One of the great joys of boxing is watching new stars appear seemingly from nowhere, thrust into the limelight not by salivating promoters or over-eager media but instead simply through the strength of their performances and the acclamation of their fans. This award is to celebrate those who rose from (relative) obscurity in 2012 to become notable names in boxing as 2013 comes to a close.
Chris John was a constant.
He may not have been the most well-known name in boxing, certainly outside his native Indonesia or the surrounding countries, and it may only have been dedicated boxing fans in the UK or US who watched his bouts… and even then, rarely live… but the fact is that for going on a decade if you looked at who the top guys at 126lbs were, you’d see Chris John holding some version of the WBA title. He first became champion in the era of Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao scrapping out their rivalry, he defended it through the never-quite-happened rivalry of Yuriorkis Gamboa, Juan Manuel Lopez and Celestino Caballero and he held it right up to last Friday when it was sensationally ripped away from him by Simpiwe Vetyeka.
For most western fans, Chris John’s only real moment of notoriety comes for the minor role he played in the Pacuqio/Marquez feud. In the wake of their draw in 2004 Marquez turned down a rematch from Pacquiao over the purse he was offered ($750,000 when he wanted $1,500,000) and a match with Morales (offered $1,500,000, wanted $3,500,000) and instead, following being stripped of his sanctioning body titles following some boxing politics, he took a small purse (just over $30,000) to travel to Indonesia to face John, the idea being that by beating this little known and lightly regarded title holder, even for little money, he’d win a title belt and thus get more money for bouts with Pacquiao or Marquez. In some ways it was sound logic. After all, Chris John may have been a title holder, but he had only really faced one recognisable name (Derrick Gainer) and otherwise had been facing pretty limited competition and had no real amateur background, having instead having done the Chinese martia art Wushu. Marquez, fresh from his come from behind draw with Pacquiao and regarded as one of the best boxers at the lower weights, would surely be able to handily beat him?
But that’s not what happened.
It’s worth watching the bout because boxing lore (helped by Marquez and his team) put it down as a robbery, with Chris John aided by biased judges and a biased referee. I just don’t see it. Instead I see John force Marquez to box on the front foot (something the Mexican great has never been particularly comfortable doing), picking off many of Marquez’s shots, landing a clean jab and some good body work while Marquez became so frustrated that by the later rounds he landed multiple deliberate low blows. I had it close and John’s win does have a lot to do with the point deductions but it was not a robbery… merely a close bout that went one way, not the other. I also note that the only member of the western press in attendance, Scott Mallon of Ring Magazine and The Sweet Science, scored the bout 116-110 in favor of John.