On February 28th, 2009, Chris John made his American debut against Rocky Juarez. To American audiences, John was the mysterious Indonesian featherweight who convincingly beat master boxer-punch Juan Manuel Marquez. In the first fight against Juarez, John easily won eight or nine rounds despite some tough moments at the end of the fight. It was Texas, and Juarez was the local fighter, so John only got the draw. In the second match, in September of 2009, he performed even better, winner perhaps 10 rounds. Somehow, one of the judges only had him winning by a single point.
John's an impressive boxer. He throws every punch in the book. While he may only have moderate power, his technique is so good that his punches still have the ability to deter his opponents. He uses the ring very well and is often comfortable fighting on the inside. He has a good jab and throws multi-punch combinations featuring lots of left hooks and short uppercuts.
After the Juarez fight, John found himself as the long-time featherweight champ in a white-hot division. Although his fights against Juarez were not scintillating, he certainly would be a great opponent for Yuriorkis Gamboa or Juan Manuel Lopez. John is connected with noted boxing advisor Samson Lewkowicz, who delivers foreign fighters to American premium networks better than anyone in the business. Lewkowicz has warm relations with Golden Boy, Top Rank and Lou DiBella. If John wanted to get back to America, it could happen easily.
In 2009, the WBA elevated Chris John to super champion. The "regular" champion in the division is Yuriorkis Gamboa. Top Rank, which promotes Gamboa, has made overtures to John's camp to set up the fight. To this point, Top Rank has been rebuffed.
For Gamboa and Top Rank it's a good fight. If John were to win, he would outbox Gamboa and most likely not damage or hurt him. If Gamboa lost, Top Rank could always chalk it up to the Cuban needing more work on tightening up his fundamentals. His career would not be significantly derailed.
But the risk for John is enormous. John hasn't exactly defended his title against a Murderer's Row of big punchers. Marquez and Juarez, John's most notable opponents, both possessed above average power, but they usually stop people by an accumulation of punishment over many rounds, not from one shot or a devastating combination. John has never fought someone with the power of Gamboa. Having, been hurt by Juarez in the first fight, knocked down by faded featherweight Derrick Gainer and dropped on two other occasions, John faces real danger in a fight with Gamboa.
John has elected to stay in Indonesia for the time being. He fought only once in an injury-plagued 2010. He has an enormous local fight scheduled against fellow countryman Daud Yordan in April. John will be a significant favorite in that fight. What's next for John will be up to him.
John has many reasons to stay in Indonesia. For one, John is big business in his home country. He sells a lot of tickets and does very good television ratings without facing the best fighters in the division. Throughout his featherweight reign, only Marquez was considered an elite fighter. Including the Yordan fight, of his 13 title defenses, 8 have been in Indonesia.
Furthermore, perhaps, the shaky scoring in his two fights against Juarez forced John to reconsider his enthusiasm for fighting in America. Prior to the Juarez fights, John wanted to make his mark in America. He thought the Juarez fights would introduce him to larger audiences. He may still want these things but to this point he has resisted a return to the American spotlight.
John has a great gig in Indonesia. He makes wonderful money fighting "B" opponents at home. If a good fighter wants to travel to Indonesia to fight him, his team would be willing to entertain that offer. Travelling to America to fight again is not seen as a high priority.
Again, this theme in boxing of not wanting to fight the best is disconcerting. Sure, John could retire after a few more defenses and live a wonderful life in his remaining years, but his time as a world-class fighter is now. There are big fights to be made a featherweight. For John to take these fights, he faces significant risks with tough style matchups against exceptional talents like Gamboa or Lopez. Additionally, he may encounter structural risks in terms of getting a fair decision in the U.S. These are all valid points for consideration but ultimately, to be a transcendent boxing figure, these risks must be taken.
John is 31. He may have another two years or so left at the elite level. Is he content to reel in the small and medium size fish or does he want to go for the glory and chase the sharks and the whales? What does John want his legacy to be? If he wants boxing immortality, he will have to leave the comfortable waters of Jakarta.