Digging out from under the trenches of a difficult childhood makes a great story-line that has been the plot of a few blockbuster movies and bestselling novels. But Ladarious Jackson’s story isn’t fictional. And when he tells it, even he is amazed with how far he’s come.
Standing tall at 69 inches and weighing in at 155 pounds, Jackson, 24, doesn’t seem so intimidating to the untrained eye. He was also gifted with chiseled facial features and a pearly white grin that add to his instant likability. But make no mistake. In the world of mixed martial arts, Jackson is feared by his opponents.
As he prepares for his sixth professional fight on Friday at the RFC 36 conference, Jackson has a message for his opponent, Matt Ferraiolo. “He’s going down in the first round,” he said.
There is nothing arrogant in Jackson’s prediction, just a confidence that he molded in the three years he has trained under Felix Ramos of Ramos Universal Martial Arts (Team RUMA), located at 12410 County Line Rd. 34667 in Hudson.
“I was never interested in MMA,” he said with a chuckle. He was a wrestler in high school and very skilled at the sport. “I thought MMA was a little barbaric.” But he tried it at the suggestion of a friend and mentor and discovered he was a really good fighter.
“He’s got natural born talent,” Ramos said, underscoring his student’s real chance at climbing to the top in his career. He trains hard, avoids any behavior that might deter his focus and is working toward a goal of retiring in just four years.
Jackson mimics his coach’s confidence, reciting inspirational quotes he now lives by. But he wasn’t always so sure of himself. At just 15, Jackson was homeless after being abandoned by an abusive mother. “I had nowhere to go,” he said.
But his wrestling coach at Gulf High stepped in and gave Jackson refuge. His team huddled around him, and he graduated with three championship titles.
Jackson then found Ramos, another successor of a troubled past. Ramos had been bullied as a child and created Ramos Universal Martial Arts to help give kids the confidence they need to stand up to bullies. He also took Jackson under his wing, recognizing the kid’s unbelievable talent. “He has a very strong wrestling background,” he said. But he also has the grit to pull himself out of challenges because he now believes in himself. “He could have followed a very different path,” Ramos added, referring to Jackson’s very steep adversities.
The young fighter acknowledges a rough upbringing even before his mother walked out of his life. One of seven children, Jackson said he wasn’t really nurtured. Dysfunction, he learned early, consumed his family. “There was blood on my family’s hands,” he said.
Once described as a “throwaway kid”, Jackson admitted he was hurt by those who predicted less for him than he knew in his heart he could achieve. His grandmother always pushed him to do his best and her prompting left impressions that helped cultivate his persistence to rise above his challenges.
With the support of his wrestling family and mentors like Ramos, Jackson has managed to turn his life around, fighting his way to pro and inspiring a community of support. He recently obtained sponsorship from Halo Auto Sports, his largest endorsement so far. Others who stepped in include Dulcet Restaurant & Lounge, Steve Farrel Roofing, Waste Services Inc., Haircut Place, Macho Fighter, Mikey’s Tree Service, Gymmentors, On Point Auto Detail, BB Megees, and Craig on Cars.
Ramos Universal Martial Arts (Team RUMA) opened on County Line Road in Hudson in 2009. The studio offers classes in Karate, KickBoxing, Boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jujitsu, Capoeira and Catch Wrestling.
Ramos currently coaches Jackson as a pro fighter who he says has become like his own son. “I should claim him as a dependent,” he joked. “But that’s how I try to be with all my students. They are like my own children.”
His dojo has helped shape many young lives by helping them restore their self-confidence and take control.
For Jackson, Ramos is more than his coach. He is a mentor and a true friend. “I couldn’t have come this far without him.”
Tickets for RFC 36 are available through this weekend at $35 each and can be purchased either through Ramos Universal Martial Arts or through the website; www.rfcmma.com. The fight is part of a showcase held at the Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore Friday.
Sponsorships for Ladarious Jackson are also available by contacting Ramos Universal Martial Arts at (352) 835-2085.