Three-time world boxing champion Julian “The Hawk” Jackson reacted with characteristic humility this weekend when he was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Jackson is generally a quiet man who prefers to make his statements inside the ring rather than out. Since hanging up his gloves, Jackson has taken up coaching, established his own gym and is devoted to his church and youth ministry.
He’s a Rotarian, focused on community service, and prefers to spend his time in the company of people he loves or at home with his family.
If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to see Jackson as a humble, hard-working Virgin Islander who’s happiest out of the spotlight rather than in the middle of it.
But for those who’ve followed his career, it’s hard to forget Jackson’s power, his one-shot knockouts or the way the crowd chanted his name throughout a packed stadium. Still considered one of the greatest punchers of all time, it’s was no surprise to his fans that Jackson was elected this weekend to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, alongside a Class of 2019 that includes the likes of two-time division champions Donald “Lone Star Cobra” Curry, James “Buddy” McGirt and welterweight champion Tony DeMarco.
The announcement, however, did come as a surprise to Jackson, who said this weekend that he was “touched” by the honor.
“It means that people, one day, will remember Julian Jackson, the Hawk, someone who came from humble beginnings, who wasn’t affected by the glitter of the boxing life, but instead worked hard to make a name for himself. I’ll be honest, it’s amazing to be part of something so historical,” Jackson said this weekend, as he returned from Puerto Rico and coaching step-son Clayton Laurent Jr. through his third professional win.
“It shows that the sacrifices you sometimes have to make will one day be worth it,” he added.
Jackson first entered the boxing world at 12 years old, after following a friend into the local gym. Raised by a single mother who was always looking for something to do, Jackson at first thought boxing would be constructive, but after meeting coach Willie Wilhelm George, learned that it could instead be life changing.
“Some of the kids I see in the gym every day remind me of myself,” Jackson said, referring to his current work with the U.S. Virgin Islands amateur boxing program. “When I first started, I had low self esteem, I was negative and had it not been for boxing, I could have ended up in jail or in the grave. But then I met an old man named Willie and he spoke of traveling the world and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I see our kids every day thinking the same thing, I see them sacrificing the same way and trying to make a name for themselves in boxing.”
And just like he tries to offer a support system for the young boxers he mentors, so too did Jackson’s team support him when he was younger. Even after all the world-famous bouts and the celebrity promoters, Jackson said what made all the difference in his life was having people at home who told him that he could be great some day.
“They made me want to be an example of what a Virgin Islander should be,” Jackson said. “I wanted to go out there and take risks. Life is about risks and when people said I couldn’t make it outside the Virgin Islands, I wanted to go out there and prove them wrong. That was the message I got back then and that’s the message I want to send now: you can make a difference in life, a difference in the Virgin Islands just by saying you can.”
With that in mind, Jackson soared: his professional career spanned more than a decade, from 1981 to 1998, and within that time, he became a three-time world champion in two weight classes, holding the World Boxing Association welterweight title from 1987 to 1990, and the Wold Boxing Council middleweight title twice between 1990 and 1995.
“It was a different world, but after some time, it just became natural,” Jackson recalled. “I really didn’t take it as being a superstar, it was a job that I loved in a sport that I respected, and that is why it was so impactful for me. Sometimes you don’t realize you might be fulfilling your destiny just by doing the things you want to do, but I took a risk and it worked out.”
And that is what Jackson hopes will resonate with youngsters at home while he is in New York this summer at the official Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“More than anything, I want our young people to know that when you put your faith in something, you don’t just read history, you become history,” he said. “Thinking about where I could have ended up, I know now that I was able to be something because of the people I surrounded myself with, who told me that I could do my best and that I shouldn’t be afraid to fail. They told me that if I wanted to make a difference, I could and that I shouldn’t stop trying. Life will work out if that’s exactly what you keep in mind.”