By Jake Donovan
The impact of Nelson Mandela's passing on Thursday was undoubtedly felt worldwide, though hitting particularly close to home in South Africa. One fighter in particular channeled that emotion into his in-ring performance, resulting in one of the year's biggest upsets.
Boxing's longest active title reign came to an end Friday evening, when Chris John was forced to remain on his stool after six rounds of punishment from IBO champion Simpiwe Vetyeka in Perth, Australia.
Vetyeka is as likeable as they come, but perhaps won't be well-received in Indonesia for the near future. His entire 2013 campaign has comprised of scoring stoppage wins over the nation's two biggest boxing stars, dominating John in his featherweight title winning effort some eight months after scoring a shocking 12th round stoppage of Daud Cino Yordan.
While Yordan recovered to the point of scoring his second straight win on Friday's undercard, John was never able to get going. Worse, he proved to have learned very little from his countryman's shortcomings earlier this year, as he had no answers for Vetyeka's aggression or determination.
The fight took a few rounds to truly provide entertainment value, but in between ugly exchanges was plenty of punishment dished out. John had his say in the argument early on, but never to the point of keeping his opponent at bay.
Vetyeka, meanwhile, gained momentum with each passing round. The effects of his attack were first felt in round four, when John found himself on the defensive and unable to match his opponent's punch output.
Things went from bad to worse in round five, a frame that saw John beaten to a pulp and sent to the canvas. While the referee decided that no knockdown was scored, Vetyeka continued to proceed as if he were one punch away from paydirt.
The fact that John survived the round is a testament to his ability to remain at or near the top of the featherweight division over the course of the past ten years. The Indonesian boxer found a way to keep his title on 18 previous occasions, but was running on fumes heading into a sixth round that would prove to be the worst of his lengthy career.
Vetyeka wisely went on the attack, relentless in dishing out a beating to John. His aggression resulted in the soon-to-be ex-champ being sent to the canvas twice more, the latter trip ruled as the bout's lone official knockdown.
John made it to his feet and out of the round, but it was his final moments of a 10 year stay as featherweight champ. The 34-year old wanted to continue, but was overruled by Craig Christian, his trainer and manager who put the fighter's health and safety first as he informed the referee and ringside physician that they were done for the night.
The official time was 3:00 of round six.
For the second time in as many fights, Vetyeka picks up by far the biggest win of his otherwise hard luck career. Less than three weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, the South African boxer comes up huge in his second bid at a major title as he improves - in every sense of the word - to 26-2 (16KO).
The championship status comes in his third bid at an alphabet title. Vetyeka's first opportunity came in May '07, when he dropped a competitive decision to defending bantamweight titlist Hozumi Hasegawa, at the time regarded as the best bantamweight in the world.
John loses for the first time in a career more than 15 years and running, as he falls to 48-1-3 (22KO). Despite remaining unbeaten prior to Friday, it's been anything but good times lately. The last official win recorded by John came more than a year ago, when he scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo last November in Singapore.
A homecoming this past April ended in disappointment, as his last successful defense was a three-round technical draw versus Satoshi Hosono. The bout topped the same card that saw Vetyeka rise to contention with his upset stoppage win over Yordan.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall all along, though Vetyeka will gladly accept the timing of his career-defining win.
"Nelson Mandela meant a lot to me,"Vetyeka humbly stated of the historic South African revolutionary, who passed away Thursday at age 95. "I won this belt for him, in his honor."
YORDAN TURNS BACK STIFF CHALLENGE FROM TALIWE
The telecast was delayed by nearly one hour, but the co-feature made it well worth the wait. Daud Cino Yordan and Sipho Taliwe traded bombs - and low blows - for 12 rounds, with Yordan prevailing by split decision in a sensational action fight.
Scores were 114-113, 116-111 and 117-110. The ring announcer did not disclose which scores applied to the fighters, other than to announce the verdict as a split decision.
Yordan needed no greater reminder of how far he has fallen than in witnessing the players in the main event. An April '11 points loss to countryman John is as forgivable as it was expected. However, the Indonesian featherweight was dealt a major setback when he was stopped in 12 rounds by Vetyeka earlier this year.
The loss doesn't look as bad in retrospect given what took place in the main event. Regardless, it still prompted a move up in weight, as Yordan is now competing in the lightweight division. His second fight since moving up two divisions was no walk in the park, as Taliwe was game for the cause.
The final verdict was fair, but Taliwe was in the fight for all 12 rounds. Yordan's face showed the signs of a banged up fighter, though it was below the belt where both fighters absorbed the most punishment. Vicious low blows caused several delays in the fight, including a left hook that put Taliwe on all fours in round eleven and still left him grimacing in pain longer after the bout's conclusion.
Nevertheless, it goes in the books as the second straight win for Yordan, who improves 32-3 (23KO). Both wins among his current streak have taken place in Australia.
Taliwe falls to 21-4-1 (14KO), having now lost two of his past three. Both losses occurred in Australia, offering game efforts in each bout. His previous setback Down Under came in May, when a give-and-take war with Matt Garlett (who fights on tonight's undercard) ended in a competitive but clear points loss.
Both bouts aired live on RCTI in Indonesia and streamed live on the network's website .
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox