Danny Jacobs needed the big challenge, wanted to fight a guy who even some of boxing’s best wouldn’t.
Now Jacobs knows what else he wants.
“I want Canelo next,” he said.
Even a fight with Canelo Alvarez couldn’t be much tougher than the one Jacobs had Saturday night.
Jacobs won the IBF middleweight title, pulling out a thrilling split decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
Jacobs scored a first-round knockdown and that helped him build just enough of a lead to hold on in a tight finish in which both fighters were swinging wildly across the late rounds.
He won 115-112 on Tom Schreck and Steve Weisfeld’s cards, while judge Julie Lederman scored it 114-113 for Derevyanchenko.
“Hats off to Sergiy. I knew he was a true competitor,” Jacobs said. “I knew he was going to be hard so I had to dig deep.”
The Associated Press scored it 114-113 for Jacobs.
Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) took the belt that was vacated when Gennady Golovkin chose not to fight Derevyanchenko, his mandatory challenger, this spring while awaiting his rematch with Alvarez.
Alvarez won that bout and is moving up to super middleweight for his next one. He’s expected to return to 160 pounds afterward and Jacobs, who narrowly lost to Golovkin last year, wants to be the opponent.
“The fans want it,” Jacobs said. “Now I have the strap, let’s do it. I’d rematch Triple G but he’s not a champion. I want the champs.”
Derevyanchenko (12-1), who had more than 400 fights as an amateur but has had trouble finding work as a pro, fell just short in his long-awaited first shot at a title.
He wanted it in the spring but Golovkin wouldn’t face Derevyanchenko when he searched for another opponent after Alvarez’s failed drug test caused the original date for their rematch to be scrapped.
Derevyanchenko showed why even Golovkin wouldn’t have wanted him, landing big shots to Jacobs’ body in the middle rounds and just missing with some to the head that could have done major damage later.
“Sergiy is one of toughest and most skillful I’ve ever been in with,” Jacobs said. “He’s been avoided but I wanted to fight him for the strap. I needed that strap to get the bigger fights. It’s risk and reward.”
He did just enough to hold off the hard-charging Ukrainian in a finish that had fans in the crowd of 4,691 inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden standing and chanting at the end.
“It was a very close fight,” Derevyanchenko said. “I knew that the knockdown could come back to bite me.”
Jacobs’ win capped what’s been a flurry of activity in the 160-pound division over the last seven weeks. Alvarez has two of the major belts after edging Golovkin last month, and Demetrius Andrade won the other last week.
Jacobs and Derevyanchenko share a manager, have worked with the same trainers and have sparred against each other in Brooklyn. Jacobs said it would be bittersweet working against people he’d known for so long.
Their familiarity may have caused a cautious beginning, with neither throwing a punch in the opening half-minute as they sized up each other. Jacobs got aggressive later in the round and scored a knockdown when Derevyanchenko’s gloves touched the canvas after Jacobs’ overhand right along the ropes.
Derevyanchenko rallied nicely and caught Jacobs with a good left hook in the second, fought well again in the third and both connected well in the fourth. They both landed and missed with wild punches in a back-and-forth sixth, each shaking his head during the round to show he had taken a good punch.
But Jacobs had a quickness advantage and was able to move away from some of Derevyanchenko’s hardest shots when it appeared he was going to be trapped in a corner, sometimes even switching to a southpaw stance to slip away from trouble.
Still, Derevyanchenko kept coming and started catching Jacobs again in the later rounds.
“It was a great fight. He’s a tremendous competitor and I’d like to fight him again soon,” Derevyanchenko said.
Earlier, Puerto Rico’s Alberto Machado (21-0, 17 KOs) remained unbeaten in an overpowering performance, dropping Yuandale Evans three times in the first round to retain his 130-pound title. Evans (20-2) got up quickly after the first knockdown but appeared shaky after the second, and Machado finished him with a right hand that sent Evans to the canvas and kept him there for a couple of minutes before he was helped to a stool.
Also, Heather Hardy beat Shelly Vincent for the second time, winning a unanimous decision to take the WBO female featherweight title. She shook off a cut that opened above her left eye after what appeared to be a clash of heads in the seventh round to repeat her 2016 victory.