Julian Jackson: King Of The Highlight Reel

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By Dean Berks – If you search for one punch knockouts online, the chances are you will see Julian “The Hawk” Jackson rendering some poor, unfortunate fighter in to an unconscious state. One of the heaviest handed fighters in ring history, Jackson terrorised the super welterweights (junior middleweights) and middleweights throughout the late eighties and early nineties, his reputation growing with each outing.

Born 12th September 1960 in St. Thomas U.S, Virgin Islands, Jackson started boxing aged fourteen, but only had a brief amateur career, winning fifteen of seventeen bouts. His natural power was evident early on, and Jackson noticed the difference between his punching and other amateurs. His coach advised him to not even try to punch hard, as his natural ability would blossom.

Born 12th September 1960 in St. Thomas U.S, Virgin Islands, Jackson started boxing aged fourteen, but only had a brief amateur career, winning fifteen of seventeen bouts. His natural power was evident early on, and Jackson noticed the difference between his punching and other amateurs. His coach advised him to not even try to punch hard, as his natural ability would blossom.

Born 12th September 1960 in St. Thomas U.S, Virgin Islands, Jackson started boxing aged fourteen, but only had a brief amateur career, winning fifteen of seventeen bouts. His natural power was evident early on, and Jackson noticed the difference between his punching and other amateurs. His coach advised him to not even try to punch hard, as his natural ability would blossom.

He made his professional debut on 2nd February 1981, outpointing Inocencio Carmona over four rounds. Five stoppage wins followed before he was taken the distance again by William Page, winning on points over six rounds. No one knew it then but it would be the last time Jackson heard the final bell for a very long time. Eleven further wins put him in line for his first title, the WBC Continental Americas belt, against Ron Lee Warrior, who was stopped in three. He defended the title four times, compiling a record of 29-0 (27 ko’s), on his way to his first world title opportunity, a shot at the WBA junior middleweight crown, against arguably the best fighter in the division, Jamaica’s own Mike “The Bodysnatcher” McCallum.

Learning From A Loss

McCallum was in the early stages of cementing his own hall of fame career. A brilliant technician, his nickname had been born sparring in the legendary Kronk gym. A good class amateur, he was unbeaten in twenty six fights as a professional and had fought a much higher class of opponent than Jackson. The gulf in experience would prove pivotal in this fight.

Jackson came out fast, using his quick hands to launch his bombs. McCallum was taken aback by the pace and found himself on wobbly legs after absorbing Jackson’s best punches. But McCallum made the adjustments and came out for the second in control. His jab was key, keeping Jackson at distance. He started connecting cleanly until a right left combo put Jackson on to the seat of his trunks. He got up but was shaken. McCallum sensed this too, hammering away at the challenger until the referee stepped in to save him from further punishment. Jackson protested but the stoppage was fair. But he would learn from this defeat, and it wouldn’t be long before he reached his goal.

World Champion

When McCallum vacated the title and moved up to join the middleweights, Jackson was paired with Korean In Chul Baek to establish a new champion. He had scored two wins since the loss to McCallum and was ready to make amends. Baek had lost just once in forty two fights, on points to the tough Sean Mannion, and was known for his ruggedness.

Jackson came out alternating between orthodox and southpaw, keeping the forward moving Baek off-balance. A left hook sent the Korean stumbling back, the ropes preventing him from touching down, and a count was correctly issued. Coming out for the third though, Jackson decided to end matters. A right hand staggered Baek before a combination, topped off with a thudding left hook, sent him flat to the canvas, his head resting under the bottom rope. Somehow, he dragged himself up, but a final barrage forced the referee to intervine. Jackson was the new WBA world champion.

Former IBF title holder Buster Drayton was selected for his first defence. The tough veteran had been chief sparring partner to former middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and had enjoyed a late surge in his career, outpointing Mark Medal for the IBF crown. He had made two defences before losing it to Matthew Hilton in one of the best fights of 1987. He was a very durable operator.

Jackson went to work on Drayton from the start, hammering him up and down like a butcher tenderising meat. A sharp right hand sent Drayton down in the second, giving the former champion a taste of the speed and power Jackson possessed. In round three though, he felt the full wrath. Jackson let both hands go from the start, eager to bring things to a concussive end. Suddenly, a big left hook exploded off the side of Drayton’s jaw. His eyes rolled as he remained upright but unconscious. Stiff-legged, he fell slowly backwards, like a tree that had been cut down. As he hit the canvas, he became conscious again, but the fight was rightly stopped. It was a mesmerizing and breathtaking finish.

Slick Brazilian Francisco de Jesus survived a second round knockdown before being knocked out in round eight in defence number two. But Jackson’s third and final defence raised his stock even higher. Young gun “Terrible” Terry Norris was viewed as one of the best fighters in the division. His combination of speed and power had seen him record twenty one wins from twenty three fights. His only losses were a points one to Derrick Kelly and a disqualification loss to Joe Walker. He would become one of the best fighters in the divisions history, but on this night, he would become a victim to one of the most devastating punches ever thrown.

For three minutes, it appeared the title would change hands. Norris speed allowed him to fire off combinations before sliding out of harms way. Jackson tried to pin down the quick footed challenger, but to no avail. But holding the equalizer meant that at any point the course of the fight could change in an instant. And Jackson still had eleven rounds to catch Norris. In the end, he didn’t even need three minutes.

Manoeuvering Norris to the ropes, Jackson stepped forward to shorten the distance. Norris went to slide to the side but left himself open for the briefest of seconds. Jackson crashed through with a thunderbolt of a right hand, instantly separating Norris from the outside world. The crowd gasped at the sound of the punch and watched in awe as the ropes held Norris up. Another crushing right sent him down and the fight was stopped. Jackson’s reputation was sky high. With no challenges left, he turned his attention to the middleweights and a second world title.
Saved By The Power

Jackson was sidelined for a year as he recovered from an operation for a detached retina, which once was a career ending injury, but had now become, thankfully, treatable. Two wins, including a brutal fourth round knockout of Wayne Powell, set him up for a shot at the vacant WBC title against the slick and much avoided Herol “Bomber” Graham.

The terms unorthodox and elusive could have been coined for Graham, his style had been compared at times to “a limbo dancer”. His only two defeats in forty five fights had been to world champions Sumbu Kalambay and Mike McCallum, both extremely close, particularly the McCallum defeat which was for the vacant WBA crown. Even then, they experienced the extreme difficulties that his victims had suffered, struggling to land punches as they were countered with accurate, solid punches. Stylewise, this couldn’t have been a more challenging situation for the former junior middleweight king.

For three rounds, Jackson found himself like so many others before him, swinging and missing repeatedly while being punished in return. His left eye was almost closed, and his chance of victory was slipping away rapidly. The ringside doctor decided to give Jackson one more round to salvage victory from the jaws of defeat. Graham sensed that the title that had alluded him for so long was well within his grasp. But this anticipation made him abandon his strategy. He started trying to force Jackson back, putting himself within the danger zone. And then it happened. Backed in to a corner and under fire, Jackson launched an instinctive right hook. The punch caught Graham flush, instantly knocking him cold. His legs folded as he fell backwards towards the canvas. He lay prone for four minutes before Jackson could celebrate his incredible victory in becoming WBC middleweight champion. It has become the most famous of Jackson’s knockouts.
Now recognised as the hardest puncher in the game, Jackson found himself on the list of boxing’s pound for pound best. And he continued his devastating form with two first round wins in his opening two title defences. Dennis Milton was laid out for the ten count with one big right hand, where as Ismael Negron was deposited on the canvas with a sweeping left hook. Slick Ron Collins gamely absorbed his share of mind numbing shots, before being halted in round five of defence number three. However, Thomas Tate went further than anyone, surviving a fourth round knockdown to make it through to the final bell, losing a unanimous decision. It was the first time in ten years that Jackson had made use of the ringside judges. But he was unable to entice the biggest names to share the ring with him. So he turned his attention to the “other” danger man of the division. A man who, in a record of 27-2, had knocked out twenty five of his opponents, and was blowing away opposition in the same manner as Jackson.

The G-Man

Gerald McClellan was another product of the Kronk conveyor belt. A long armed vicious puncher, he had held the WBO version, won by destroying John “The Beast” Mugabi in the first round, but relinquished to target the more prestigious WBC title. At twenty five, he was seven years younger than the defending champion.

When knockout artists come together, the anticipation is like no other. Eyes are permanently fixed on the action in front of them, afraid to blink and miss that one concussive blow that is inevitable, but still awe-inspiring. When the first bell rang, the boxing world held its breath.

Both came out completely respectful of the others power. McClellan struck first, a chopping right buckling the knees of the champion. But he reminded the challenger of what dynamite he also carried, stunning him with a big left hook. McClellan backed off, trying to pick his moment to strike again. A tense game of cat and mouse developed over the next couple of rounds, with Jackson’s fast combinations taking the points. McClellan upped the ante in the fourth, hurting Jackson with long right hands. The action was heating up when the end came as predicted: suddenly and explosive. McClellan launched a straight right that took the strength from Jackson’s legs. The soon to be ex-champion started to fall back and was caught with a long left hook that deposited him flat on his back. Bravely, he pulled himself up, but McClellan smelt blood. Another right sent Jackson to all fours. This time it was waved off, his title gone. But he would get a chance to regain his belt and avenge his defeat.

Another Loss, But Then Champion Again

A rematch was arranged almost a year to the day of their first fight. But Jackson seemed to be showing signs of slowing down in his warm up fights. He won the first two by stoppage, but was then taken the full ten rounds by little known journeyman Eduardo Ayala. McClellan took over where Jackson had left off, defending his title twice with first round wins. But the rematch was still expected to be explosive.

Instead it was brutally one-sided. McClellan simply overpowered Jackson from the start, finishing matters with a vicious left hook to the body after just seventy three seconds. It appeared to be the end of Jackson’s title aspirations. But fate stepped in and Jackson found himself in line for another shot at his old belt when McClellan stepped up to twelve stone and vacated the title.

Unbeaten Agostino Cardamone would be in the opposite corner. In his prime, Jackson would have been a heavy favourite, but times had changed and he was no longer the fighter of old. Cardamone was not known for his power, but he beat up and hurt Jackson throughout the opening round. But once again, Jackson’s hammer pulled victory out of the bag when one thumping right hook laid Cardamone down and out in round two. He was WBC champion once again.

But this time his reign would be brief. Contender Quincy Taylor, known for being Sugar Ray Leonard’s chief sparring partner for his fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, beat down the shell of the once feared “Hawk”, knocking him down before halting him in six. It should have ended there, but Jackson continued. He won his next two fights on points, proof of his diminishing power, then scored two stoppage wins. Those would be the last victories in his career. He lost back to back fights, both being stopped in the ninth round, to junior middleweight contender Verno Phillips, and then to former world title contender Anthony Jones, before finally, at age thirty seven, calling it a day. His final record was 55-6, with 49 knockouts.

In 2003, The Ring Magazine ranked him as the twenty fifth hardest puncher in boxing history, a place that no doubt would have been higher had he beaten one of the sports more illustrious names.

In his retirement, Jackson became a minister, and kept his involvement in boxing as a trainer. His two sons, Julius and John, are both world ranked fighters.

Though fans appreciate the skill of a wonderful boxer, there is nothing that quite captures the imagination than a man who has the power to simply render an opponent unconscious with one thunderous blow. For a period, Julian Jackson was that man. His place in history is secure. Just check out the highlight reel.