His life, turbulent and directionless, found salvation through the most aggressive of sports.
Phillip Jackson worships boxing as the lifeline that steered him from crime and the “streets.” For Jackson, the first visit to the Gibson Park Gym in Overtown 32 years ago began a boxing journey that resulted in amateur championships and professional experiences such as the first native Miamian to fight for a world heavyweight title.
“If I didn’t have boxing, I don’t know where I would be,” Jackson said. “Boxing saved my life.”
Jackson’s dedication to boxing and his career accomplishments have earned him special recognition. On Sunday, Jackson will be inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Holiday Inn Westshore in Tampa.
“When I first got the call that I was going into the Hall of Fame, I thought someone was playing a practical joke on me,” Jackson said. “I didn’t think that my career deserved this honor, then I realized that I did accomplish many things. I was proud of my accomplishments.”
Jackson, 51, never laced a pair of boxing gloves before he joined the Miami PAL program at the Gibson Park Gym. He had just been released from a juvenile detention facility and the boxing program served as a transitional outlet and deterrent from repeated offenses.
“God put me in position to do certain things,” Jackson said. “When I was coming out of the youth offender program that I was in, the Miami PAL program was there for me.
“Those first few weeks were difficult, but right away I knew that boxing was going to become something special for me. There were other guys that started the program with me but many dropped out.”
Jackson couldn’t fulfill his dream of qualifying for the 1988 Olympics, but nonetheless enjoyed a successful amateur career that exceeded 90 bouts. In 1988, Jackson turned professional and became a heavyweight title contender by the mid-1990s.
Contending status finally rewarded Jackson with a title opportunity against champion Lennox Lewis in 1994. Early in the bout Jackson rocked Lewis with a left hook to the head before Lewis recovered and retained his belt with an eighth-round technical knockout victory.
“He wasn’t out on his feet but the punch got him pretty good,” Jackson said. “He won the fight but I still had my moments.”
After the loss against Lewis, Jackson fought another 10 years. He finished his professional career with a 44-13 record and 38 knockouts.
“I don’t look back on anything,” Jackson said. “Of course I would have wanted to win the heavyweight championship of the world but I still fought for it.”
Jackson, a father of eight, has remained involved in the sport. In a full-circle experience, he has returned to the Gibson Park Gym, where he runs a boxing fitness program.
“My next goal is to go to the youth offenders programs and talk to the youngsters,” Jackson said. “Like boxing did with me, there are a lot of kids on the streets that can be saved. When it comes to sports, many use football or basketball as the sports they prefer. But boxing can also be an option.
“We have [potential] champions here in our community and they don’t even know it. About a week and a half ago a group of kids who had never put on a pair of gloves came to our gym. They looked very natural with the basic drills we taught them and took it up right away.
“I was saved through God and boxing and now I want to give back.”
Jackson is part of the 2015 Hall of Fame class that also features other members of the South Florida boxing community. In addition to Jackson, this year’s class includes former cruiserweight champion Uriah Grant, promoters Leon Margules and Julio Martinez, former Florida boxing commissioner Jimmy Resnick, and ex-Univision and Telemundo sports executive Jorge Hidalgo. Another inductee will be fight judge and HBO analyst Harold Lederman, a part-time Pompano Beach resident.
Miami’s Randall Bailey will end 20 months of inactivity Saturday night. Bailey, a former junior-welterweight and welterweight world champion will face Gundrick King in the main event of a card in Riverdale, Ga.
Late Saturday, Deontay Wilder (34-0, 33 KOs) retained his World Boxing Council heavyweight title with a ninth-round TKO over Eric Molina (23-3) in Birmingham, Ala. On the same card, Aventura resident Ahmed Elbiali (11-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Donta Woods in the first round of their light-heavyweight match.
Saturday (8:30 p.m., NBC-Ch. 6): Adrien Broner vs. Shawn Porter, 12, welterweights; Errol Spence vs. Robert Garcia, 10, welterweights.
Saturday (10 p.m., BET): Andre Ward vs. Paul Smith, 12, light-heavyweights.
Sunday (4 p.m., CBS-Ch.4): Rances Barthelemy vs. Antonio De Marco, 10, junior-welterweights.