25.02.09 - By Paul McCreath: If I described former top heavyweight contender Tommy "Hurricane" Jackson as different that would be an understatement. Tommy has been called strange, childlike, mentally unbalanced or slow and probably many more unkind things. One thing is certain. Neither his mental state nor his fighting style could be called average. Tommy could be difficult to hold a conversation with although he has been said to hold long debates with himself..
His fighting style was unmatched by anyone then or since. He possessed little punching power and was certainly no stylist. To say he was very unorthodox would be putting it mildly. What he did have was boundless energy, good speed ,unlimited stamina and a good chin.
It was once said after he stopped top contender Dan Bucceroni in 6 rounds that he didn't outbox or outslug Dan he just surrounded him. That was about it. He was all action, sometimes throwing punches with both hands at the same time. The fans loved him! He appeared often at the old Eastern Parkway Arena and headlined several times at Madison Square Garden and made regular appearances on national TV.
Tommy was born in Georgia in August of 1931 but moved to New York early on and made his pro debut there in 1952. He stood around 6 foot 3 and 1/2 inches tall and usually weighed about 190 to 195 pounds. That was a big man in those days.He had little education and it was hard to teach him anything but success came anyway. After rolling up a record of 12-1-1 in his first few months in the paid ranks Tommy really caught everyone's attention in January of 1954. He stopped top 10 contender Rex Layne in 6 rounds then followed that up with two more wins by the end of March over Clarence Henry and Bucceroni, both of whom were in the top 10. His streak came to an end in April when he was outpointed by the slick spoiler Jimmy Slade. Slade was a rated 175 pounder who often fought and beat top heavyweights. During the early 50s there was hardly a top fighter in either division he didn't meet.
The Slade loss was a disappointment but no great surprise given Slade's reputation as a spoiler.
What really cost Jackson was a 2nd round KO loss to the Cuban contender Nino Valdez in July. Jackson was not hurt that bad by the dangerous slugger Valdez but the fight was terminated by the 3 knockdown rule. Big Nino was one fighter that the champion Rocky Marciano wanted no part of and this result certainly showed why. Keep in mind all these fights were taking place against top fighters in the first few months of the same year 1954. Tommy would fight anybody anytime. He also found the time to stop the veteran Charlie Norkus in May of the same year.
It seemed as though perhaps Tommy had reached his peak but he was just getting started. The next year he reversed the loss to Slade and added wins over former champ Ezzard Charles twice and Rex Layne again before losing a split 10 round decision to his old nemesis Slade in late October. These were all top 10 fighters that year.
In 1956 he outpointed top heavy Bob Baker over 10 rounds in February to earn a title elimination fight with Floyd Patterson in June. Patterson won a close split decision in New York's Madison Square Garden. Jackson jumped right back into contention by defeating Baker again this time over 12 rounds in September. He finished the year as the number one contender in The Ring's annual ratings. Patterson had by this time won the title vacated by Rocky Marciano by stopping Archie Moore in 5 rounds in Chicago.
In July of 1957 Jackson got his return match with Patterson in July at the old Polo Grounds in New York with the title on the line. It was not even close this time as Floyd stopped Tommy in the 10th round. The many tough fights over the years were beginning to take their toll.
In October Jackson had his last important fight when he was soundly trounced by top rated Eddie Machen. Tommy's corner threw in the towel in the 10th.Although he would go on and fight for 3 more years there were no more good wins. His last contest was in October of 1960 when he was stopped in 8 rounds by Hans Kalbfell in Dortmund Germany. By this time he was being described as punch drunk by many although others who had known Tommy for a long time said that no, Tommy was always that way. At any rate he was clearly done as a fighter. He finished with a 34-9-1 record with 16 KOs.
The ending for Tommy was very sad.After spending years shining shoes or driving a cab in New York City he was badly injured when run down by another car while polishing his cab in late 1981. He never recovered and died in obscurity in hospital on February 14 of the next year. He was in his early 50s.
Tommy Jackson was a tragic case but anyone who saw him fight during his glory years will never forget him.