‘I’m 838 days sober, baby’: How boxing makes and breaks young men

By Andrew Webster

Veteran boxer Luke Jackson at Woolloomooloo PCYCCredit: Louise Kennerley

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If there’s one scene from the entire Rocky franchise that best captures why young men and women clamour into a boxing ring, it’s the final moments of the first movie from 1976.

(Spoiler alert: if you’re one of the four remaining people on the planet who hasn’t seen Rocky, look away now).

The ultimate underdog, Rocky pushes mouthy heavyweight champion Apollo Creed all the way to the end of the final round, both their heads beaten to bloody pulp.

Veteran boxer Luke Jackson at Woolloomooloo PCYC ahead of his last fight of his career.Credit: Louise Kennerley

Rocky deserves the victory but isn’t concerned about the result as much as finding Adrian, the newfound love of his life who gives him purpose and meaning, somewhere in the crowd. As the split decision against him is announced over the loudspeakers, he doesn’t even notice.

For many fighters, the result is irrelevant. Getting in the ring, with your hands up and arse pointing to the ground having finally discovered what’s truly important in life holds greater significance.

On Wednesday night, Luke Jackson will climb into the ring for a rematch against Tyson Lantry at the Hordern Pavilion on the undercard of the Nikita Tszyu-Jack Brubaker main event.

After 113 senior amateur fights, and 22 as a professional, this lightweight bout will be his last.

While Jackson is seeking revenge for their last fight, which he controversially lost via decision, just standing there means he’s already won.

Boxer Luke Jackson.Credit: Louise Kennerley

“I’m 838 days sober, baby,” the 38-year-old said. “Before I fought Lantry, boxing was all I had – along with cocaine and benders. But now? I don’t need boxing. Boxing made me, then it broke me, but now I want to move on.”

Coming from a troubled home in Hobart, boxing rescued him as it has many kids. But, like many addicts, he was replacing one addiction with another.

“When I was a kid, I did weed and acid trips, but then I found boxing and I became obsessed with that,” he said. “I just obsessed myself with making the Olympics.”

Jackson missed selection for Beijing in 2008 but captained the Australian team in London in 2012 before turning professional the following year.

It was the start of a dangerous cycle: eat, sleep, fight, repeat – then do mountains of cocaine.

“I did cocaine for the first time when I returned from London and that was the end of it – I loved it,” he said. “I loved the way it made me feel. I’d go on massive benders. I’d fight, then have everything ready for when I got home, then I’d go for four or five days and feel like a piece of shit.

“It would continue until I had another fight locked in. Then I’d pull myself together and train for 12 weeks with no cocaine, alcohol and bad food. Then I’d fight and repeat the cycle. I kept pushing the boundaries, but I had to stop, mate. Either that or kill myself.”

‘Boxing was all I had – along with cocaine and benders.’

Jackson received some of the answers he was seeking for his addiction in 2015 when he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can lead to severe anxiety and depression.

“I’m sober now, I’ve turned my life around for the better,” he said. “I’m working, I’ve found a great woman, bought a house. Just the little things that turn out the big things.”

The final little thing he wants to tick off is another shot at Lantry, who he fought in December 2020.

“I don’t need boxing – but I want this fight,” he says. “I don’t want to keep repeating myself, but I thought I’d won the fight last time. I felt I was the busier fighter and, to be fair, I don’t even know that was possible because I was f—ed, mate. That was 20 per cent of me. That’s the worst I’ve felt going into a fight.

Luke Jackson when he was named in the Australian Olympic team for the 2012 games.Credit: Mark Nolan

“I don’t know how he didn’t knock me out. I’d taken a lot of head-hits along with huge benders on no sleep, burning the candle at both ends. I was a shadow of myself in that fight, bro, and I still thought I’d win. But I didn’t win and I’ve been chasing a rematch ever since. It’s taken two-and-a-half years to get it.”

Jackson has been training under Adam Thompson out of the Woolloomooloo PCYC, which has saved many a wayward kid with nowhere else to go.

“I’ve done everything right for this camp,” Jackson said. “I’ve put boxing and myself first. I’ve been selfish. I just want to see this guy’s face when he realises it’s a different boxer.”

Jackson is also a different man. That’s why is ready to walk away.

“If I don’t win the fight, I’ll have no regrets and I can move on with my life. Even if I don’t win, I’ve beaten my addiction.”

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131114, OR Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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