Julius and John Jackson are making their dreams — and Dad’s — come true
For two weeks last summer, Beijing was as crowded and congested as any city in the world. But of the nearly 20 million people filling all of the homes and hotels, there wasn’t one who appreciated being there more than Julian Jackson did.
Jackson, after all, had waited nearly 30 years for this.
His Olympic dream was delayed almost three decades. But in 2008, it finally came true.
Jackson was supposed to compete in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow as a representative of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and 65 countries boycotted the Summer Games. Jackson didn’t get to fight for an Olympic medal. Instead he turned pro and, if you’re a boxing fan, you know the rest: 55 wins, 49 knockouts, three title reigns, and a legacy that will live on thanks to all of the people with time to compile kayo montages and post them on YouTube.
But his legacy will also live on for another reason. Make that two reasons. They’re the reasons that brought “The Hawk” to Beijing for his overdue Olympic debut.
Julius Jackson boxed as a light heavyweight in Beijing and John Jackson fought as a welterweight. Julian worked his sons’ corners as the head coach of the Virgin Islands’ national team.
“Finally, I got a chance to go to the Olympics, I got a chance to step into the ring,” Jackson said. “Oh my goodness, the thrills, the emotions, the adrenaline was high, everything was just flowing. Man, I mean, sometimes, you don’t have words to give to what you feel, the excitement. I was there in the shadows of my sons, and it was more special because they knew what it meant to me, and so it meant a lot more for them.”
Neither son made much noise in Beijing, Julius losing in the first round to eventual silver medalist Kenny Egan while John won his first fight but lost his second to bronze winner Jungjoo Kim. But they’re trying to make up for that in the pro ranks, just as their father did. Both Jackson boys advanced their records to 3-0 on Saturday night, helping draw a crowd of 2,000 to the UVI Sports & Fitness Center in the St. Thomas. Fighting at super middleweight, 21-year-old Julius dispatched Jamal Williams with a right cross in just 96 seconds. And in a junior middleweight bout, 20-year-old John took care of business with a right uppercut at 1:29 of the second round against Idelfonso Soto.
They say punchers are born, while boxers can be made. That maxim certainly holds true with the Jackson brothers. While Julius did a score first-round blastout over the weekend, he’s really not a puncher; he’s a technical boxer who has learned, and is working toward perfecting, his craft. It’s John who shows shades of his old man as a puncher. And it’s also John who always seemed destined for the sport.
“When they were much younger, I had a lot of boxing magazines,” Julian recalled. “And John, I knew he was going to be a boxer because he’d be this little infant looking through the pages, and when you tried to take the magazine from him, he would go crazy, he would hold onto it. And you’d give it back to him and he would stop crying, no more ranting and raving. And I realized that he was looking in there and it seemed as if he was just so into it. He was just really interested in boxing.”
Dad wasn’t the only one who recognized that he had a natural fighter on his hands.
“My mom said she knew it all along,” John said. “She could see it in me from when I was a baby.”
With Julius, it was less obvious. He was the more studious of the two boys and showed more of an inclination toward school and less of an inclination toward the Sweet Science. For about 4¾ years in the mid-’90s, the Jacksons lived in Las Vegas while their father was in the late stages of his fighting career, and none of the boys (including oldest brother Julian Jr.) entered a boxing gym. Actually, they were all good baseball players. Then when Julius was 12 and John was 11, they moved back to the Virgin Islands and soon gave boxing a try.
For John, it was serious from the start, and it wasn’t long before he gave up baseball. For Julius, who was a bit overweight, boxing was just supposed to be a way to get into shape. But he developed skills and his dad asked him if he wanted to try competing, so he gave it a shot.
Julius was still doing well in school, though, and seemed to have other paths he could follow in life, so his mother wasn’t overjoyed with the idea of him becoming a boxer. When Julius was 17 and preparing to fight in the Caribbean Games, she made him promise to quit the sport after that one last tournament. But then Julius went and won the gold.
“She was like, ‘OK, you gonna stop?'” Julius remembered. “I’m like, ‘No, I just won. I can’t stop, Mom.’ She said, ‘OK, I understand.’ She doesn’t want me to continue boxing, but she supports me anyway. She comes to the fights and everything. She comes to every one.”
Julius still has other options, though. He graduated from the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., last December (hence his less-than-intimidating nickname, “The Fighting Chef”), and it was partially due to his focus on school that he was slower to qualify for the ’08 Olympics than his brother was. Julius had a full schedule, between training, working and classes, but once John earned a trip to Beijing, Julius re-prioritized. He couldn’t let his little brother go the Olympics while he missed out.
It speaks to the fact that the brothers are competitive with one another. When one of them does something, the other is inspired to do something better.
That’s part of why their sparring sessions are no joke.
“If we’re sparring and he catches me with a good punch, then I want to catch him with a good punch,” John said. “It’s all to get each other better, no hard feelings or none of that. We’re driving each other to get to the top together, that’s the main goal.”
“Oh man, whenever they’re scheduled to spar in the gym, everybody wants to see them,” Julian said with a laugh. “They really draw a crowd for sparring. They have their own little thing going in the gym.”
Their heated sparring sessions invoke the obvious question, one every boxing brother team seems to face: Would they ever fight each other? Julius and John are currently two weight classes apart, so it’s hardly the hot topic it is with Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. But just the same, people ask. And all parties say it’s never going to happen.
“They expressed very early that they’ll never actually fight each other,” Julian said. “I think it’s the relationship, I think it’s the upbringing, I think it’s the individuals themselves and how they look at this, how they feel, the mindsets. They’re competitive with each other, but not in that way.”
They’re competitive with each other, and it’s expected that they’ll go through their careers constantly being compared with each other.
They also, of course, will have to deal with comparisons to a certain legendary banger who fought a generation before them. When Julius and John Jackson fight, fans will expect sensational knockouts because of who their dad is.
“I tell them all the time to not go out there to look for a knockout,” Julian said. “If you’re a natural puncher, it’s going to show. If you try to do it, you’ll never get it done. So go out there and box and do what you’re supposed to do. If you hit hard, it’s going to be seen, it’s going to be known. Your opponent is going to be the first one to realize it. I tell them to just go out there and do their best, and I think they’ve been following that advice well.”
For now, the Jacksons are working their way up quietly, at home in the Virgin Islands, where they have already built a respectable following and don’t have to deal with the intense scrutiny of the international fight media. That helps to minimize the pressure. Lesley Comissiong, the co-president of the company that promotes them, 340 Promotions, told RingTV.com that there are no immediate plans for them to fight in the U.S. mainland, given that their three shows have attracted a total of about 5,000 fans for what are essentially club fights.
The Jacksons are young, they’re in no rush. For now, they’ll just keep working their way up, continuing to push each other. And all the while they’ll be giving their old man that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
There’s a common perception in boxing that fighters shouldn’t want their kids to be fighters, but that’s often an off-base thought created by journalists or fans who don’t fully grasp the fighter’s mindset. Outsiders see used-up old pugs at the end of their careers, often with no money because promoters and managers bled them dry, and those outsiders think about what the sport took from them. But many fighters always think first of what the sport gave to them: motivation, respect, discipline, fame, a feeling of worth. There are too many sons (and even daughters) of famous fighters who have entered the professional prize ring to deny that some parents don’t mind their kids becoming boxers.
Julian Jackson never forced his sons into boxing, but he was happy to gently steer them toward it. And Julius and John Jackson are finding that the sport is giving them all of the things it gave their father: motivation, respect, discipline, fame, a feeling of worth.
And it’s given them one additional thing that everyone, whether you’re a boxer or not, can relate to: an opportunity to make their father’s dreams come true.
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