“You’ll never fight again,” are words that although so presumably final in their meaning, do not speak to the fighter’s spirit, which is innately drawn to the challenge of such words. Just ask recent case study, Brooklyn born middleweight Danny Jacobs, who recently overcame cancer to return to the ring.
Boxing is a sport in which overcoming odds is not singularly attributable to those which are determined by bookmakers, but also insurmountable odds that exist prior to ever even lacing leather to fist.
Although some may not draw inspiration from the sport of fighting, it is impossible to remain reticent towards those who have fought either to get into or remain in the sport.
Including Jacobs, here are several of the most inspirational stories of gloved gladiators.
When middleweight prospect Danny Jacobs initially saw a doctor in May 2011 because he was experiencing concerning pains in his legs, he came away believing the cause to be a pinched nerve.
However, in the weeks following that visit, the problem worsened to the point that Jacobs was wheelchair bound from the inability to use his legs. Upon a second doctor’s visit he was told that he had a form of spinal cancer called osteosarcoma, and had he waited even a few more days for a diagnosis, he could have died.
Jacobs was able to undergo successful surgery to have the cancer removed, but despite this, was informed that his ability to walk normally was in doubt, much less returning to the sport that had been his life’s desire.
With the dual inspiration of being told that he wouldn’t be able to fight again, as well as the innate responsibility to provide for his family, Jacobs rigorously rehabilitated and less than six months after the diagnosis, walked up the stairs and through the ropes of the ring at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to face Jush Luteran.
Luteran was a standing opponent for all of 1:13 of the first round when Jacobs ended the fight with a knockout win. He has won both of his fights since returning from what was seen as potentially paralyzing cancer, and intends to continue keeping busy with another fight in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center on February 9th against Billy Lyell.
William Arthur Miske, aka the "Saint Paul Thunderbolt," started his career as a middleweight in 1913, during what would later come to be called the “no decision era,” eventually fighting at light heavyweight and heavyweight for the remainder of his career.
In 1918, Miske was given the inconceivable news by his doctor that he had Bright’s disease, a kidney related ailment, and that he had five years to live, if he was lucky. In a sport where a punch to the kidneys can end a boxer’s night, Miske was given the life-ending equivalent by his doctor.
Yet, not only did Miske keep the news from his family, only telling his manager, but he continued to box, most notably losing to Jack Dempsey in a third-round knockout in 1920.
Despite the loss to Dempsey, Miske continued to fight and win for the most part, going 19-1-1 from 1921-1922, but by 1923 his health was failing and his chances were fading.
In November 1923, struggling financially and with a strong desire to give his wife and three kids one last memorable Christmas together, Miske convinced his manager Jack Reddy to get him a fight. His opponent was Bill Brennan, whom he knocked out, taking a $2,400 payday in the process, which he used to make his last Christmas with family unforgettable. He went on to die on New Year's Day 1924.
An analysis of a boxing career that ended with a 1-0 lifetime record might be perceived as a reflection of a severely unfinished story, but in the case of Dewey Bozella that one win was the culmination of a comeback from a lifetime of undue imprisonment.
Bozella was convicted in 1977 for the murder of 92-year-old Emma Crapser in Poughkeepsie, New York and was sentenced 20 years to life in Sing Sing prison.
After having been imprisoned for 26 years, and after numerous attempts to have his case re-examined, Bozella with the help of the lawfirm Wilmer Hale, was able to obtain the evidence that proved his innocence. He was released in October 2009.
While in Sing Sing, Bozella boxed regularly and was the prison’s light heavyweight champion. Upon being released, at the age of 52, he began his quest to fight professionally.
After going through several setbacks in trying to obtain his license, Bozella remained determined, a characteristic which had guided his attempt to prove his innocence and become a free man once again. He eventually got his license and fought his first and only professional fight, defeating Larry Hopkins on the October 15, 2011 undercard of Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson.
Today he runs the Dewey Bozella Foundation, which provides mentoring and training opportunities to at-risk youths.
Despite the promise of brutality that permeates throughout the squared circle, for many fighters, entrance into this realm provides the possibility of solace and pending finality. It would seem that for junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson, who was thrust into homelessness at the age of 10 in Washington D.C., this might be the case.
In a family in which he was one of 12 children, his father was put in prison for a drug offense, and his mother abandoned the family shortly thereafter. The children all split up and Lamont and his younger brother Anthony were forced into a life with no mother, father, siblings or home.
It wasn’t until several months after the abandonment that Lamont and Anthony were discovered by trainer Barry Hunter, who took an interest in Lamont’s boxing skills and took the boys in, giving them a home.
Hunter remains the trainer for the IBF junior welterweight champion, who despite a recent positive drug test for synthetic testosterone, will enter the ring on February 22 in his hometown of Washington D.C. to take on Kendall Holt.
Vinny Pazienza, who now goes by the name Vinny Paz, was a five-time world champion in an era that included such names as "Sugar" Ray Leonard, "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini and Hector "Macho" Camacho. This despite a car crash in 1991 that doctors said would permanently disable him from ever walking again.
The car, which Paz was a passenger in, crashed so badly that he had to be cut from the wreckage in order to get to the hospital. In the process, he had cracked several vertebrae and actually had to be fitted with a metal halo, which was screwed into his skull to keep his head and neck stable.
However, Paz was able to walk soon after the surgery and at the age of 30, nearly a year after a supposedly paralyzing accident, Paz returned to the ring in December 1992 to fight again. A year after that fight, he defeated Dan Sherry by way of knockout to win the IBO Super Middleweight title.