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Luke Jackson: ‘Everyday’s a battle’

Photo courtesy of Luke Jackson
17
Nov

Right now, Luke Jackson is focused on his next fight. An undefeated featherweight boxer, he’ll face former world title challenger Silvester Lopez this Saturday at the at Princes Wharf No. 1 in his hometown of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Jackson will face his most experienced opponent to date and the task demands the sort of solitary concentration to bring out his best performance.

There are times, however, when keeping a clear mind isn’t as easy for Jackson as it is for other people and it can, at times, be overwhelming.

Since he was a child, the 31-year-old Jackson has dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder which affects millions of people worldwide. It started when he was a kid, when his mother would flip the light switch in his bedroom repeatedly to wake him up and he’d hear her lock and unlock the doors, turn the stove on and off, he once told ABC.net.au.

He picked it up himself. At one end of the spectrum, OCD caused him to fixate on his goal of making the Olympics. It forced him to leave nothing lacking in his preparation for the 2008 Games, and to go even further to make the 2012 Games in London when he missed it the first time around.

“The reason I’m where I’m at now is because of my mental health because I obsessed over the Olympics. I prayed every day to God, ‘Just let me make it and I could die a happy man because I got it done,’” says Jackson (12-0, 5 knockouts).

At the other end, it can create a burden on his mind that lasts for months, interrupting his life both in and out of the ring.

It shows up in how he has to – has to – touch the ropes with both hands each round to feel safe but it became unmanageable during his fight last March against former title challenger John Mark Apolinario.

It was really bad. I was having really bad thoughts, negative thoughts all of the time. I had a really bad episode for four-to-five months,” said Jackson.

Breathing, a basic function which is reflexive until you think about it, became a labored matter on which he fixated.

“What I noticed was the panic setting in on his face whenever Apolinario closed the distance quickly,” says Jackson’s manager Mike Altamura. “That, of course, was because Luke had it plaguing his mind that he needed to catch his breath throughout the contest.

“Numbers play in his head. Like possibly he was thinking he needed to breathe in for a set amount of seconds before mentally he would feel energized.”

Seeking help

Jackson got the unanimous decision win that night but more importantly he got the help he needed afterward by arranging regular sessions with a specialist to deal with the issue. Many don’t take that first step to admit they need help out of fear of stigma.

“That’s why they end up killing themselves. They think it’s weak to ask for help,” says Jackson. “I feel a lot better now than if I was hiding my everyday struggle. Everyday’s a battle still but I don’t let it get to me as much as I used to.”

Jackson is in a good place now, he says, and will be in an even more privileged position if he can get past Filipino boxer Silvester Lopez (27-11-2, 19 KOs) in his first scheduled 12-round bout.

Lopez, 29, had once challenged Yota Sato for the WBC junior bantamweight title in 2012 but lost a decision. He’s won three straight since moving up the scales but is past his best days.

A victory would earn the winner the vacant WBO Oriental featherweight title, which brings with it a Top 15 ranking with the WBO.

Sh**ty upbringing

A life as a professional was never something Jackson had considered or even wanted. He didn’t pick up the sport until the age of 19 as a means to get away from a troubled youth, which saw him dabble with drugs as he looked for a meaning to it all.

“I had a pretty sh**ty upbringing. I had no discipline and no structure in my life, so I sort of liked boxing straight away because it gave me some structure and some direction,” said Jackson.

He took to it fast, spurred on by the OCD which forced him to perfect the subtle nuances of technique and within two years, he was representing his country at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where he earned a bronze. He fell short of qualifying for the Beijing Olympics but made it to the London Games, losing in his first match to China’s Liu Qiang.

After making it to London, Jackson retired. Again, life turned suddenly. This time it was the break-up with his girlfriend of seven years.

My life fell apart again and I started doing wrong things. I went back to the only thing I knew and that was boxing.”

Jackson signed with Altamura and promoter Adam Wilcock of Fight Card Promotions and enlisted Billy Hussein as his trainer.

Under Hussein, Jackson has blossomed into a versatile body punching specialist capable of rattling off quick combinations, while applying steady pressure. Saturday’s fight will reveal what he’s capable of at the world level.

“If he handles him without a glitch, we’ll be stepping it up in March and then eye a bigger fighter internationally within 12 months,” says Altamura.

Saturday night will be Jackson’s third time fighting in front of his home crowd. He expects 2,000 fans to be in attendance. He doesn’t muse about wanting to prove something to the locals after the misadventures of his youth but rather about giving young local fighters on the undercard a chance to make their own names.

“I never had any boxers put me on their undercards when I was coming up. I had to do all this myself. I’ll give the young kids an opportunity to maybe take over from where I hang up,” said Jackson.

Jackson’s only goal in boxing was to make it to the Olympics; everything afterward is icing. Now he’s in it for the journey and for a guy who has fought with anxiety and compulsion his whole life, taking a load off his mind is a welcomed relaxation.

“I might sound a bit silly but I’m doing this now just for fun. I’m enjoying this, whether I get as high as the Australian title, regional title or world title. I’m not gonna put pressure on myself. I’m just gonna enjoy it,” said Jackson.

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.

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