Is The World Too Big For Featherweight Chris John?

By Cliff Rold

With a population just shy of 240 million, being a superstar in Indonesia and Indonesia alone is pretty damn impressive.  That one could have their name spread into at least some part of the rest of the world is a level of fame, distinction, few can ever achieve.

31-year old WBA Featherweight titlist Chris John (44-0-2, 22 KO) has made 13 title defenses since entering the title scene, initially as an interim titlist, in 2003.  Those defenses have come in four different countries, Australia, Japan and the U.S. giving John an impressive platform along with his homeland.

So why does it feel like the Featherweight division is passing him by without John’s say?

Maybe it’s the whole not being in Indonesia thing.  After all, this weekend’s most watched fight won’t be on HBO or Showtime.  In a fight fairly heralded in the build as the biggest ever staged in Indonesia, John will defend against 23-year old countryman Daud Yordan (27-1, 21 KO).  It won’t be aired in the States.

There’s still no denying its place as ‘the biggest fight in the world’ for a day.

Then comes the next day.

The winner of the bout, assuming it’s John, will be however many rounds older in ring years, still with the same belt he’s had for years, still no closer to where he could be at this stage.  In some corners, even managing to do nothing but win, he’s losing esteem.

It’s not hard to understand why. 

After all these years, John has yet to engage in a significant unification fight.  Since a highly debatable win over Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006, he’s not come close to fighting a consensus pick as next best in class again. 

Over the last year, in part due to inactivity and surely also to absence from the eye, the divisional ratings at ESPN and Ring Magazine have seen John slip from the number one slot at Featherweight to number three behind WBO titlist Juan Manuel Lopez and WBA/IBF unified titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa.

That’s right. 

After 13 defenses, John doesn’t even have the WBA belt to himself.  The sanctioning fee collector has taken to the comical habit of having not one, not two, but even three titlists per division in recent years.  Featherweight is one of those places right now. 

John?  He’s the “Super” champion, Gamboa listed as the ‘unified’ champ (though, as a unified titlist, he also qualifies for their “Super” distinction), and Jonathan Barros, who Gamboa beat in a walk in 2010, now has a belt as well. 

It’s really too stupid to spend much time railing on...but just stupid enough to merit the railing whenever possible anyways. 

Moving on.

And just what moves will be made with John?

Efforts, or at least expressed efforts, to make a fight between John and Gamboa fell short earlier this year.  It’s more profitable to do John business in Indonesia and Gamboa, for the massive threat he represents in the ring, hasn’t shown to be profitable anywhere just yet.  Outside Indonesia, the buzz is all about a showdown between Lopez and Gamboa.

The plan is for a rematch with Lopez and future Hall of Famer Rafael Marquez in the interim.

John, for the moment, just doesn’t seem to fit in.  It begs the question of whether John is already everything he’s going to be. 

With so many belts floating around, there’s no denying that putting together a lengthy title reign full of gaudy statistics is easier than it was in most earlier generations.  In the 2000’s, Joe Calzaghe and Sven Ottke managed to tie for the most consecutive defenses ever (21) at Super Middleweight.

Neither fought each other during their reigns.

At Flyweight, Omar Narvaez almost caught Pongsaklek Wonjongkam for his record 17.  Wonjongkam had already lost his WBC belt by the time Narvaez opted to vacate his WBO belt and move up a division.  Wonjongkam has regained his belt.

No, if anyone’s asking, there was never a Wonjongkam-Narvaez fight.

Of those four, only Calzaghe is a lock for first ballot entry to the Hall of Fame.  Wonjongkam will probably get there eventually.  The history of Asian fighters around the Flyweight limit with big title defense numbers indicates a long wait.  Ottke has been on the ballot for a couple years already and there is no apparent groundswell to see him enter.

If voting was being conducted by the judges who gave Ottke so many questionable decisions through his career, Ottke’s chances might improve.  

Very few, outside hardcore fight followers and his fellow Argentines, even know who Narvaez is.

Calzaghe, a WBO beltholder start to finish, would likely have shared the boat of the other three men described.  A late surge in his career saw him add the IBF, WBA, and WBC belts to his ledger, making him only the second fighter after Bernard Hopkins to have held all four of the most recognized belts in his division since the birth of the WBO.  As a footnote, Hopkins held all four Middleweight belts simultaneously.  Calzaghe vacated the IBF Super Middleweight belt before adding the other two.

Neither Hopkins nor Calzaghe would have seen their esteem rise without the unification contests of their mid-30s.

Remember when Bernard Hopkins was still in his 30’s?  Time flies.

There is great value in the perception of a clean out.  If a fighter is to be a marker for championship consistency, it helps to at some point have proven to be THE champion.  John, for all his success, has yet to do so.  It’s likely the oddsmakers, in 2011, would pick Lopez or Gamboa to keep him from doing so if he tried.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t. 

Chris John has, by any rational standard, had a hell of a career.  This weekend, the rapt attention of his nation will provide the glare of Superfight.  But, for however long he remains near the top of the Featherweight ladder, the question remains:

Will John make a move to have the ladder to himself before it’s too late?   

Weekly Ledger

But wait, there’s more…

“0’s” Go on Shobox:
We Love El Terrible:    
Divisional Ratings Update:
Picks of the Week:     

Cliff’s Notes… If Vitali Klitschko steps in as a late replacement for his brother against David Haye, the conspiracy theories will put the Glenn Beck chalkboard to shame...Speaking of Narvaez, he’s in a hell of a fight this Friday.  Undefeated Cesar Seda could give the 35-year old a run…It’s not too late for Roy Jones to pull out of the Denis Lebedev fight…It’s not too early to beg some more for the long overdue Erik Morales-Juan Manuel Marquez fight...And, hey, if Rafael Marquez can manage an upset in a Lopez rematch, wouldn’t seeing him chase family revenge against John make a good show?  Neither guy would have to settle for 30 grand.  That’s for certain.

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by crold1 on 04-14-2011

[QUOTE=Greg House;10376875]He shouldn't go to the US to fight. You are saying it there, the most watched fight this weekend it's going to be there in Indonesia. He is clearly making more money there that he could possibly be making…

Comment by Greg House on 04-14-2011

He shouldn't go to the US to fight. You are saying it there, the most watched fight this weekend it's going to be there in Indonesia. He is clearly making more money there that he could possibly be making in…

Comment by crold1 on 04-14-2011

[QUOTE=edgarg;10372940]I regret disagreeing with you as I look forward to your articles with which i generally agree and like even when I dont agree. As with this one. It has much cerebral content, but in one thing I do NOT…

Comment by Boxing Scene on 04-14-2011

[QUOTE=mushahadeen;10372738]ask JMM why you dont fight Chris John in Indonesia.[/QUOTE] Why because you lose? Have you seen the fight?

Comment by giacomino on 04-14-2011

Maybe John is like Sturm at this point in his career. He's reached the point where he doesn't give a crap what people think and just figures he'll make good money against opponents who won't cause him much heartburn. The…

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