Have news relating to Jewish boxers? Email the editor here!

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Adventures in B.C. Boxing: An Interview with Lev Jackson

"I'm really confident in my punching power right now, which is something that I think is overlooked out of my abilities," Lev Jackson told me in an extensive interview that began in a backroom of Beyond Boxing, a gym located on Hastings Street in Burnaby, a neighboring suburb of Vancouver, and continued at Quesada Burritos & Tacos amid a smattering of curious customers and employees.

Lev is just the latest Jewish fighter from Vancouver, a legacy that dates back to the first Semitic settler. Leapin' Louis Gold, born in Warsaw, set up a grocery store in Gastown, now a neighborhood inside of Vancouver, in 1872. Drunk ruffians would mock Gold's short stature and his religion, so he retaliated with his signature punch, a leaping uppercut to the chin.

A hundred and fifty years later, Jackson's best punch isn't an uppercut, but a right hook. We started the interview a few minutes before the 31 year old lightweight, as part of his cooldown, went two rounds on the pads with Jimmy Lin, an assistant coach working with Jackson's new head trainer Louis Sargeant. It was only Jackson and Lin's second session together on the pads, so they were still finding their rhythm, but the frightening pop of Jackson's right hook hitting Lin's mitt provided support for Jackson's confidence.

The Beginning
The southpaw was just a kid when he fell in love with boxing. The boxing website Fight News needed a Vancouver correspondent and the precocious Jackson applied. "I wanted to get free tickets and access to boxing." Fortunately, Manny Sobral, an excellent former pro, started West Coast Promotions at the same time.

Sobral staged his shows at River Rock Casino in Richmond, a suburb just south of Vancouver. He gave Jackson access and took care of the young Richmond native. Everything went well for about a year until Fight News asked Lev to cover the Vernon Forest-Carlos Baldomir fight held on July 27, 2007 at the Queen Emerald Casino across the border in Takoma, Washington and televised on HBO.

Despite his best efforts, Lev couldn't finagle his way in. He asked Fight News, "What can you guys do about it if I'm under 21?" They responded, "Well, how old are you?"

That's when the gig was up. "I watched it on tv and I thought it was pretty funny because Baldomir's kids were stuck watching in the production truck. I was like, 'If the fighter's kids can't get in, I had no chance!'"

Lev soon began boxing under the guidance of George Angelomatis, a real life mensch. "He raised a generation and ran a troubled youth program for close to forty years," Jackson explained. Angelomatis was a provincial court judge that coached boxing and served on local commissions in his spare time. Jackson would be his final Canadian amateur champion, a list that includes two Olympians, bronze medalist Dale Walters and the aforementioned Sobral.

Jackson hates to admit that, like every other boxer, he caused trouble as a kid. "All of us are a bit weird, all of us were kind of shitheads, basically. I never heard of a boxer's origin story, 'I was an alter boy.' That doesn't happen." Boxing helped Lev's parents know where he was and that he wasn't causing any more trouble.

Before his passing in 2013, Angelomatis told Jackson, "The biggest knock I can give on you is that you like to fight. You have the skills to box, but for whatever reason, you choose to fight." After one bout, he told Lev, "You got the win. You coulda made it easy, but you like to make it fun."

At the age of 15, Jackson was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the digestive tract. "In life and in training, it's an obstacle. I would be lying if I said it wasn't," he acknowledged. "But the way some guys think, like I'm soft to the belly. I'm definitely not. I make sure I have a much stronger core and lower body strength. If you're gonna target my body, go right ahead, you're gonna leave yourself open for something to eat."

His amateur career was interrupted when doctors advised him to stop boxing because of the effects of the disease. He deeply missed the sport during the three and half years he was away.

During this period apart from boxing, he spent some time as a professional wrestler. "It's not fake. It's predetermined," he said of the contact sport. "It allowed me to cathartically do something physical. And also, it's a little different; there are no weight classes. Everyone's well over 200 pounds!"

When Jackson got the green light to return to boxing, he had no trouble reacclimating to the sport. "It was more exciting than anything to go back to it," he said. "I always loved it. I never really thought it was going to be the end." He said he had "itchy knuckles" to get back in the ring. Once back, his aim was to turn pro as quickly as possible. "I didn't ever want to look back in twenty years and say I could've, I should've pursued something. I remember thinking, I have to go pro. Even if I suck. Even if I lose three fights and that's that, I can say I gave it a go."

He linked up with friend and former pro Junior Moar during a period which Lev describes as "a year of rebuilding." He had four amateur fights with Coach Moar and won all four of them. "I wanted to go pro right away," Lev said, "but he was like, 'No, let's get your feet wet again.'"

Jackson had 38 amateur fights in all. "I remember I did the full count a couple years ago and it was 38. And then I accidentally realized it was 39, but 38's a better sounding number." So we'll go with 38.

Turning Pro
Jackson won his first pro fight on May 11, 2019 and didn't fight for another two and half years. "It sucked," he declared. "I remember thinking before I went pro, 'I'm gonna bang out the first few fights and get them out of the way. I want to build a record.' I didn't want to be like so many pros, for whatever reason, sitting on 1-0." Then, the combination of the pandemic and "some life stuff" froze his career. He never stopped training, but wouldn't fight again until November 6, 2021.

"I took it on short notice," Jackson recalls of his second fight. "It's one that I'd still like to-" His voice trails off wistfully. The fight against a debutant named Ely Avelar Martinez was called a draw. "You're never going to believe me, but I thought I won! In the most polite way possible, I'd like to get that one back. But that opponent is well beneath me now."Jackson had been scheduled to fight the rematch last December, but the commission wouldn't let Martinez fight in a six-rounder because his record stands at 0-1-1. "When the commission said he can't do six rounds, I think it was their way of telling me to let it go."

In his next fight, Jackson knocked out Herman Cheuk in the second round with an unexpected punch.  "I threw two straight lefts and then I just threw a post hook, one of the ones that's supposed to say, 'Stay there,' so I can get back and get to the other left, and that was the one that did it. Boom! and then the eyes rolled to the back of the head, I'm like [showing surprise] ok, ok."

Three months later, Jackson hoped to "skip the line" when he faced experienced journeyman Mario Victorino Vera, who had an even record against tough competition. Vera held a win over future title contender Christian Medina. "Every time J.Y. [Kim, his head coach at the time] and I would watch that fight," Lev said, "he can't understand how we lost a decision. It was a close fight, but we did well."

Jackson noted, "That dude was tough. It was inexperience [on my part], like when I would land shots and wobble him in that fight, I didn't have the wherewithal to follow up. If I would've had a little bit more experience and was a little sharper, it would've been very clear. Instead, it was a close fight." Jackson says he was hit with about 40 rabbit punches during the bout. Four stitches to the back of his head served as proof.

Though the Vera fight resulted in loss on his record, it gave Lev confidence. "It was a great experience. I knew I could hang at the level against an opponent who has a win against a world ranked guy. There  wasn't really anything between us." Jackson does admit, "It sucked because losses suck." But he would love to fight Vera again.

Jackson next fought an old rival named Elroy Fruto. "I smacked him around in the amateurs. That was when I came back and had the quick four amateur fights. He's a tough kid." Lev explained, "All respect to Elroy, but I went back to the corner after the first round and said, 'This is gonna be way easier than I thought it would be. And all a sudden a headbutt happens. I couldn't see. I've had worse cuts than that, but my vision was blurry and the doctor stopped it.'" It was ruled a no contest.

"I originally came up as a bit of a banger and more of a pressure fighter," Jackson said. "More recently, I adopted a bit more boxing and moving, which paid dividends when I had to fight a guy that was two weight classes bigger than me." Last July, Jackson fought awkward rangy welterweight Luis Prieto. "He did come down to 138, so I appreciate that," said Jackson. "When you hit a guy that size, their weight's going to keep them up."

Jackson recalled, "There was one moment in that where I came out thinking, 'I don't care about the size difference. I'm still going to win this by knockout. This is my hometown. The place I grew up in, Richmond, B.C.' I landed a great shot. Pretty sure it was the first round." Jackson snapped Prieto's head back. Prieto shook it off like it was nothing and walked forward. "Alright, I guess I'm moving this fight," Jackson muttered to himself.

Lev won by majority decision to the shock of the broadcasters covering the contest. I watched the fight on YouTube before meeting Lev and found the commentators' view of it incongruous with what I saw. I rewound the video over a dozen times when I thought I saw Lev land a big shot only to hear the broadcasters compliment Prieto. Even before I could tell Lev what I saw, he brought it up.

"We lost about one round is what we were seeing in the corner." Jackson was frustrated by the unwarranted criticism, but took it as a lesson on how to deal with the reality of being a pro athlete.

Lev has suffered difficult setbacks during his career, particularly dubious decisions. He's a butcher by day and in both of his jobs, he cuts easily. He's currently working on ways to reduce his propensity to cut, swell, and bruise, which are side effects of the anti-inflammatory medication he takes to combat Crohn's disease. "At the end of every fight I will look a little marked up even if I barely get touched," he explained.

Lev is practical about those seemingly unfair decisions. "One school of thought with judging is who would you rather be at the end of the round. And sometimes it's hard when somebody's bleeding. I cut easily. If somebody has a cut and the other guy doesn't, you probably want to be the guy without the cut."

The Future
Jackson has an important fight coming up. It hasn't yet been announced, but he'll be taking a big risk. The fight was signed days before Canada passed new restrictions on Mexican citizens traveling up north, which should change the landscape of Canadian boxing.

Back when Lev worked for Fight News as a kid, he said, "I got to see the more conniving and nasty side of the boxing business from a young age." Specifically, he learned that boxing often has an A-side and a B-side. In Canada, the B-side is often a "fly-in Mexican" or some other foreign national brought in to, hopefully, lose to the hometown fighter.

On February 29, Canada instituted new regulations requiring Mexicans to obtain a visa, which can take weeks to secure. It makes lower-level opponents from Mexico far less attractive options to Canadian promoters. 

"The good news for Canadians if you're looking for fights is expect a phone call." Jackson was offered three different fights in two weeks following the new visa requirement, but he has his heart set on his next fight, which will be on the road.

Though he sees improvement in its infrastructure, Jackson explained that British Columbia is something of an island when it comes to boxing. "A win in B.C. doesn't do much in the rest of Canada. Nobody watches what we're doing out here."

And he knows he'll be the villain in his next fight. When he traveled to a casino just outside of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan for the Vera fight, he learned, "Just being from Vancouver makes you the bad guy. I remember thinking, 'I'm going to be the good guy, I'm from Canada.' As soon as they said, 'From Vancouver, British Columbia,' everyone was like, 'Booo!'"

For Jackson, the future is rooted in the past. He is now working with Louis Sargeant, a former fighter and immigrant from Guyana. He still has a good relationship with past coaches Junior Moar and J.Y. Kim. Sargeant, in fact, fought Moar twice on Manny Sobral shows in Richmond. He's known Lev since Jackson was a just starting out.

With Sargeant's guidance, Lev Jackson is excited to carry on Vancouver Jews' fighting tradition and face the big fish, just as his forerunner, Leapin' Louis Gold, did a hundred and fifty years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment