Boxing: Jackson hopes to be a force all over town: Moment of surrender adds an extra edge to a heavyweight's campaign. Ken Jones reports from Atlantic City

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The Independent Online
ON 26 June 1992, while in full possession of his senses, physically unimpaired and to the acute embarrassment of his corner men, Phil Jackson surrendered in the ring.

After four rounds against Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock, accurately concluding that he was over-matched and under-trained, Jackson violated a code fighters are expected to abide by without hesitation. He stayed down when he could have got up. The alternative didn't make any sense to him. 'It was my first important contest and I wasn't ready for it,' said the heavyweight from Miami, Florida, who is challenging Lennox Lewis here on Friday for the World Boxing Council championship. 'I didn't feel right. I froze. Ruddock didn't hurt me at all. When he caught me with that hook I went down on one knee. There was no need to prove anything. I felt, 'Why get up?' My heart wasn't in it.'

If indicating wisdom on Jackson's part, unfortunately this also suggests an attitude approximate to that of a British heavyweight who, famously in the trade, feigned deep slumber after being tapped on the jaw in the opening round. 'He didn't hurt you,' an irate official shouted. 'Agreed,' came the reply, 'but he was going to.'

It is speculative but plausible to suppose that if a fighter gives up once he will do so again, but the incentive for Jackson to prove that one blemish need not mark a man for life is all around him in the Overtown district of Miami where people he knows get jailed if they are lucky and worse if they are not.

Taking a classic route out of the ghetto, Jackson is trying to escape Overtown, its despair and pervading hopelessness. It is where he grew up, one of six brothers and two sisters, and home for his six children (he also acts as father to the three his current girlfriend, Orvia, has from a previous relationship) and their two mothers.

A bullet put Jackson's eldest brother in a wheelchair, paralysing him from the waist down. 'Terry got it in the jaw. He was 17, and this guy was jealous of Terry, this lady liked him, so the guy came drunk to the lady's house and accidentally shot Terry. He got no jail time.'

At just 12, Jackson was in a school for troubled children. At 15 he was one of three teenagers charged with ripping the money-belt off a spectator at a football game, and spent three months in a youth centre. Step by step, Jackson was becoming a fully fledged criminal, later getting 13 months in a detention centre for robbing a woman of her pocket-book. 'That time I cried like a little baby. I saw dudes a lot younger than me doing 60-70 years. I couldn't even do one year. I got out for good behaviour. I got a welding trade.'

Persuaded by an aunt, Rosalie Stephens, who had given him a home, Jackson also got into boxing, taking it up at Overtown's Gibson Park Gym. There he came under the influence of Sgt Patrick Burns, a Vietnam veteran, one of the most decorated officers in the Miami Police Department and a coach to the US amateur boxing team.

A request for financial assistance with a sports programme brought Burns importantly into alliance with a local businessman, Pat Gerrits, who is Jackson's co-manager and founder of the Gerrits Leprechaun Gym where he trains.

As an amateur Jackson won 50 of 55 contests, the Florida Golden Gloves and National PAL Championships. The defeat by Ruddock is the only blemish on a 31-fight professional record. 'The Ruddock fight is history,' Burns said this week. 'Two things can happen when you lose. You either quit or come back a better and stronger person. Philip came back to the gym and worked his butt off. He knew he was capable of better. He has pushed himself to the limit. He's a committed and vastly improved fighter. Since Ruddock, he's won all five of his outings, including four knockouts.'

As a boxer of conventional tutelage, Jackson doubtless has heard many times the theory that they all go if you hit them right, and it is his natural power that encourages Burns to think of another upset in the heavyweight division.

Meanwhile, Jackson's ambition continues to be shaped by matters environmental. 'I want out of Overtown (the pounds 388,000 he is being paid for this contest will help) because it is a dangerous place,' he said. 'I don't like it one little bit. My kids are exposed to so much violence. Now there are always gunfights or somebody getting smashed and grabbed or getting robbed. That's why I want to get out. I want my kids to have a better life. Quite a few people I know got killed. The guy, Greg Hodge, I hit with a fishing pole when he tried to take my money, we made friends, but two months later he got killed breaking into somebody's house. If you want to see something happen, come to Overtown, wait to see something happen, it's going to happen.'

(Photograph omitted)