Throughout the mid 1980's, top rated contender Tyrone Jackson, best known as "The Harlem Butcher", was slicing through the featherweight division. Boxing 101 caught up with this former fan favorite to revisit the days when he was serving pain and to find out what is on his plate today.
The Harlem born and bred Jackson was a ferocious puncher, frequently knocking out opponents stemming back to his amateur boxing career that included two appearances in the New York Golden Gloves finals. In 1980, Jackson was defeated by future world champion Hector Camacho in the finals of the 119 lb Open Championship but won the title the following year.
What Jackson lacked in size, standing 5'6½" and ranging in weight from 112 through 119 during his amateur career, he made up for in punching power.
"I really wasn't a good fighter, I was just a good puncher. That I really could do," claimed Jackson. "Setting up people, trying to use angles and work off the jab – nah, that wasn't me.
"For some reason, I could just bang you out. I was knocking everybody out."
It was a quality that can only partially be attributed to his nickname. The 19-year old Jackson had been working at a meat packing warehouse, the now defunct West Harlem Pork Center, where he was responsible for loading trucks for delivery to restaurants. A co-worker had taken the young man under his wing and began teaching Jackson how to cut the meat. When Jackson told the doctor who administered the pre-fight physical at the Golden Gloves of this task, the fighter was later announced at the 1981 finals as being employed as a butcher's apprentice to which the crowd went crazy. Jackson went on to score a second round knockout and won the championship.
When he turned pro in June 1981, Jackson decided to keep with the spirit of reflecting who he was and where he came from — "The Harlem Butcher" was officially born. He had even once dressed in full butcher apparel accompanied with related cutlery and tools for a publicity boxing event held at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum. He joined other local fighters from the mid 1980's who were donned to reflect their respective nicknames – Aaron "Superman" Davis, Tunde "The Doctor" Foster, Mark "The Hebrew Hammer" Weinman, Matt "The Beta Bomber" Farrago and Chris "The Shamrock Express" Reid.
The 1980's were some of the best and most memorable years for boxing. Jackson was among a crop of talented fighters from the New York area whom Bobby Goodman, matchmaker and former director of boxing at Madison Square Garden, made a concerted effort to highlight in shows at the Felt Forum during its heyday in the mid to late 80's. They included former world champions such as Buddy McGirt, Hector Camacho, Aaron Davis and Juan Laporte, as well as top contenders Michael Olajide, Renaldo Snipes, Mitch "Blood" Green and a young rising heavyweight by the name of Mike Tyson.
By the time Jackson was 25 years old, he compiled a professional record of 22-0, 17 KO's and was considered one of the hardest punchers in the featherweight division. Yet, with all of the power in his hands, it was his head that stabbed at the Harlem Butcher and gave him his toughest challenge.
"I spent more time fighting me than trying to fight my opponent," Jackson confessed. "I was so f****n scared that I really just couldn't get over the fear of really engaging in battle.
"I just didn't have the killer instinct to really want to hurt people. I wanted to knock you out, don't get me wrong. I wanted to win. I definitely wanted to be a world champion. But for some reason, I don't know if it was anxiety or…..," Jackson paused as he searched for the words to genuinely express his inner most feelings. "I would come to the fight hoping the other guy got hit by a car. I didn't care, as long as I didn't have to get in that ring. Or [I thought] maybe this building will blow up so I don't have to fight him.
"I just didn't believe in myself. I knew I could punch but I just didn't feel right when I got inside the ring," said the refreshingly honest and forthcoming former top ranked contender.
This is, in large part, why Jackson credits Mexican and female fighters for their style of aggressive, all-out fighting. He believes that particular approach does not lend itself to excessive strategizing or over thinking which can lead to boring fights and/or the inability to control fear.
"The only way to deal with the fear is to get it hit out of you," Jackson pointedly stated.
Through his first 22 fights, Jackson didn't get hit very much as he was carefully matched-up with opponents who posed no real threat of beating him. At that point, he never fought any further than Atlantic City and had gone 12 rounds only once, winning the vacant New York State featherweight title by split decision over unknown Paul DeVorce in June 1985.
A 25-year old Jackson would be rudely introduced to the harsh reality of world championship boxing when he traveled to the other side of the world for his first title shot in South Korea to face IBF featherweight champion Ki-Young Chung on February 16, 1986. Lacking maturity, discipline and experience, Jackson admitted to being overwhelmed by the scene and disenchanted with conditions that made it difficult for him to adjust, including overly crowded streets, bad food and freezing cold weather.
"When I say I was unprepared, that's like going to take the Bar test and you know you've been skipping school like crazy," Jackson admitted."I wasn't in shape but I was just happy with the thought of getting the title shot."
The young Jackson suffered the first loss of his career, a sixth round technical knockout against an average fighter with limited punching power.
In the year following his loss to Chung, Jackson made changes to his management team and hired Teddy Atlas to start training him in 1987. Atlas, who trained world champions Simon Brown and Donny Lalonde, as well as contenders Chris Reid and Tyrone Trice, was brought in to help Jackson develop as a complete fighter rather than merely loading up on the big bomb and crowding his opponent against the ropes. The outspoken trainer has had a lasting impression on the former fighter that extends outside of the ring.
"He taught me so much that to this day, I follow his methods and I ain't fallen yet," Jackson proudly said of Atlas with whom he has maintained a close friendship for over 20 years."The most important thing he taught is just to be true to yourself, stay on the right path and try to go by the right way of life.
"Teddy's hard to get along with because of what he wants for you. His famous phrase is 'Look, you don't work jobs'. It means you work for yourself to put yourself in position to have status. If you ain't got no status, you're a bum," chuckled Jackson as he explained the motivation behind Atlas' stern approach.
Jackson made a second attempt to reach world championship status when he traveled beyond the tri-state area for only the second time to face IBF super featherweight titlist Tony "The Tiger" Lopez in Lake Tahoe on June 18, 1989. The 28-year old Jackson was once again fighting as a visitor, with several busloads of Lopez fans in attendance from his hometown of Sacramento. Jackson entered the ring uncharacteristically loose but was tentative with his punches, unable to launch any offense to wear a weight drained Lopez down as he had planned. He would be stopped in the eighth round for the second loss of his career.
It would be the unanimous decision loss to future five-time featherweight world champion Manuel Medina that caused Jackson to walk away from the sport in 1990. Despite scoring a knockdown, Jackson was unsuccessful in his attempt to win the vacant IBC super featherweight title against the 19-year old Mexican. Although Jackson considers the slick Medina to be the smartest fighter he ever faced, he vehemently believes to this day that he controlled the fight and should have gotten the victory. Disgusted with boxing, the Harlem Butcher hung up his shears for six and a half years.
Like most fighters who stick around the gym always wanting to make a famous comeback and win the title, Jackson returned to the ring in January 1997 at the age of 37 to fight Larry Barnes for the vacant WBO Inter-Continental welterweight title. Confident that he could beat Barnes without a tune-up, Jackson admittedly fought the wrong kind of inside brawling fight instead of boxing from the outside and lost a twelve round unanimous decision. The Harlem Butcher officially retired the following year with a record of 31-6 (25 KO's).
With respect to today's crop of featherweights, Jackson admires Juan Manuel Lopez for his resiliency and determination to keep fighting even when hurt as he bravely displayed against the game Rogers Mtagwa in October 2009 at Madison Square Garden. He also enjoys watching Yuriorkis Gamboa and was impressed by how effortlessly the talented Cuban disposed of Mtagwa in two rounds the following January in stark contrast to Lopez's performance and style.
Today, the extremely affable and hard working 52-year old Jackson holds three jobs as a building maintenance worker in New York City for the last twenty years, a laborer at Madison Square Garden for the past three years and an inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission since 2008. He lives in the Bronx with his wife, two children and 11-year old nephew.
In support of his fellow former fighters who have fallen on hard times, the Harlem Butcher is now the Sergeant of Arms serving on the Board of Directors of Ring 10 Veterans Boxing Foundation of New York since its inception in 2010. Having been in boxing since 1972, Jackson recognizes the issues facing the athletes who dedicated their lives to a sport that has abandoned them regardless of the amount of money earned during their career.
"If a guy is going to make a lot of money, especially if he's from a third world country because most of them give away their money when they go back, most are uneducated and don't know the true value of a dollar so they are going to end up with nothing. That can be said of the ones here too because there are too many black former world champions with nothing," Jackson lamented.
Following the advice of his friend and former trainer, this Harlem Butcher has Grade A status of which he can be proud.
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