The Nightmare Goes for Gold
The art on Tim Jackson's body tells a story.
There is his mother's name, Princess, across his shoulder. That was his first. Under that is a grim reaper with boxing gloves, an homage to a friend who died way too soon. Above his right hand, the same hand that he repeatedly lands to the dome of his opponents is a skull, and an antique clock intertwined.
“That's probably my favorite one,” Jackson said. “I always look at it as wasted time is deadly. If you're just sitting around, not doing anything, you don't have any goals, you're not pushing yourself to get better each day, you're just wasting your life, and sooner or later, it's gone.”
At 26-years-old, Jackson, nicknamed 'The Nightmare,' is still just an infant in mixed martial arts. He has only four amateur fights and a kickboxing bout on his resume, but on Friday night he will be fighting Kory Beck for the Shamrock FC bantamweight title at SFC 302 at the River City Casino. A victory would give him the opportunity to sign a pro contract with the top organization in the city if he chooses.
Jackson grew up in North County St. Louis and went to high school at Riverview Gardens where he wrestled all four years. The trials and tribulations of that area are easy to find, just simply switch on the local news. Jackson has lived in the same house, give or take a year or two here and there, for over two decades.
“As a kid, I was just trying my best to stay out of trouble,” he said. “I live in a neighborhood where there was a lot of violence. You were either a tough guy, or you did sports. And a lot of people didn't make it out. They got suckered into the streets and stuff like that. People I grew up with now look up to me, and they give me a lot of props. It's a tough time, and it's hard to stay focused, you know. Everything that is not good is fun for you. But once you set your mind and keep going to practice, the reward is great. Sports took me away from the streets.”
And fighting has kept him off those same streets.
After high school, Jackson would wrestle in the St. Louis summer leagues, went to grappling camps and wrestled in open tournaments. He moved to Orlando where he briefly helped coach wrestling at the high school level before returning to the area.
By that time, Jared Daniels-Block's Modern Combat Systems was up and running, and Daniels-Block was dotting local MMA shows with fighters from his gym. That is when two MCS stalwarts, Steven Barbee and Fred Freeman, called the 23-year-old Jackson up to help them, and the rest of the team, with some wrestling. Ten months later, at 24, Jackson took his first fight in Joplin, MO. He earned a quick TKO thanks to his patented double leg.
“I was nervous as hell,” he said. “I thought I knew how to fight, but Jared had to show me all of the small things.”
Accidents of varying degrees kept him from accumulating a high number of amateur fights.
First, the bumps and scrapes came while doing the type of stunts on his sleek 2016 Yamaha R6 motorcycle that would cause you to shield your eyes.
“I used to be doing all that crazy shit, but I had to give it up,” he said. “I had a couple of friends who were doing tricks, and that's where I learned balance points, wheelies, ramps, burnouts. I was scared to death at first. But once you get on it, it's like a rush. It's like fighting. Once you get in the ring, you just go.”
Another more severe accident sidelined Jackson early last year. During an ice storm, the Mustang he was driving sled out of control and crashed. Right behind, another car hit the same slick spot in the road, ramped off the guardrail, and came down on Jackson.
“It pinned me on the top of my car and the bottom of their car,” Jackson said. “It gave me a big burn mark on my back. If you ever see me fight and you see that big patch, the pipes from under the other car burned me. It's crazy. People don't even believe me. It's like a movie.”
Instead of being discouraged or bewildered by the motorcycle and car accidents, it (pardon the pun) sparked his internal flame for fighting. It reminded him that he is here for a purpose.
“Obviously God doesn't want me to die so I might as well do my best,” Jackson said with a laugh. “Best believe, I got banged up. But I always recovered.”
It's a late Sunday afternoon at St. Charles MMA.
Sunday Fun Day, as it's become known.
There is a glaze of sweat atop the spongy wrestling mats as fighters of varying sizes and talents are working from an array of positions.
In the dead-center of the room, Jackson and Cortavious Romious, a genetically gifted powerhouse of an amateur, are going full-tilt boogie trying to get a takedown. When Jackson plants Romious on his back, coach Jeff Henry barks out, “that is how championships are won.”
When the timer chirps, Jackson moves over to Josh Sampo. Sampo is a quasi-legend in the St. Louis MMA circles. Sampo built quite the reputation as being one of the top flyweights in the country, won a CFA title, and had four fights in the UFC. He's back in the room sharpening his skills for a return fight. Jackson engages, and Sampo ragdolls him to the mat and soon seals up a submission. Back on the feet, Sampo, slams Jackson against the padded wall and Jackson goes in for a takedown. For a wrestling savant like Sampo, the shot was easy-peasy. He latched on to Jackson's neck, and moments later, Jackson tapped again. There are levels to this and Jackson is learning them.
Modern Combat Systems joined up with SCMMA in 2017. Since the team's arrival, SCMMA's head coach Mike Rogers - who was UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley's first coach along with a bevy of other St. Louis fighters who have reached UFC and Bellator status - has gushed about Jackson and his quicksilver takedowns.
“Mike Rogers has been a blessing to me,” Jackson said. “He's kind of like a dad in a way. He's pushed me in every aspect. Making sure I get to the gym. Just a great guy. When I first came in, we had a couple of conversations and ever since then he's been like a big brother, a father, just a good role model to look up to.”
Jackson gives thanks where it is due. Many times over during this conversation he credits Daniels-Block and Rogers for molding this sinewy ball of explosive athleticism into a title contender.
“When I first started, my wrestling was great,” he said. “But Jared and MCS helped me get my hands. Then switching over to St. Charles MMA, my BJJ, and everything just started coming together. So right now – with both teams together - we're just starting to perfect everything.”
Twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Then, a whole week off.
That is Jackson's current work schedule as a mechanic on the barges at Osage Marine Services located on the St. Louis riverfront.
“It's hard work, but it gives me a pretty good workout during the day,” he said. “You walk a good eight-nine miles up and down the barges, and you are picking up wires that way about 50 pounds and carry them on your shoulders. You have a ratchet, and you're always cranking on something. It's like lifting or doing one-arm push-ups.”
The grind is exhausting, no question. Especially after 12 hours of labor and then trying to bust ass up 270 North just to make it to practice on time where guys like Romious and Sampo are waiting to toss you on your head for another hour or two.
But he knows its worth it. And he knows his little brother is watching close, inspired by big brother not only holding down a good job but also chasing his goals for athletic glory.
“This sport gives me a different outlook on life,” Jackson said. “It gives me a way out. Who wouldn't want to be rich and be a top fighter and be the champion of the world? I'm not doing it just for me but for my family and friends and coaches. Once you put in the work and do this day-in and day-out, it pays off. But mostly I do it for my little brother and my nephew. They give me that extra push, that extra energy.”
Jackson last fought on December 1st, in his first-ever Shamrock fight, at SFC 300. In just under 90 seconds, he disposed of Vincent Hutchens, who had twice as many fights as Jackson did at the time. Against Hutchens, he did what he does best. A patented double-leg, a pretty suplex, and another double leg and then once back to the feet, a straight right hand sent Hutchens crumbling.
That win led to Friday's opportunity.
“I'm definitely appreciative,” Jackson said. “I wasn't expecting it.”
Like the tattoo on his arm, Jackson knows that time is critical. And though bubbling with potential, he doesn't want to peer too far into his professional future.
“I don't see me rushing anything,” he said. “We'll take it one step at a time. I can't overlook Kory Beck or anybody for that matter. There isn't even a tomorrow after March 9.”