afford to take the kids to the pictures." News of the World. August 17, 2003.
Probert, Ian. "Gary Jacobs." via PressReader.com August 23, 2018.
Quigley, Damon. "Fighting on without fame." The Times (London). November 7, 1993.
Sugar Bert and Teddy Atlas. The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists. 2010.
Williams, Luke G. "Gary Jacobs Interview: 'Pernell was one of the all-time greats'" Boxing Monthly. July 17, 2019.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Zachary Wohlman Working with Ring of Hope

California native Zachary Wohlman moved to Texas last year to run the Ring of Hope Boxing Club in South Dallas, which aims to help at-risk youth find direction through boxing. He currently runs two programs with a third opening up in the Dallas area shortly.

You can click here to watch an inspiring video of Wohlman showing former world champion Paulie Malignaggi around the gym and explaining what the program is all about.

To learn more about Ring of Hope, click here for their website and click here for their Facebook page.

Monday, July 27, 2020

David Alaverdian is 2-0

Super flyweight David Alaverdian, an Israeli-born resident of California, is 2-0 as a professional. BoxRec just recently listed his debut, a first round knockout against Irvin Canela on December 7, 2019 at Gimnasio Mariano Matamoros in Tijuana, Mexico.

Canela, a 29 year old from Mexicali, Mexico, doesn't exactly possess an enviable record. Falling to 0-7 after the Alaverdian contest, Canela had been stopped in each of his bouts. Alaverdian was only the second man to stop Canela in the first round. The Mexican fighter's first four opponents were a combined 28-2 when he faced them. His fifth opponent was the same man as his fourth and his sixth foe sported a mediocre 6-10 record.

Alaverdian won his second fight on February 29 in Hermosillo, Mexico. Gustavo Javier Chavez Cordova threw wild shots that Alaverdian was able to avoid using his quick feet. Two minutes into the bout, Alaverdian landed a left hook to the body that paralyzed his opponent. Chavez Cordova rose  off the canvas before referee Octavio Lopez reached "diez" but Lopez wisely decided to wave of the fight anyway.

Chavez Cordova also sports an unenviable record. He is 0-7-1, but has only been stopped five times. The combined record of his opponents is even better than that of Canela's adversaries. Since his debut, a draw, Chavez Cordova's opponents were a combine 43-3-2 when stepping into the ring with him.

The coronavirus pandemic has naturally slowed the progress of Alaverdian's boxing career.