Jarrell Brackett, Pittsburgh’s first openly gay fighter, makes pro debut on May 25 | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Jarrell Brackett, Pittsburgh’s first openly gay fighter, makes pro debut on May 25

“I’d love to see the seats full of drag queens!”

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That, unfortunately is when things started going south. He was ordered to move off campus last September after a student worker at one of the university’s dining halls said Brackett pushed her and hit her as he attempted to get into the establishment as it was closing. A university hearing was held, which Brackett calls a farce. 

I had six witnesses who were there who said it wasn’t me, but they weren’t allowed to testify because they were my friends. If allowed, one of them would have explained that the incident did happen but that I wasn’t the one involved. They wanted me out and they got me out,” Brackett says. 

He wonders if part of the reason was a report that he drafted as student government president that detailed the stories of several women who said they were sexually assaulted. He says the university failed to act on those reports. 

Either way, he was hundreds of miles from Pittsburgh and homeless. He was allowed to attend classes but could not remain on campus. It was a dark time.

“They wanted some reason to say that I was a bad kid and they got it,” Brackett says. “I tried to expose corruption and I paid for it. I wasn’t allowed on campus to train. For a month I lived in my car or I snuck into the basement of my frat and, yes, some nights I would proposition men online and slept at their homes.”

He moved into an apartment in November and tried to stick it out, but he was tired of Michigan and decided to come home to Pittsburgh earlier this year to kickstart his professional career.

It’s a Thursday night in April and cold wind stings this reporter’s face as he stands in a dark alley of a well-known Pittsburgh neighborhood waiting for a sign. The sign is the soft glow of light from a previously closed door. I’m waved in, climb a couple flights of steps and find myself in the legendary Conn-Greb Boxing Club. The location is a secret unless you know somebody who knows somebody, but on this night, Brackett is sparring with well-known local fight veteran Rayco Saunders.

click to enlarge Jarrell Brackett - CP PHOTO BY JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo by Jared Wickerham
Jarrell Brackett

Local fight trainer and promoter Mike McSorley is watching from a distance, keeping time and making sure things stay civilized. Saunders, who appeared in the Jake Gyllenhal boxing movie Southpaw, is there to give Brackett live rounds. And although no one is trying to hurt anyone, it’s still solidly aggressive. Off in the corner is Brackett’s laptop recording just as he has recorded all of his sessions and fights. He puts them up on YouTube for all to see, even his opponents.

Brackett’s not a speedy fighter or a mauler, per se, but he has enough of both of those skills to be dangerous in the ring. “He’s not a one-punch knockout guy,” McSorley says. “He’s an extremely awkward fighter and I mean that in a good way. He switches stances in the middle of a fight, he comes at you from different angles. He stops guys by throwing a large volume of punches, some call them pesky punches.

“He has the ability to absolutely frustrate his opponents. I can’t name you a fighter today who has this style. He’s unique.” 

When McSorley was scheduling his May 25 pro boxing card at the North Side’s Priory Grand Hall, he wanted to make Brackett’s debut part of the show. He’ll face another fighter making his pro debut, Brock Willis out of Clarksburg, W.Va. 

Brackett will be just the second openly gay boxer in the country along with championship contender Orlando Cruz. McSorley says he wasn’t sure what to expect from opponents or fight fans, but so far the sport has been welcoming. “The world is changing for the good,” McSorley says. “It might have been a different story a decade ago, but people’s opinions are evolving."

For his part, Willis says he was unsure why the promoters mentioned it to him in the first place. He wonders if it was to try and trick him into taking his opponent lightly. If that was the plan, they had the wrong Mountaineer.

“He’s an experienced fighter,” Willis says. “It did throw me a bit when they said he was openly gay. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to bait me or just making sure I was alright with it. But to me it’s not at all a relevant fact.

“Although, I definitely know that there’s a stigma on folks from West Virginia that we’re all narrow-minded redneck hillbillies who’d be bothered by this sort of thing. But that’s not me. I think Jarrell and I will put on a good show.”

At the end of the day, that’s what Brackett wants. He’s already proven himself to be a fighter and now he wants to show the world what kind of boxer he is. He loves the sport and will do anything to make sure he can afford to compete.

When asked Brackett what he would do to make this dream happen, he spoke with raw, unashamed honesty, although he did laugh a little because he couldn’t believe he was ready to reveal something he’d kept secret, a second career as a legal sex worker.

“I work as an adult entertainer,” Brackett says. “At a place like Club Pittsburgh [a local private men’s club], actually, they hire me as both security and a performer! Can you believe it!”

Brackett laughs as he talks about his side work doing cam shows, live shows and hardcore adult scenes. In particular, he performs in a variety of videos for agonophilia fetishists — for those who get turned on by combat sports, more specifically combat sports that lead to sex. 

“I’m not ashamed by this work. I love my life,” Brackett says. “In order to pursue my boxing dreams, I need money to live on. At the end of the day, this will all be part of my story and my legacy. My goal is to enjoy every moment of this life.”

And to just be happy.

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