By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – This time, Daniel Jacobs got the nod against an unbeaten opponent in an extremely competitive middleweight title fight at Madison Square Garden.
Jacobs beat rugged, skillful former sparring partner Sergiy Derevyanchenko by split decision in their 12-round, 160-pound championship match Saturday night before a crowd of 4,691 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Judges Tom Schreck and Steve Weisfeld scored the action-packed bout 115-112 for Jacobs, but judge Julie Lederman had it 114-113 for Derevyanchenko.
Brooklyn’s Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) won the vacant IBF middleweight title that previously belonged to Gennady Golovkin, who beat Jacobs in a very close fight at Madison Square Garden in March 2017.
The taller Jacobs had success switching from his usual right-handed stance to southpaw, hit Derevyanchenko with an assortment of punches, scored a first-round knockdown and showed a tremendous chin when the determined Derevyanchenko landed his hardest head and body shots. The previously untested Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10 KOs) also performed very well against by far the best, most accomplished opponent of his four-year pro career.
When the fight was over, they embraced and acknowledged just how difficult it was for each of them.
“Hats off to Sergiy,” Jacobs said. “A true competitor. I knew he’d be hard and I had to dig deep. I used my range and boxed on the back foot. Those are my best attributes. He looked gassed after five, and I knew I could let him load up and miss. He didn’t really hurt me, but he’s tough as nails.
“He worked the body and kind of gassed me, but I know I have another level in me, above him. Sergiy is one of the most skillful I’ve ever been in with, and he’s being avoided for a reason. But I wanted the strap, so I had to take it.”
Jacobs, revered for surviving cancer, won what’s considered his first legitimate middleweight title. He owned the WBA’s world 160-pound title for 2½ years, but he was widely viewed as a secondary title-holder because Golovkin was recognized as the true WBA middleweight champion.
Golovkin defeated Jacobs by unanimous decision in a very competitive fight 19 months ago at The Garden. Jacobs got up from a fourth-round knockdown that night and gave Golovkin what, to that point, was the most difficult fight in the former middleweight champion’s career.
Judges Max DeLuca (114-113), Don Trella (115-112) and Weisfeld (115-112) all scored that fight for Golovkin.
Derevyancehnko was a decorated amateur (390-20), but Jacobs represented by far the toughest test of the 2008 Olympian’s pro career.
“It was a very close fight,” Derevyanchenko said. “I knew that the knockdown could come back to bite me. But I felt like I was hurting him every round, controlling action. Maybe I could have jabbed my way in a little bit more and gone to the body a little more.”
Jacobs and Derevyancehnko entered the ring extremely familiar with one another because they had sparred more than 300 rounds since Derevyanchenko moved from Ukraine to Brooklyn in 2014.
Derevyanchenko also was Jacobs’ primary sparring partner for Jacobs’ fight against Golovkin.
Jacobs and Derevyanchenko are usually trained by the same man, Andre Rozier, who worked Jacobs’ corner Saturday night. Gary Stark Sr., who assists in training Derevyanchenko and has worked Jacobs’ corner, was Derevyanchenko’s chief second in this fight.
Both trainers had to be pleased with what their fighters gave them in a back-and-forth fight full of flush punches.
According to unofficial CompuBox statistics, Jacobs landed 181-of-578 overall punches, 21 more than Derevyanchenko (160-of-658). CompuBox credited them with landing the exact same amount of power punches (137) and Jacobs for landing more jabs (44-of-272 to 23-of-176).
Derevyanchenko tried his best to hurt Jacobs throughout the 12th round, but Jacobs survived Derevyanchenko’s last stand and traded power shots with him right up until the final bell.
Jacobs backed up an aggressive Derevyanchenko with a straight left hand with about 1:25 to go in the 11th round. Later in the 11th, Jacobs furiously unleashed a barrage of body and head shots that connected, yet didn’t prevent Derevyanchenko from coming forward.
Derevyanchenko hit Jacobs with a left hand after the bell sounded to end the 11th round, but referee Charlie Fitch didn’t warn him.
Derevyanchenko and Jacobs blasted each other with power shots late in the first minute of the 10th round. Derevyanchenko landed a solid right hand that backed Jacobs into the ropes later in the 10th.
Derevyanchenko caught Jacobs with a right hand just as Jacobs connected with a left early in the ninth round. Jacobs drilled Derevyanchenko with hard left to the body just before the midway point of the ninth.
Fitch warned Derevyanchenko for using his forearm with about 45 seconds to go in the ninth.
Jacobs snuck in a well-timed left uppercut about 40 seconds into the eighth round. Jacobs clipped Derevyanchenko with that same shot a little more than a minute later.
Derevyanchenko regained some momentum by landing two straight right hands later in the ninth.
Derevyanchenko and Jacobs each landed hard right hands during the middle minute of the seventh round as they hammered away from close distances. Both boxers landed hard right hands just before the bell sounded to end the seventh round, too.
Jacobs nailed Derevyanchenko with a left hand while fighting out of a southpaw stance early in the sixth round. That ignited a vicious exchange in which both boxers landed hard head shots with both hands.
Derevyanchenko caught Jacobs with two right hands when there was just under a minute remaining in the sixth. Jacobs nodded his head to acknowledge Derevyanchenko’s success as he retreated.
Derevyanchenko caught Jacobs with a short right hand about 20 seconds into the fifth round. He then bullied Jacobs into the ropes and fired numerous power shots, several of which were blocked.
Derevyanchenko drilled Jacobs with a thudding right to the body just after the halfway mark of the fifth. Jacobs clipped Derevyanchenko with a stiff left hook that got his attention soon thereafter.
Jacobs connected with a hard left to Derevyanchenko’s body around the halfway point of the fourth round. He followed it up with right-left combination to Derevyanchenko’s head.
Derevyanchenko had some success with his jab later in the fourth, but Jacobs opened up on him toward the end of the fourth. Jacobs clipped Derevyanchenko with a series of power punches that made Derevyanchenko move away from him, including a hard right hand to the side of Derevyanchenko’s head.
After buzzing Jacobs in the second round, Derevyanchenko stalked Jacobs to start the third round. Jacobs clipped Derevyanchenko with a counter left hook about 1:10 into the third round.
Fitch warned Derevyanchenko later in the third round for using his forearm to back Jacobs into a neutral corner. Jacobs continued to switch between his orthodox and southpaw stances until the round ended.
Derevyanchenko connected with a lunging left hook, a jab and then a straight right hand that made Jacobs retreat just before the midway mark of the second round. Sensing Jacobs was hurt, Derevyanchenko pressured him, but Jacobs turned southpaw to give Derevyanchenko a different look.
Barely a minute into their fight, Derevyanchenko landed a hard right hand out of a clinch after Fitch told them to break. Jacobs looked at Fitch, but the referee didn’t warn Derevyanchenko for throwing that punch.
Jacobs landed an even harder, looping right hand late in the first round, which knocked down Derevyanchenko briefly. Derevyanchenko got right up, which caused Jacobs to attack him again because he wasn’t sure Derevyanchenko actually went to the canvas.
Fitch stepped between them and counted. Derevyanchenko recovered quickly from that flash knockdown and was on steady legs by the time the round ended.
Jacobs, 31, and Derevyanchenko, 32, fought for the middleweight title the IBF stripped from Golovkin on June 6.
The No. 1-ranked Derevyanchenko was Golovkin’s mandatory challenger, but Golovkin declined to fight him May 5 once the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Canelo Alvarez for six months and the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch was canceled. Lou DiBella, Derevyanchenko’s promoter, and his manager, Keith Connolly, pushed for Golovkin to make that mandatory defense after the IBF afforded him an optional defense against Vanes Martirosyan, who was knocked out in the second round May 5 in Carson, California.
The IBF stripped Golovkin a month later because he understandably planned to partake in a more lucrative fight – his rescheduled rematch against Alvarez on September 15 – rather than fighting Derevyanchenko.
The IBF then ordered a purse bid for a Derevyanchenko-Jacobs bout. DiBella and Eddie Hearn, Jacobs’ promoter, came to an agreement July 10, just a few minutes before the purse bid was to take place at the IBF’s headquarters in Springfield, New Jersey.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.