Luke Jackson doesn’t have to look far for inspiration in his quest to convert a successful amateur boxing career onto the professional arena.
Five years after rooming together at the London Olympics, Jackson watched his Australian teammate Jeff Horn beat Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao to claim a world title.
“You've got to set your goals high and if Jeff Horn can win a world title it shows it is possible for any of us,” Jackson said.
“We were at Olympics together and there's no difference between us – we both train hard, look after our nutrition, tie our shoelaces the same ...
“He believed, and his team believed, that he could get it done and that shows what self-belief can achieve.
“That gives everyone a lot of hope that you can do it and more Australians can become better fighters because of Jeff. He has opened the door for the rest of us.”
Jackson has waited patiently for that door to open.
A 16-year career in the ring has featured 113 amateur fights (for 86 wins) followed by a 15-0 pro record, including six knockouts.
Jeff Horn has opened the door for the rest of usLuke Jackson
At the same time he has grown from a high school dropout dabbling in drugs and working in asbestos removal to a potential world champion owning and managing a successful gym.
That gym – Action Fitness Centre, named after Jackson’s nickname in the ring – is located close to where he grew up in Glenorchy and the 33-year-old is never shy about discussing where his life could have gone.
He talks frankly about friends and family either in jail, on drugs, or both, adding “and that's where I was headed”.
“I dropped out of Cosgrove High in Grade 7 and got into some heavy stuff and boxing got me out of it,” he said.
“The reason I turned pro was my missus left me and I was getting back into a dangerous spiral going nowhere and boxing got me out of it. I needed direction, and boxing gave me that.
“But if you had told me I'd still be boxing at 33, I'd have said you were crazy.
“I always remember a conversation I had with [two-time Olympian] Gerard O’Mahony who was a great mentor to me when I started. He was close to 30 and I said there's no way in hell I'd still be boxing then. I look back at that now and think he was right, here I am still going.
“Boxing has made me who I am but also cost me a lot. My goal was the Olympics and I drove myself crazy to get there, dealing with depression and OCD.”
Jackson’s amateur career peaked with Commonwealth Games appearances in 2006 and 2010, including a surprise bronze medal as a fresh-faced hopeful in Melbourne, and after controversially missing out on the 2008 Olympic Games he qualified for London four years later and was made Australian boxing team captain only to exit in the first round.
It hasn’t been the best week with having to reschedule my fight, but tomorrow I get to be an official baton bearer in the Queen’s Baton Relay in my hometown of Hobart. As a former Commonwealth Games athlete, this is something I’m extremely proud to be a part of. pic.twitter.com/Fonf8AcnTh— Luke Jackson (@LukeJackson) February 8, 2018
Since turning pro, his 15 fights (five in Hobart) have seen the featherweight (57.15kg) claim WBA Oceania and WBO Oriental titles, but even after 16 years and 128 fights, Jackson is still dealing with setbacks and adversity.
His WBO belt defence against South American champion Aaron Castillo at Wrest Point had to be postponed from March 2 to April 27 this week after a long-standing hand fracture flared up.
Jackson, whose tattoos of his father, Tony Pettit, and the London Olympics represent his inspiration and his career pinnacle, is well used to such body blows.
“Everything had been going really well and then this happened, but you have these hiccups, it's part of life I guess, so I went out, had steak and chips and was better placed mentally.
“I've still got to train and I’m still looking forward to finishing my career how I started it.
“There’s not much longer to go, but that’s as long as I want.
“I want three fights this year so this just means I stay in the gym a bit longer, have a rest from sparring then ramp it up a bit later.”
Coached by Billy Hussein in Sydney, Jackson has been sparring with Commonwealth super flyweight champion Andrew Moloney and his bantamweight brother Jason, who are both next fighting in St Kilda on February 24.
He is rightly proud of his undefeated pro record and the dedication required to stay fit and make weight throughout his adult life.
But he is giving thought to life after boxing.
“I'll just keep going while my body allows me, if I'm still performing OK.
“I’ve been doing this 16 years, the majority of that training by myself, self-motivated.
“I genuinely believe my best is yet to come.
“I don't believe I've boxed to the best of my ability yet. It's rare for a boxer to say ‘I could not have done any better’ and I certainly don't think I've come close to that and am hoping to pull one of those fights out, stay motivated in and out of the gym and make the right decisions.
“I've chosen this and I've got my gym to look after. Training people would be my future, keeping people fit and healthy is very rewarding.
“We get lot of people that come to the gym and want to be a boxer because they've seen me do it but then realise it's a lot harder than they think.”
Undefeated WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez is in Jackson’s sights.
The 27-year-old Mexican will defend his title against Britain's Scott Quigg in the US on March 10.
Quigg is ranked ninth by the WBO – one below Jackson – but as a former world champ is seen as a bigger drawcard.
“After that Valdez might need someone with less of a name and I might get a shot,” Jackson said.
“Valdez is an animal. He can be beaten but you need the best preparation possible and go deep into pain in training, but that's why you do it – that's how Jeff Horn beat Manny Pacquiao.”