By Cliff Rold
Not surprisingly, the end of longtime WBA Featherweight beltholder Chris John’s reign marked the end of his career. As reported here at BoxingScene on Thursday, John has announced his retirement following a retirement after six rounds to South Africa’s Simpiwe Veteyka on December 6th.
In closing his farewell statement, John stated, “Now that I have achieved more than I have ever dreamt of in my career I would like to formally announce my retirement. I would like to give back to the sport of boxing which has been so good to me and given me and my family a better life. And continue to represent Indonesia as best as I can. Most importantly now I will spend time with my wife and children, the most important title I have held in my life is being a father.”
It was a noble sentiment after a long run. A professional since 1998, John was a staple near the top of the 126 lb. class since winning the WBA’s interim belt in 2003. He garnered recognition as their sole titlist when “Super” champion Juan Manuel Marquez was stripped in 2005, ultimately making 18 title defenses over the full body of his belted run.
18 left him one successful consecutive defense short of tying, and two of surpassing, Eusebio Pedroza’s divison record.
By any measure, it was a good career. It was not, in terms of the history of the Featherweight division, a great one. Could it have been?
The only thing we know for sure: it’s too late to find out now.
Ten years in the title picture was surely long enough to find out. Upper echelon fighters have a select window of time to make their mark. John’s was longer than most. That he didn’t cement a firm place in history, that his career was seemingly never managed to try, is likely how he will most be recalled outside his native Indonesia.
That’s too bad.
That’s what he earned.
One wonders how he’ll reflect on that as time goes by. Once a fighter’s time has passed, there isn’t a chance to go back and do it over. As the year’s go by, and John sees his name excluded from remembrances of the better Featherweights, will it bother him? Will he think he’s being overlooked?
Will he understand what he could have done to avoid that?
At his best, John was a good fighter. He had sound defense, good speed and balance, and kept himself in shape. He was a skilled, intelligent boxer. While his 2006 win over Marquez was, and remains, fodder for debate amongst those who saw it, it was a competitive chess match. This scribe thought Marquez merited the victory clearly but there are other opinions and John showed he belonged in the ring.
Few others at Featherweight could say the same during Marquez’s years in the class. It was as close as John ever got to show what his prime ceiling could be. There were glimmers of more after that, but they were few.
It looked in 2008 and 2009 like John might finally make a play for a bigger stage. In the former, he traveled to Japan and handled solid contender Hiroyuki Enoki. In the latter, he came to the US for a pair of defenses against Rocky Juarez (a draw he looked like he won and a win where he almost coughed in up in the final round after winning almost every other round of the fight).
It was enough to indicate he might have been the best Featherweight in the world at some point in his reign. It was never more than that. In ten years, he never definitively proved to be the best Featherweight in the world. He never really tried. One could chalk that up to promoters, to money, to management…
…but at the finish line, the fighter stands alone.
In 18 defenses, there was never a single attempt to unify his crown.
Matched right, a good fighter can hang onto one of boxing’s many belts for a long time. Longevity alone is not a test of greatness. Lightweight Artur Grigorian made 17 consecutive defenses of the WBO Lightweight belt.
He never gave any serious reason to think that number mattered, ultimately ending up a footnote in the career of Acelino Freitas.
Featherweight wasn’t particularly deep after the superstars of the division like Marquez and Manny Pacquiao moved up the scale. Barring a deep class, the next best test is to, at least at some point, separate from the rest of the crowd.
Ricardo Lopez and Joe Calzaghe had high volume defense reigns at 105 and 168 lbs. At the end of those reigns, they went about the task of beating other beltholders in the class and gave their numbers an extra shine. Without that, particularly in the case of Calzaghe, first ballot inductions to the Hall of Fame might not have been.
Super Middleweight Sven Ottke, even with a single unification win amidst over 20 title defenses, is more recalled for fortunate home field officiating and is often a source of mockery for being on the Hall of Fame ballot at all.
John never went for more hardware. He held serve after the Juarez bouts and, as his talent could be seen to erode in recent years, eked out a few extra wins before the inevitable.
Chris John dared to be consistent. Numbers alone are not enough.
He didn’t dare to be great.
That’s how he’ll be remembered.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Boxing Bracketology: https://www.boxingscene.com/setting-up-big-picture-boxing-bracketology--72741
Maidana Brushes Off the Problem: https://www.boxingscene.com/maidana-brushes-off-problem-post-fight-report-card--72839
TBRB Weekly Update: http://www.tbrb.info/
The BoxingScene divisional ratings are overdue for an update and will have them before year’s end…Same for the pound-for-pound ratings with the big fall results all in…Was there funny business in the corner before the last round of Marcos Maidana-Adrien Broner? The tape is inconclusive but any investigation will be interesting…Assuming it’s not, if the WBA forces a Maidana-Keith Thurman fight, well, hell yeah…If Team Mayweather and Team Broner were going to beef, shouldn’t that have happened before Broner lost? This potential rivalry went from Hulk Hogan-Paul Orndorff to Hogan-Brutus Beefcake…A rematch betweeen Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola for the vacant WBC Heavyweight belt sounds like fun. Stiverne has waited his turn.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]