CANASTOTA, N.Y. — Julian Jackson had been inside of the International Boxing Hall of Fame museum before, but this weekend’s tour through the museum had a different feel as he stopped to take a look at the plaques.
Among them now is one of Jackson in a fighting pose with the following words written underneath his name:
“One of pound-pound hardest punchers of his fistic generation. Won vacant WBA 154-pound crown by stopping In Chul Baek, Nov. 21, 1987. Successfully defended title thrice. Won vacant WBC middleweight title by knocking out Herol Graham in fourth round, Nov. 24, 1990. Successfully defended crown four times. Won vacant WBC middleweight title again by stopping Agustin Cardamone, March 17, 1995. Pro record 55-6 with 49 knockouts. INDUCTED 2019.”
The official ceremony in which the three-time former champion received his Hall of Fame ring came a couple of days later, but Jackson — a deeply religious man — reflected for a moment and smiled.
He had made it to the pinnacle of his sport and swelled with pride, not only for what he had individually accomplished, but also for the glory he was heaping upon the Virgin Islands by following in the footsteps of the late Emile Griffith and Peter Jackson, both members of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of inductees in 1990.
The weather was perfect on Sunday, the sun shining on Jackson in more ways than one.
Preceding the induction was the annual Hall of Fame parade, where the new inductees, Hall of Fame alumni and assorted guests were paraded through downtown Canastota — a small town about a half-hour’s drive from Syracuse, N.Y. — and given the adulation accorded to rock stars and championship-winning sports teams.
Jackson rode in a red Ford Mustang convertible, a sport jacket over his red polo shirt. All along the parade route, he greeted the throngs as much as they him. “You guys are the best,” he shouted.
It was a long way from the demons that used to haunt Jackson to where he stands today.
On Saturday, a story appeared in the London newspaper The Daily Mail, in which his old rival Graham speaks about having never recovered emotionally from the loss to Jackson.
On the verge of winning the title, Graham moved in to finish the job, but was instead knocked cold in one of the most devastating knockouts in boxing history.
“I felt like a horse had knocked me out” said Graham. “I was out before I hit the floor.”
Graham recovered physically. Emotionally he says he never has, having been hospitalized various times for depression. The 59-year-old Jackson knows that could be him, admitting to once having been suicidal.
During Sunday’s ceremonies, Jackson sat and looked on intently, waiting his turn as the inductees who preceded him gave their speeches Yet Jackson didn’t have a prepared speech — something he admitted he was doing just a few days earlier.
“No, I will talk from the heart” he said.
And so it was as the magnitude of the moment hit the man dubbed “The Hawk.” “Amazing, wow!” were Jackson’s first words before he composed himself.
Jackson doled out credit to his wife, four sons, two daughters, his boxing promoter Don King and to his ultimate source of inspiration — “With God all things are possible,” he said.
Of course, Jackson — a native of St. Thomas, where he still lives and has a boxing training facility — also dropped some credit on his home islands.
“We might be a small nation, but we have a big heart,” Jackson said of being from the U.S. Virgin Islands. “St. Thomas is only 32 square miles. On the map all you’ll see is a dot, but the Virgin Islands has a big punch.”
Jackson then told the assembled throng the secret to his success, perhaps encouraging them to follow suit.
“Nothing in life is worth anything if you don’t take a chance, take a risk,” he said. “In order to get something we never had we have to do something we never did.”