On Sept. 15, dueling cards between promotional giants Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions take place just a few miles away from each other in Las Vegas. Of the plethora of intriguing undercard bouts, perhaps the most interesting is one that isn’t even slated to make TV, a junior middleweight bout between unbeaten John Jackson and once-beaten Willie Nelson in a 10-round attraction.
The bout takes place on the undercard of Top Rank’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. versus Sergio Martinez card.
Jackson (13-0, 12 KOs), of the Virgin Islands, carries the distinction of being the most talented of former world champion Julian Jackson’s fighting sons. According to his famous father, John is talented enough to surpass his own in-ring achievements.
“The ability to take a punch is not something I didn’t really have that my son has,” said Julian in regards to his son’s ceiling. “His power is natural and very real.”
The 23-year old John has the good fortune of being promoted by Sampson Lewkowicz, who many boxing people consider to have the best eye for talent in the sport.
“I never forgot when his father Julian told me that his son John was going to be better than him,” said Lewkowicz in a phone interview on Sunday. “He is showing improvement and we are starting to see what we have. If we have something, we find out on Sept. 15.”
Lewkowicz was also in agreement that this bout could steal the thunder on the undercard.
“I told Bob Arum it will most likely be the fight of the night,” said Lewkowicz. “To be the best, you need to fight the best and it is time for John to show he is one of the best young junior middleweights.”
Though he hasn’t made American television yet, Jackson is one of Lewkowicz’ most prized prospects, along with junior lightweight stablemate Javier Fortuna. The two prospects shared a card in Las Vegas this past December with Jackson’s TKO win over Keandre Leatherwood being his U.S. debut.
Nelson (18-1-1, 11 KOs) represents the most experienced opponent in Jackson’s way despite being just 25. Nelson most recently picked up a decision victory against then-unbeaten Cuban prospect Yudel Jhonson in a May edition of Showtime’s prospect series, ShoBox. Some would say it is an ambitious move for Jackson’s team to take this fight.
“We feel that it is time for him to step up,” said Julian, a former titleholder at both junior middleweight and middleweight. “It is about time and he has been demolishing a lot of guys. They couldn’t deal with the ability he has.”
“One thing I want to make clear,” continued Julian, “is that I did not push my sons into boxing. I didn’t force my kids into anything. I felt John, my youngest, was more inclined to boxing because when he was a kid I had to fight him to get ahold of my boxing magazines. He would stick on certain pages, like when he would see Julio Cesar Chavez.”
John remembers those days vividly.
“From being very small, I had a big love for it,” said John. “My favorite fighter was actually Julio Cesar Chavez. My dad would be in camp with him sometimes. Chavez would come and touch my head and say hello when I was small.”
All these years later, John finds himself on the undercard of his childhood idol’s famous son. Even more interestingly, John was a sparring mate for Chavez Jr.’s opponent, middleweight champion Martinez, in preparation for their respective battles.
“It has helped me a lot, sparring with him,” said John. “It is amazing to hear what he tells us, an honor to be in camp with him and train and work alongside him, just to see what it takes to achieve what he has.”
Jackson has sparred with Martinez stablemate light heavyweight Gabriel Campillo, who fights an important bout of his own a week later on NBC Sports against Sergey Kovalev on Sept. 21.
Having a famous pugilist as a fighter has no doubt opened up some opportunities for John and his brothers, but he notes that his famous name isn’t the sole reason for his success.
“It isn’t just our father’s name, it is also because of our skills,” said John. “We qualified for the Olympics, me and Julius, and that was hard work. That opened eyes like crazy.”
Both John (right, in the picture above) and his brother Julius (left, in the picture above) made the 2008 Olympics, representing their home of the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands’ Olympic boxing coach? Father Julian (pictured between his sons).
Now both John and his light heavyweight brother sit at 13-0, but it is the slightly younger John who will look to make the first splash in the United States in a few weeks.
“We’ve been talking about a step-up for awhile now,” said John. “We’ve been improving in the ring and we felt that it is the right time. Along with Sampson, my dad has a big say in whatever happens because he has been through it.”
It is a detriment to the pay-per-view audience that Jackson’s fight with Nelson likely won’t make the telecast. Televised or not, it could prove to be the beginning of another successful career of a famous fighting son.
For John, it will prove to be a different road than that of Chavez Jr. Jackson had amateur pedigree and looks like he will be moved in a much steeper incline than was Julio Cesar Chavez’s son, who had no amateur career to speak of and went thirty-some odd fights before taking a real step up.
We’ll know if John is ready for the advanced courses in pro boxing in a few weeks or if he needs a few more years of seasoning at the lower levels.
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail and followed via Twitter. Mark’s work has also appeared in renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly, as well as the Martinez News-Gazette, a tri-weekly regional newspaper. He is also a member of the Boxing Writer’s Assoc. of America and RING Ratings Advisory Panel.