GARY JACOBS FEATURE
In a gym buried in Glasgow’s east end, prospective world boxing champion GARY JACOBS is mapping out his future. He goes the ten rounds with Kathleen Morgan. Photographs by Chris Blott.
eneth a life-size poster of Glasgow boxing legend Benny Lynch and with
compact but impressive powerhouse is punching shadows like his life depends on it. With every movement. sweat is thrown violently from his body. This man means business in one of the meanest businesses in British sport. He is Gary Jacobs. welterweight kingpin.
It is not bulk that gives the 28-year-old Glasgow boxer his stature — Jacobs weighs in at a modest l()st 7lb. It is his self-assured attitude and sheer bloody-minded ambition that gives him a knock-down presence. He is heading for the world boxing ring and God help any lighter who attempts to stand in his way.
After ten years as a professional boxer. the articulate. middle-class Jewish boy from Glasgow suburbia believes he is ready to wrench the world welterweight title from US boxer Pernell Whitaker. ‘He’s a good champion. but he has two arms and two legs the same as me.” says Jacobs. Such is his faith that he recently relinquished his thrice-defended European title to concentrate on the jackpot: ‘l’ve got bigger and better things to go for.’
It has taken more than brute strength for Jacobs to become number one contender for the World Boxing Council title -— behind the scenes. his promoter Micky Duff has fought his own battles. In this game. the ability to draw television audiences is as crucial a weapon as any boxing pedigree and Jacobs’s watchability couldjust win him his coveted dream of lighting Whitaker on prime-time American television next spring.
Watching the raven-haired boxer work out is daunting enough. but when he relinquishes the boxing ring momentarily for The List photo shoot. he is positively awesome. ‘Make it quick,’ is his greeting. When asked to remove his sweat- saturated T-shirt. he wastes no time in peeling off his tracksuit trousers to reveal some neat-
the sounds of Shabba Ranks‘ Mr Lover Man blasting his cars. a
fitting cycling shorts and a pair of sports socks. Willi sweat dribbling in all the right places. it is obvious this boy is a natural and not in the least perturbed by the intrusion.
Jacobs‘s chiselled features and sculpted muscles have caught the eyes of more than the boxing hacks who have drooled over his ~15- light career. He is the stuff of glossy magazine articles and fashion shoots — his face has graced the cover of British men's magazine Arena. Defeated only live times. he has so far preserved his looks and avoided the tell-tale signs of too many hard knocks. ‘l'm not a bad looking guy.’ he concedes. "fhat's how you can tell the good ones — the guys who‘ve not been smashed up.‘
He puts his success down to a punishing training schedule. which begins at 7am each day with a six-mile run. continuing with a 90-minute workout and often a sparring session. His unflinching self-belief has also helped propel him towards a title which was not even a remote dream when he drifted into boxing at the relatively late age of sixteen.
The son of a successful haulage company owner. Jacobs began working life training for four years as a goldsmith in a Glasgow jeweller’s workshop. ‘Boxing didn‘t even cross my mind.’ he says. ‘I didn't know anything about it until I was ﬁfteen.‘ Even now. he casually admits he does not follow the sport and is pushed to name any boxing heroes.
‘When I get into a ring, all I want to do is win. It’s not that I want to hurt the other guy.’
After a spell in Australia. the Jacobs family moved into a ﬂat in Glasgow’s Shawlands. next door to boxing trainer Maurice Lewis — now his full-time coach. On Jacobs senior’s request. Lewis took the young Gary to his gym for some fitness training. It was hardly a love affair. but gradually Jacobs recognised boxing was for him.
What drove him to turn professional at eighteen with only twelve amateur lights under his belt was not the desire to pummel his opponents, but the knowledge that he could. In a soft-spoken accent straight from the living rooms of Newton Mearns, he explains what drives him in one of the world’s most controversial sports. ‘When I get into a ring. all I want to do is win. It’s not that I want to hurt the
other guy . . . Boxing has always been portrayed as a brutal sport and it is. but it’s also an art. The name of the game is to take as little punishment as possible. It’s like a game ofchess.‘
Renowned for his lightening-fast southpaw. Jacobs has been knocked unconscious only once in his career. The experience is every tighter’s nightmare: ‘Every fighter thinks it’s not going to happen to them. l’m the same. That’s why you should train hard before you even put a pair of gloves on.’ Jacobs simply prepared for his next light and got on with thejob.
‘l’m not a bad looking guy. That’s how you can tell the good ones — the guys who’ve not been smashed up.’
Married for ten years. the father of two bluntly defends the sport which his wife strongly dislikes. Acknowledging medical arguments which condemn boxing as dangerous. he criticises what many see as the token safety rules of the amateur sport which stipulate lighters must wear headgear. ‘The headgear seems safer. but it only hinders you.’ he says. ‘It seems to placate people and there is less criticism.’ He is scathing of its effectiveness: ‘You are either getting a whack on the head or a whack on the head?
Both amateur and professional boxing go hand in glove with a history of fatalities and injuries. however. Between 1990—1992 alone. one amateur and two professional boxers died after lapsing into comas following bouts in the ring. In 1992. eighteen-year-old American Ramon Gomez died hours after his first practice fight. The 1991 fight between UK supermiddleweight Michael Watson and WBO champion Chris Eubank that left Watson with
persistent brain damage is only one of several matches resulting in serious injuries over recent
Jacobs’s logic is simple:
happen when you walk down the road — you can
get knocked down.’ But he admits to relief that his children are girls. ‘If they were boys. there is
pressure put on them.’ he says. ‘Boxing training .
is a brilliant way for women to work out. but I don’t think they're built for fighting.‘
The confidence this man exudes is at times unsettling — ask him a question and he mightjust throw it back at you — and at others. likeable.
The List 18 November—l December 1994 7