By Anthony Cocks
Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
A deflated Luke Jackson sat in the changing rooms deep in the bowels of Belfast’s Windsor Stadium 11,000 miles from home. His face was a mask of lumps, bumps and bruises; his blackened right eye was rapidly swelling shut while the ringing in his ears would later be diagnosed as a perfect pair of perforated eardrums.
The physical injuries were complemented by a hollow feeling inside after his first professional loss following half a lifetime striving for an opportunity like this.
The Tasmanian featherweight had every right to feel distressed after being stopped in nine rounds by former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton.
But the mood in the room lifted when his lifelong trainer Billy Hussein reminded him of how far he had come to get here.
“We hardly even spoke about the loss,” revealed Hussein ahead of Jackson’s return to the ring at the Emporium in Sydney on Friday on the big MJA Platinum triple-header.
“We spoke about what an incredible achievement it was just to get there. We spoke about the positives, about the people who said ‘You’re going to turn pro at almost 30, what are you going to get out of it?’ Little things like that.
“I told him ‘Look at where we are, Windsor Park in front of 25,000 people, a career-high payday, the Gypsy King [Tyson Fury] on your undercard, look at what you’ve achieved, what you’ve done’. We didn’t even talk about retirement. We talked about ‘Did you hear the crowd? Did you hear the songs?’. We were having a laugh about it all, saying thing like that. Nothing like ‘We got beat up, we lost’, nothing like that.”
Jackson, 33, took a full month off training after the Frampton loss, touring Europe with his girlfriend in what was his first real break from the gym in more than 15 years. With his wounds healing in the Spanish sun and his waistline rapidly expanding, Jackson’s thoughts soon turned back to the ring.
“I had a whole month off and ate everything under the sun and put on a lot of weight,” said Jackson 16-1 (7). “But I sort of knew when I was overseas I wanted to fight again, that it wasn’t going to be the last time I was in the ring.
“So I was on holiday and I messaged Billy Hussein, my coach, and asked him what he thought about it, if he thought it was okay if I went around again.
“Because if Billy says no, then it’s over in my eyes. I wouldn’t train with anyone else. I know he has my best interests at heart and if he says ‘No Luke, it’s time to hang them up’, then I’m going to listen to him.”
Fortunately for Jackson, Hussein was on board.
“Luke he did say ‘Coach, if you say retire, I’ll retire, but I’d love to have another fight’,” Hussein said of their discussion.
“The good thing about it is we haven’t taken a lot of punishment. Even in the Frampton fight, we didn’t take a lot of punishment. He got caught a couple of times here and there, but not to the extent that people often do in world title fights where they get damaged. That’s why we stopped the fight when we did, because he could’ve taken a lot of damage and it could’ve affect him in the long-term.
“When we spoke he was very respectful. He said ‘If you say to me don’t, then I won’t’. I spoke to his promoter Adam Wilcock and his manager Mike Altamura and the three of us decided to give him another crack at it and see where he goes from here.”
“I asked him the question first and he said yes,” continued Jackson. “I said I wanted to fight this year and he said yes. And I also had this conversation with my manager Mike Altamura and I also had the same conversation with Adam Wilcock who is my promoter. They were all on the same page and they all agreed we go again.”
In the aftermath of the Frampton loss Jackson posted a photo to his social media accounts showing the damage he took in the fight. For the uninitiated, his bruised and swollen face can look confronting. But Jackson insists he was never hurt in the fight from head shots
“Carl dropped me with that body shot but I didn’t really feel any shots to the head. Even though he busted my eardrums and my eye was shut, I took the shots quite well to the head,” said Jackson, who was down in the eighth from a left to the body before Hussein threw in the towel in the ninth.
“But the body shots, well, they just about broke my bloody ribs,” Jackson chuckled.
Hussein insists the injuries sustained in the fight were largely superficial.
“They were nothing mate. At the end of the day Caucasian Aussies tend to have very fragile skin. Their skin bruises up, they get cut,” Hussein said. “I remember [middleweight] Garth Wood, you used to breath on him and he’d get cut; Ian McLeod, the same thing.
“But with Jacko, it was nothing mate. He went on a holiday after this, he went and had the time of his life in Europe. He used the photo to say ‘You can’t play boxing’. But it was nothing like Arturo Gatti’s face after his fights, it was nothing like those guys. He’s back to normal now and looks like a model.”
The Hobart native, who bases himself in Sydney for his training camps, has spoken openly about his battles with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Hussein believes the gym is the best place for Jackson to be.
“Jacko needed to come back and fight on this date,” said the Bodypunch Boxing Gym boss. “In this sport to go from fighting in front of 25,000 people and making great money to fighting on a local show can be humbling, but he wanted to do it because he needs that in his life.
“It gives him structure, it gives him balance, it gives him discipline. But it’s the challenge as well, being around the gym, being around his teammates. The smile on his face when he’s around all his teammates, he loves it.”
In a sport where loyalty can be bought for a fistful of dollars, Jackson is a rarity.
“I’m very loyal when it comes to everything I do in my life and I don’t want to do it with anyone else. I don’t want to do it with other promoters, other managers, other trainers, so we all had to be involved in it,” Jackson said.
“We missed the first opportunity we had, but it was a big ask to go over there and beat Carl in his backyard. But we could’ve had the fight in bloody Dubai or even in my hometown Tasmania and he still would’ve beat me; he’s a very, very good fighter.
“He was just too good for me on the night and I can live with that. I put everything into it and I tried my best. The preparation was phenomenal and I did everything right but it just wasn’t meant to be. It’s not like I can point the finger at anyone, he was just too good.
“I didn’t want to change my team up, I wanted to do it with the same team. We look to go again on 21 December in Sydney and I’m very excited and happy to get back in there and get a win under my belt and finish the year on a positive note.”
With the Frampton loss now behind him, Jackson is upbeat about the future.
“I’d like to have another shot at a major title against someone,” he said. “Even though I lost that fight I feel we got some big media coverage out of it. I’ve got a good fan base in the UK, so we could go back there and get another big fight there, but look, I just want to fight in the big fights. I want the big fights and I wouldn’t mind making some money now!”