Since turning pro nine years ago, John Jackson has fought in all the United States’ major boxing capitals — Atlantic City, Las Vegas, New York.
The St. Thomas native’s next fights won’t come in as famous a venue as Madison Square Garden, but it could have just as big an impact on his boxing career.
Jackson, 29, is one of 16 professional boxers chosen to compete in the revival of the boxing series “The Contender,” which will premier Aug. 24 on pay television network EPIX.
“I’m excited about doing it,” Jackson, the son of three-time world champion Julian Jackson, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Of course, the exposure is great. The competition — all the guys chosen are top fighters.
“My dad was very, very, very excited about it. He was the one who said, ‘Go for it! Go for it!’ It’s a great opportunity.”
“The Contender,” being produced by MGM Television (headed by “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett) and Paramount Television, will run over 12 episodes, with a championship bout to determine the winner of the six-figure purse in early November.
The 16 boxers will have some major-league help in their corners — they will be coached by either Freddie Roach, who worked with former world champs Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and James Toney, or Naazim Richardson, who worked with Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley.
The show will be hosted by former world champion boxer Andre Ward, who retired in 2017 with a 32-0 record, having held the unified world championship in both the super-middleweight (2009-2015) and light-heavyweight divisions (2016-2017). He also won a gold medal in the light-heavyweight division at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
According to executive producer Eric Van Wagener, the new version of “The Contender” will have the boxers square off in an elimination-round format, with five-round bouts in the early rounds and a championship bout of 8-10 rounds.
“It’s kind of like an amateur tournament,” said Jackson, who fought for the U.S.Virgin Islands in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “As a professional, you fight once, then you wait awhile. But this is a like a tournament — we’ll fight week to week.
“It kinda takes me back to my Olympic days, my amateur days. Even after you fight, if you win, you still have to stay prepared for the next fight because it’s right around the corner.”
The original series, which aired from 2005-2009, helped kickstart the careers of several dozen world championship contenders, including past title holders Sergio Mora, WBC light-middleweight title, Cornelius Bundrage, IBF junior-middleweight title, Sakio Bika, IBO super-middleweight title, and Sam Soliman, IBF middleweight title.
“I’m still a big fan of the show,” Jackson said. “Watching the fighters, their backgrounds, their stories, watching them fight for what they believe in — their country, their families, whatever — and watching that unfold.
“That’s why I was doubly excited that I was chosen to be one of the 16 guys on the show.”
That’s what producers of the new version of “The Contender” hope to achieve, as well. According to Van Wagener, “several hundred” applications were received from interested boxers before the show’s producers began whittling them down.
“When we started narrowing down the parameters, the field started getting narrow pretty quick,” Van Wagener said. “We wanted to stick with guys who only had a few losses … and on top of that, we wanted them to have an interesting story. We wanted fighters who were on the way up.”
In that regard, Jackson more than fits the criteria.
Jackson — whose ring nickname is “Da Rock” — has a 21-3 record since turning pro in 2009, with all three losses coming in championship bouts. His last title fight came May 21, 2016, when he was knocked out in the eighth round by Jarmell Charlo for the WBC world super-welterweight title.
“We had it down to about 40 [boxers] that we liked,” Van Wagener said. “We narrowed it down, and brought out about 25 for finals casting. They got to spar for the coaches, Andre got to look at them, we got to interview them. We kept 16, and went right into the show.”
Now it’s up to Jackson to take advantage of the opportunity.
“This type of exposure in this stage is going to be big for my career right now,” Jackson said. “Win, lose or draw, this kind of exposure and this kind of publicity in this kind of setting is going to be good. That’s why I’m excited to be on this show and compete against some top fighters.”