Growing up in the gang-infested town of East Paulo Alto California, Eugene Jackson used his fists to settle any conflicts he had. He soon realized that his punching prowess could be used to earn him some cash in addition to the street cred he had behind his name in EPA, so in the 90s he began fighting in MMA where he would fight 25 times, under the UFC, Strikeforce, IVC and IFC banners against guys like Wanderlei Silva, Joe Doerksen, Jeremy Horn and Ricardo Almeida.
Having retired with a 15-9-1 record after losing to Joe Riggs in Strikeforce back in 2007, Jackson decided he wanted to give local kids a leg up that he never had so he opened up a a non-profit gym for at risk youth with his own money in 2009. The facility, which was little more than a warehouse with some mats, heavy bags and a crudely thrown together collection of weights became a hugely popular community center where teens who might normally be enticed into gang-banging would hang out every day to hone their fighting skills.
Eventually city authorities demanded improvements to the building that he could not afford and he was forced to close the gym, but that didn’t deter him.
Although the reason for opening the club wasn’t to make money, the city seemed bent on making sure he paid for all of the permits and safety precautions of a regular gym or health club, which simply was not in the budget. Unable to maintain the fees associated with running his own facility, Jackson now takes his seven fighters (including two of his own sons), who all live with him in his modest home, to a handful of gyms in the area to train twice a day for up to six hours.
Cognizant of the fact that there aren’t many options besides running with gangs, “The Wolf” says that times have changed since he was a kid and that it’s rare that arguments are settled on the street without the use of guns.
“Back then you sock someone in the mouth, it’s over; you jump someone, it’s over,” he explained to Time Magazine recently. “Now everybody’s into killing each other, so that makes it a lot worse.”
Which is the main reason he decided to do something about it and give youth in the area a viable alternative to being thugs. He says that he’ll accept any new recruits regardless of their questionable pasts as long as they dedicate themselves to the team, which he has dubbed “Team Gladiator.”
“You smile at me, I’ll smile at you in return. You frown at me, I’ll frown at you in return. So whatever you wanna give, I’m gonna give you back,” he explains. “A few of these kids are gonna be knuckleheads, no matter how much you try and do for them,” he says. “There’s just so much negative history they bring into the equation.”