John Jackson had floored Andy Lee with a frighteningly perfect first-round right cross. By the end of Round 4, he led 39-36 on all three cards and seemed to be closing in for the finish. Then his night came to a crashing halt.
After cornering Lee in the fifth round and landing some 10 unanswered punches, the hammer-fisted Jackson walked into a vicious, head-swiveling uppercut that left him face-first on the canvas.
In a split second, Jackson went from comfortably winning the fight to being knocked out cold.
“I rushed in and got caught,” he says. “I made a mistake that a lot of young fighters make when [their opponent] is badly hurt.
“But Andy Lee is a very well-known fighter, and that loss elevated me to the next level. I knew that I was dominating every single round, and to be doing that against a guy who later became a [160-pound] champion, that just showed where I stand. When I look back on it, that fight was a blessing in disguise.”
Two bouts and nearly two years removed from that stunning defeat to Lee in June 2014, John Jackson (20-2, 15 KOs) has come out the other side just fine and now finds himself on the precipice of being a world champion. On May 21, he will face Jermell Charlo (27-0, 12 KOs) for a vacant title as part of a 154-pound championship tripleheader at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“This is a big night, a true blessing and it means everything to me,” said Jackson, a 27-year-old native of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands. “I’ve been working so hard, and I’m finally seeing the fruits of my labor.”
Prior to facing Lee, Jackson’s only previous blemish was a unanimous decision loss to Willie Nelson in September 2012. He followed that up with five consecutive victories, three by knockout, including an eighth-round stoppage of veteran Jorge Daniel Miranda in December 2013—his fourth triumph of that year.
Similarly, he’s rebounded nicely from the loss to Lee, earning consecutive 10-round unanimous decisions over Carlos Adan Jerez in November 2014 and Dennis Laurente in August.
“I learned so much from that fight with Andy Lee,” says Jackson, who began his career 13-0 with 12 KOs. “I was still shocked for a while and still hurting after losing that way, but my ring IQ is a lot higher than before. So in my next fights, I wanted to be smarter and wiser and do whatever it took to get the win.
“I’ve gone to work on my defense, bringing my hands back after I punch, and I’m a better fighter overall.”
In Charlo, Jackson will be facing the 25-year-old twin brother of 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo, who will put his title on the line against Austin Trout as part of the May 21 tripleheader in Las Vegas.
Unlike his hammer-fisted brother—who is 23-0 with 18 KOs—Jermell Charlo is a skilled boxer-puncher who has rarely been tested in building a 27-0 record, winning 15 unanimous decisions in addition to his 12 knockouts.
One of the rare times Charlo was in a real fight was when he faced Vanes Martirosyan in March, prevailing by scores of 96-94 twice and 97-93—scores Jackson believes should’ve gone the other way.
“I thought Martirosyan had the edge in a close fight,” he says.
Is Jackson concerned he might suffer a similar fate if his fight against Charlo is close?
“That’s on my mind,” he says. “I just want them to give me a fair shot if this fight goes the distance.
“If I can get a knockout, that would definitely take it out of the hands of the judges. But my goal is to at least win every single round so that they have no choice but to give [the decision] to me.”
Jackson’s trainer is his father, Julian “The Hawk” Jackson, a former two-division champion whose legendary one-punch KO power destroyed fighters such as Terry Norris, Buster Drayton and Herol Graham during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
On May 21, the father would like to see his son rip a page from the old man’s playbook and come right after Charlo.
“Jermell may want to box, but our plan is to make it a war,” Julian Jackson says. “We’re planning to put so much pressure on him that he will have no choice but to engage.”
For full coverage of Charlo vs Jackson, visit our fight page.