Boxing Takes Center Stage

Courtney ‘CJ’ Jackson
By Maya Bell

Courtney ‘CJ’ Jackson

Boxing Takes Center Stage

By Maya Bell
Premed student Courtney "CJ" Jackson, who took up boxing as a hobby just a few years ago, is now in the professional ranks and making an impact.

As he trains for his first professional hometown match, Courtney “CJ” Jackson is quick to say he’s not a typical boxer. A military veteran and premed biology major at the University of Miami, he won his first collegiate championship a year after he took up boxing as a hobby at UM. And his second championship the following year, which was only last year.

But as his trainer says, Jackson, now 27, was a natural from the moment he climbed into the ring. “He was strong and fast, and very athletic, and had great instincts. And he learned and picked it up quickly,’’ said UM boxing coach Mickey Demos Jr., also a titled boxer who, at age 8, followed his father, a UM boxing legend, into the ring. “It’s a rarity to start so late, but CJ could fight for a world title in two years. He’s got that much talent.”

Jackson knows he’s good, too. Why else would superstar Guillermo Rigondeaux—the Cuban Olympic gold medalist —tap the quiet and studious 145-pounder as his sparring partner? But Jackson would rather his 3-0 record, with two knockouts since turning pro a few months ago, speak louder than his words.

“I have extremely high standards for myself,” the former U.S. Navy medic said last week, in between his grueling thrice-a-day sparring sessions and a six-mile run. “So I work hard at being good, but I wouldn’t talk about me like that.”

He’d rather show you, and he’ll have his chance on Saturday, August 15. That’s when he faces Puerto Rican southpaw Moises Carasquillo at the WBC Fight Night at Mana Wynwood stadium in Miami, where despite three world title bouts on the card, Jackson is the big draw.

After all, Jackson, the son of Jamaican immigrants, grew up in Kendall, played football for Felix Varela Senior High School, and wears UM orange and green in the ring. So Demos is confident the upcoming bout will place the soft-spoken, clean-cut, clean-living Jackson on the Miami map, drawing sponsors and launching his boxing career.

“It’s a massive bout because this is where he will build a hometown following,” Demos said. “You can build a whole career around a hometown following, just like Ali did. He won his first world title here.”

That would, of course, be Muhammad Ali, who was still known as Cassius Clay when he trained on Miami Beach and stunned the world in 1964 by dethroning Sonny Liston as the reigning world heavyweight champion at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Like Demos, who back in his boxing days, claimed seven straight state championships and four junior Olympic gold medals, Ali started boxing as a boy. Most professional boxers do. As Demos notes, it’s almost unheard of for professional boxers to start as late and become as good as Jackson is.

But then, it’s almost unheard of, Demos said, for boxers to have and to make so many good choices in life. “I’ve trained a couple of boxers with CJ’s talent level, but never anyone like CJ, and who he is outside the ring. He doesn’t smoke; he doesn’t do drugs, and he rarely drinks. He works ridiculously hard—never missed a workout since I met him—and he does good in school. Even being in school is odd in boxing.’’

He’s also unflappable. Nothing, Demos says, rattles Jackson, or makes him nervous. Not going toe-to-toe with five-time national champion Hurricane Sonny Valentin, who had 200 amateur fights under his belt to Jackson’s eight when the pair met at the Florida Golden semi-finals last year. And not the panic that reigned when a trainer collapsed ringside recently and quit breathing while Jackson was sparring at a Liberty City gym.

“It was incredible to watch,’’ Demos recalled. “CJ climbed out of the ring, took off his gloves, calmed the crowd, cleared the guy’s throat, performed CPR, got him breathing again, and was back in the ring before the ambulance arrived. For him, it was like another day at the office.’’

Jackson credits his military service for his discipline and ability to deal with high-pressure situations. He spent five years as a medic, including 10 months in Afghanistan, where level heads and rapid responses were essential to saving lives. Back then, the Marines called him “Doc,” turning his boyhood dream of being a doctor into a calling—but perhaps after he attempts to win a world boxing title.

“I am very competitive so, just to know I was the best at something, that’s priceless,” Jackson said. “But I know not to put all your eggs in one basket, not to draw yourself too thin. You may have A, B, and C on your plan, but life may give you D and E.”

If anyone can succeed at both boxing and medicine, Demos believes it’s CJ. If so, he will be following the fancy footwork of Demos’ late father, Mickey Demos Sr., whose boxing prowess brought national attention to the U in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

After twice making it to the NCAA boxing championships, the senior Demos joined the University’s inaugural medical school class, later serving as the U.S. Olympic boxing team physician in the 1980 Summer Olympics.