Luke Jackson was leading the fight but he was struggling. Between rounds his trainer Billy Hussein implored him to dig deeper, to find the extra gear that seemed to be missing tonight. If he could just find that little bit more, he would be able to put John Mark Apolinario away and they could all go home.
Jackson nodded absentmindedly. He heard Billy speak, but not what he was saying. His mind was a million miles away. He was counting his breaths and wondering why he couldn’t seem to get any wind in his sails.
The bell rang and the former London Olympian returned to the fray, labouring his way to a 10-round points decision victory. It wasn’t his finest hour, but he got the win. Sometimes, when you’re fighting obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as the opponent in front of you, that’s the best you can hope for.
“That was the worst experience of my career,” admitted ‘Action’ Jackson, 16-0 (7), in an exclusive interview with The Grueling Truth five days out from the biggest fight of his life against Carl Frampton 25-1 (14) in Belfast.
“I remember laying on my bed before the fight just not being able to breath. Then in the dressing room beforehand. I was on flight mode.
“I don’t remember a thing of the fight and to be honest I have no idea how I got through it.”
OCD is a widely misunderstood condition not helped by the common practice of non-clinical self-diagnosis. It is a disorder that can manifest itself in different ways at different times but almost always demands perfection of its sufferers and that they remain in total control of all situations.
You could be forgiven for thinking that OCD would be the natural enemy of a professional athlete, particularly those competing in combat sports where anything can happen and often does.
According to Jackson, the condition does have its benefits.
“As bad as it is, it has also helped me achieve everything I have,” said the 33-year-old Tasmanian. “I wouldn’t have my own house, business or car it if wasn’t for my OCD and I definitely wouldn’t have made it this far as a boxer.
“It’s helped me, but at a price.”
The genesis of his OCD can be traced back to his childhood. The product of a broken home, Jackson grew up in poverty with an alcoholic, drug-addled mother and too many siblings to count. There were times he was dropped off at welfare agencies or friends’ houses to seek refuge. Life was tough for the Jackson clan in the tough Hobart outer suburb of Clarendon Vale.
Some of his earliest memories are of his mother switching his bedroom light on and off repeatedly while he lay in bed trying to sleep. She would perform the same routine with the stove in the kitchen and the locks on the doors of the house.
It’s not something he dwells on but Jackson admits his early years influenced the person he became in his teens when illicit substances had a hold on his life.
“I believe that my upbringing played a big role in my issues,” Jackson said. “OCD and drugs have hurt me a lot.”
Jackson views his fight against two-weight world champion Frampton at Belfast’s Windsor Park on Saturday night as just another of life’s challenges he has to overcome. Forget the fact that he has 10 fewer fights than his rival and has never fought anyone approaching Frampton’s experience and class, Jackson believes that he is catching the interim WBO featherweight champion at exactly the right time and is confident that he can spring the upset in front of an expected crowd of 25,000 parochial Northern Irishmen.
“I just think that he has achieved his goals and boxed his best and now is on the slide,” said Jackson.
“I’ve been an underdog my whole life and I’m still proving people wrong. I really believe this is my destiny to win this fight.”
Reports emerged earlier this week of Frampton planning his post-Jackson career with fights against local rival and IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington, injured WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez and even a rubber match with old nemesis Leo Santa Cruz.
Jackson, meanwhile, refuses to look past this Saturday night.
“A victory over Frampton will change my life,” said Jackson. “Money and fame will come. I can help my family and set up my future family.”
Luke Jackson is a survivor. And even if the worst happens at Windsor Park this Saturday night, it’s nothing compared to the life that boxing helped him escape.