The sport of boxing has hundreds of tales that are under-reported and have managed to remain under the radar to a the wider fans of the sport. One such, bizarre, case is that of Sidney Jackson. A man we doubt few will be aware of, and a name that not many would imagine reading about on a website dedicated to Asian boxing. Despite that Jackson is a key figure in central Asian boxing, and a man who's effects on the sport took almost a century to pay off.
Jackson was youngster from an American family in New York. His family were poor when he was born in 1886 and like many young American men in poverty he turned to boxing, which he started when he was 12. He would debut as a professional as teenager though was forced to retire young due to a thumb injury. According to Boxrec a "Sidney Jackson" around that same time period went 1-2, though it's unclear if it's the same Sidney Jackson or not.
Around the fall of the first world war Jackson was part of a boxing tour in Europe and ended up travelling to Russia in the summer of 1914. Of course it wasn't long until the war made travelling in Europe a problem. Jackson was advised by the US consulate in Russia that the best way out of Europe and back to the US was via Tashkent, in what is now Uzbekistan, then head to Arabian sea and travel by boat. Sadly by the time Jackson arrived in Tashkent he was penniless.
Whilst in Tashkent Jackson used the skills he had to work as a tailor, before volunteering as part of a fighting brigade to fight anti-communist rebels during the Russian revolution. He impressed during his days as a military man and returned back to Tashkent at the end of the Russian civil war, where he became a sports instructor.
This is where the story then turns to what Jackson did for Asian boxing.
In the early 1920 Jackson began to work at the Fortune Sports Club, where he introduced pugilism. He crafted a ring with rope from old ships, created gloves from leather he could get from the local slaughter house, made training materials and began to introduce boxing not just to Tashkent, but the entire of the USSR. Boxing was one of a number of sports he coached in the region, but it was the one that really brought success to.
As essentially the head of the Uzbek boxing team Jackson lead the revolution of the sport in the USSR and brought through a host of top boxers that helped to dominate European Championships. They were mix of Russian fighters, and Central Asian fighters from right across the USSR, with his star student being the excellent Valeri Popenchenko, who had won European amateur titles in 1963 and 1965, and the Olympics in 1964, where he also won the Val Baker trophy.
Sadly Jackson would pass away just 2 years after his star man won the Olmypics, but by then his legacy was set and he was already a sporting hero in Uzbekistan. So much saw that when he passed away in 1966 thousands lined the streets in his honour. The following year the Sidney Jackson Boxing tournament began in Tashkent, an annual amateur boxing competition which has played host to many of top amateurs over the years.
Among those who have shined at the tournament held in Jackson's honour, in just the last few years, are the likes of Vasiliy Levitt, Hasanboy Dusamatov, Rustam Tulaganov and Ivan Dychko. Given it's been going on for over 50 years now the amount of talent who have fought there is just incredible.
Although the tournament recognises his impact on the sport, the reality is that Sidney Jackson, more than anyone, put boxing in Central Asia. All the central Asian fighters making their mark on the sport owe some part of their success to Jackson, the foundations he layed down in Tashkent, and through out the old Soviet empire, and the people he taught boxing to.
To call Sidney Jackson the grandfather of boxing in Uzbekistan is accurate, but still undersells his impact on the sport. He didn't just develop the sport, he essentially created there. And whilst it may have been more than 50 years since he died his impact is still felt there, and always will be for any Uzbek stepping between the ropes.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).