Julian Jackson – He was called “The Hawk,” but that nickname probably owed as much to the U.S. Virgin Islander’s strong aquiline facial features as to any similarities to the bird of prey. The force with which Julian Jackson delivered a punch was probably more reminiscent of, say, the Nile crocodile, which, with a bite force of 5,000 pounds per square inch (African lions average 600 psi, Bengal tigers 1,050 psi) is the most powerful chomper in the animal kingdom. Even strong-jawed humans (no Mike Tyson jokes, please) top out at between 150 to 200 psi.
But when Jackson, the former WBA super welterweight and WBC middleweight champion, landed flush with either hand, it was very likely that the unfortunate recipient of that crushing blow was going down, and hard. Of Jackson’s 55 victories as a professional, 49 were knockouts, many of the one-shot variety. In 2003 The Ring magazine had him No. 25 on its list of the “100 Greatest Punchers” of all time, a rating that some would say is a bit low.
“He’s got to be one of the top 10 punchers ever, at least in his weight class,” said former IBF super welterweight champion Buster Drayton, who was taken out in two rounds by Jackson on July 30, 1988, in Atlantic City, a bout in which Jackson retained his WBA super welter title.
So why did Drayton, a tough guy from Philadelphia who always felt the best way to meet fire with fire was to rush headlong toward the flames, choose to stand and trade with one of the biggest, baddest boppers the sport has ever known? Was it because Jackson, who was stopped in all six of his six career losses, was almost as susceptible to being knocked out himself as he was of flattening the other guy?
“Oh, absolutely,” Drayton said when asked if Jackson’s stony fists were at least partially offset by a fragile chin. “I knew that. He knew it, too.”
July 30 is the anniversary date of not one, but two of Julian Jackson’s greatest hits. Not only does it mark 28 years since “The Hawk,” now 55, swooped down on Drayton, but 27 since he scored what, in retrospect, is one of the most memorable victories in a career in which judges with pencils rarely played a deciding role concerning a bout’s outcome. His three-round takeout of the very formidable Terry Norris, also in Atlantic City, remains one of his most satisfying memories.
“That fight was different from the Drayton fight,” Jackson, 55, said from his home in St. Thomas, V.I. “Although Buster was definitely a warrior, I was favored to beat him. I knew he would come straight to me. It’s a style that was made for me. When I caught him with that (knockout) punch, I knew he was out.
“But Terry Norris … that was a different kind of fight. He was a young prospect (then 21 to Jackson’s 27) and very talented. He did not have a style that was particularly suited to me. I knew I had to really step up my game. I went into that fight with a lot of respect for him.
“In the first round, I couldn’t really get off my punches like I wanted to. My corner told me I had to go back to basics, to use my jab to set up my right hand. I did that, and I was able to deliver it with full force. For good measure, I hit him with a left hook as he was going down.”
But the euphoria, and the disappointment, of any given moment, are only blips on the time line of a fighter’s career. Terry Norris, with a career record of 41-9 (31), was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005; Jackson has been to Canastota, N.Y., three times, most recently as an “honored guest” in June, but has yet to hear his call to the hall. It is an official certification of pugilistic immortality that, he concedes, might never come. He has been on the IBHOF ballot since 2004, and with each passing year the chances of his receiving the notification that every great or near-great fighter longs to hear grow dimmer.
“I have been inducted into the one (the World Boxing Hall of Fame) in California, but I don’t know that it has the same prestige as the one in Canastota,” Jackson said. “But it’s still an accomplishment, and one for which I am grateful.”
Of the enthusiastic reception he received from fight fans at the IBHOF in June, the low-key and forever modest Jackson said, “It’s so amazing that people get excited to see you. It makes you feel like you are entering the ring again. It’s humbling, really.
“I would like to think my name will come up again (for induction), but I am not going to say I am better than this fighter or that fighter who already is in or will get in at some point. If it happens for me, I will be very pleased. But I won’t be sad if it does not happen. I am satisfied with my career, and people know what I did in the ring. I respected the sport, and I would like to think the sport respected me.”
As Drayton noted, Jackson is aware of his deserved reputation as someone who could take his opponent out in a hurry, or get taken out just as quickly. He knew how important it was for him to get in the first turn-out-the-lights shot in his two meetings with another fearsome slugger, Gerald McClellan; in both instances it was Jackson who wound up crumpled on the canvas, losing on a fifth-round technical knockout on May 8, 1993, and on a first-round KO May 7, 1994. Interestingly, McClellan – who was rendered brain-damaged, blind, 80 percent deaf and unable to walk without assistance following his brutal, 10th-round stoppage by Nigel Benn in London on Feb. 25, 1995, also has not been inducted into the IBHOF despite a 31-3 record that includes 29 victories inside the distance.
Any mention of the unfortunate McClellan serves as a reminder to Jackson of just how blessed he is.
“I thank God every day I did not receive any injuries that adversely affected my health or my life,” he said.
One of the questions Jackson is frequently asked concerns the nature of power-punching. Are the best of the breed born, in keeping with the familiar adage, or can they be manufactured, at least in part, in the gym?
“I think it’s both,” he said. “It very often is a gift that comes naturally, and one that I learned I had at an early age. But but it also can be developed as well. My trainer told me I had great natural power, but he helped me develop that power. You have to have precise coordination and put every ounce of your body into your punches.”
Jackson now is putting what he learned to good use as a trainer in his native St. Thomas, his two prize pupils being his sons John and Julius. John, 27, is 20-3 with 15 KOs and is coming off an eighth-round knockout loss to Jermell Charlo for the vacant WBC super welterweight championship; Julius, 28, is a light heavyweight who is 19-2 with 15 KOs, but has been stopped in his two most recent ring appearances.
“They both have power,” the father said. “I don’t say they have power just because they are my sons. I believe John has close to my punching ability. But if he does not knock guys out, he can get knocked out. That’s how it was with me.”
With so many wins inside the distance, you would think it might be difficult for Jackson to single out any particular fight as the best of the best. But he doesn’t hesitate in naming his fourth-round knockout of Herol Graham on Nov. 24, 1990, in Benalmadena, Spain, as his most cherished victory. It earned him the vacant WBC middleweight crown.
“Graham was a southpaw, very talented and very strong,” Jackson recalled. “I was going into a strange country, not knowing what to expect. But I thought – hoped – I would be able to land something big and get him out of there. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Julian Jackson – Check out Jackson on the stage in Canastota, New York at the 2016 IBHOF Induction ceremonies where he was a guest.