All it takes is one punch. In baseball, you can overturn a three run deficit, win the game or even the World Series, with a single thunderous swing of the bat. Who doesn’t love a homerun? And in boxing, you can be way behind on points, even getting your ass kicked, but then decide the contest with a single concussive blow to the chin.
Some say Julian Jackson is, arguably, the hardest puncher in boxing history. Not sure I’d go that far, but there’s no doubt he’s in the running. The crushing potency of his power shots resulted in some of the most memorable knockouts in the history of the sport. Jackson was always dangerous. You might have all the advantages and be battering him from corner to corner, but make one small mistake and he could put you to sleep with a single clout. It happened to world champions Buster Drayton and Terry Norris. And it happened to Herol Graham.
This was a huge match for both men, with the vacant WBC middleweight championship on the line. England’s Graham was looking to rebound and win his first world title after dropping decisions, in the biggest fights of his career, to Sumbu Kalambay and Mike McCallum. Meanwhile, Jackson was moving up from 154 pounds and surrendering his WBA super welterweight strap. The title that was up for grabs had previously belonged to Roberto Duran after he defeated Iran Barkley in an amazing war the previous February.
Ordinarily, Jackson vs Graham would have been staged in England with a mob of sympathetic U.K. fight fans turning out to cheer on their man in his attempt to finally seize that elusive world title and join his compatriot Chris Eubank, who currently held the WBO version of the 160 pound championship. But the bout was instead held in Andalucia, Spain where the regulations were not quite so strict and Jackson’s eye troubles would not prevent the contest from going ahead. The American had undergone surgery the year before to repair detached retinas in both eyes and medical concerns regarding those injuries remained. And in fact Jackson’s eye trouble would play a pivotal role in the battle with Graham.
If Jackson was the man with the paralyzing power, Graham had the style and skills to be his foil. A slick, quick southpaw, he was clever and elusive and for three rounds, he had things his way. Taller and rangier, Graham began aggressively, a surprise to many, including Jackson it seemed as he found himself on the receiving end of sharp right jabs and fearlessly thrown left leads. Graham was looking to take charge and he did, beating Julian to the punch over and over again.
Jackson tried to assert himself at the start of round two but all he got for his trouble was a wicked left lead from Graham that hurt him and then the right hand behind it which appeared to injure Jackson’s left eye. Things were quickly going from bad to disastrous for the American. He was complaining to the referee about being thumbed (unlikely as the fighters were using special gloves with immovable thumbs) while being strafed with power shots on the ropes. Hurt and frantic, he was missing and taking punishment and being completely outclassed. At one point he missed so badly with a right hand he went stumbling from one side of the ring to the other. Blinking and wincing, Jackson just couldn’t seem to get his bearings, while a confident Graham just couldn’t seem to miss.
In round three Jackson stalked his man but Graham circled the ring adroitly while pumping home his right jab, making the American pay dearly for his awkward, lunging attacks with hard counter left hands. Indeed, making him miss and then making him pay was the name of the game for the Briton, while Jackson was reduced to desperate lunges and swings, his punches hitting nothing but air.
The start of round four was briefly delayed as the ringside physician and the referee visited Jackson’s corner to take a closer look at his increasingly swollen left eye and it was then that the doctor let it be known that a stoppage was imminent if the injury got any worse. And so there it was for Jackson: he had lost all three of the opening rounds, was taking more than his share of punishment, had yet to land a single telling blow or earn Graham’s respect, and now he was being informed that the ringside doctor was ready to stop the fight. Talk about bleak prospects.
Round four began and it was clear Graham was not looking to slow down or show mercy, while Jackson was clearly loading up his right hand, searching for a miracle. In retrospect, Graham might have chosen to cruise a bit and play it safe; after all, time was on his side. All he had to do was wait for the swellings around Jackson’s eyes to get worse and the match would have been called off. But instead he sought to seal the win, staying in punching range, backing Jackson up and throwing that sharp, snapping jab. And then, from nowhere, it happened.
Graham pursued, chasing Jackson to the ropes again and letting his left hand go and then Jackson came over the top with the right. Graham saw it at the last moment and made the mistake of trying to pull away from the blow, but by doing so he only succeeded in raising his chin, presenting it like a special gift, and putting it directly in the path of the oncoming freight train that was Jackson’s gloved right fist. The very instant that knuckles and chin collided Graham was unconscious and he collapsed lifelessly to the canvas, his body in free fall. For reasons unknown the referee insisted on delivering a ten count when it was obvious to one and all that the Briton was in a deep sleep.
From the brink of disaster to a chilling, unforgettable one punch knockout, indeed, one of the greatest and most awesome in boxing history, a result testifying to the extraordinary punching power of Julian Jackson. Mere moments before, defeat appeared certain; now Jackson was the new WBC middleweight champion of the world. Like they say, power is the great equalizer. And when you possess fists like steel hammers, all it takes is one punch. — Neil Crane