FOR Luke Jackson, boxing is so much more than a sport.
The Tasmanian-born former Olympian has experienced the harsh realities of life first-hand, from substance abuse at an early age to the heartbreak of missing out on the Olympic Games. But in boxing, he has not only found his profession, but a religion of sorts.
“Without boxing, I wouldn’t know who I’d be or what I’d be doing,” said Jackson in an emotive interview with Aus-Boxing.
“People always say it but I come from absolutely nothing.”
“I was in and out of welfare as a child – I had no structure and no discipline – I didn’t listen to anyone. I dropped out of school in Year 7 and I was heavily into drugs. My mum was an alcoholic, I’m not meant to be here. Sadly, some of my friends are dead and been in jail. Without boxing I wouldn’t be here and everything I now have is because of boxing.”
“The best way for me to put it is like my religion. I don’t do certain things because of boxing. I don’t drink because of boxing, I don’t do drugs because of boxing and I can’t go out late at night because of boxing. Everything I do is because of boxing.”
“It has taught me who I am and helped me get to where I am now. It got me my gym, my home and it has also taken me to the Olympic Games. It means everything to me.”
In a matter of days, Jackson (12-0, 5 KOs) will face the biggest test of his developing professional career against former two-time world title challenger Silvester Lopez (27-11-2, 19 KOs) at the picturesque Princes Wharf No. 1 on the Hobart waterfront.
As his record suggests, the hard-nosed Lopez is durable and will look to pose Jackson with stylistic problems over the course of an extended ten round distance. With a WBO affiliated regional title at stake as well as a potential world rating with the Puerto Rican based sanctioning body, Jackson understands the importance of getting through this fight unscathed.
Having conquered the demons that accompany his ongoing battle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Jackson feels he is in a good place both mentally and physically.
“Right now, I feel like I’m in a happy space. It’s the best I’ve felt for a long, long time,” he explained. “I think as a professional, this guy would be the best I have fought to date. However, I have fought better guys in the amateurs, but it’s just a different game.”
“I have had twelve fights as a professional now. All the guys that are professional alongside me in Australia – I have fought them as amateurs – and beat them all. I mean, I’ve beaten the likes of Corey McConnell, Joel Brunker, Paul Fleming, Brandon Ogilvie, George Kambosos and Val Borg. I have beaten them all in the amateurs and they were all hard fights. They would all be really hard fights now.”
“And even on a world level, I have fought and beaten Nicholas Walters and Sharif Bogere. I have fought a lot of great opposition as an amateur and I feel that having an extensive amateur career has put me in good stead for these sorts of fights. This is going to be a hard fight, but I’m ready for it.”
As Jackson explains, the difficulties of training camp are not always inside the gym. For the thirteenth time, Jackson has relocated to Sydney to work alongside regarded trainer Billy Hussein, who continues mould Jackson into a more complete and well-rounded fighter. While the time away is never easy, Jackson admits that it is all apart of the learning process.
“I have flown up to Sydney and left my business, friends and family behind and isolated myself and just busted my arse for this camp,” he explained. “Making featherweight is always hard for me, but I feel like this is the best I have made it.”
“At the age of 31, I feel I’m still always learning and I’m just trying to always find ways to better myself as an athlete. I’m just trying to improve and that’s what I feel like I have done and I feel like I’m ready to put on a career best performance.”
“This year hasn’t been amazing as I had been going through some mental issues when I last fought in Tasmania. But I have addressed them and sought help, I’m in such a better headspace now. No one knew about them, my team didn’t even know about them. But I have told them how I feel and they understand now the issues that I did have and had to address.”
As Jackson continues to develop, talk of him positioning himself for a world title tilt is inevitable conversation amongst his peers, colleagues and teammates. But as the undefeated featherweight concedes, he needs to remain grounded when assessing his future options.
“I’m under no illusion that I’m nowhere near ready for a world title fight,” he concluded. “And I’m not one of those boxers that will talk trash. I’m very honest with myself on where I’m at and feel I’m a long way off it.”
“But I’m learning and I just want to fight whoever they put in front of me to fight. I’m always open to fighting whoever.”
You can watch Luke Jackson challenge Silvester Lopez, live and exclusively on Live Boxing on Saturday night.
Photo: Bruno Ferreira