As a fan of course we have every right to criticise John, who was a champion for the better part of a decade, for his lack of big name fights but as a fan we should also understand who and what he actually beat. It's this, alongside the myth that he "only fought at home" which has seen John almost become public enemy #1 amongst some boxing fans. A harsh way to treat a man who did what so few do now a days, remained a 1-weight champion rather than picked a the path of least resistance to numerous weight titles.
As he's now retired I felt this was the idea time to look at Chris John's legendary career and a career that I honestly feel will see him enshrined in the Hall of Fame in a few years time, despite the view that many fans do have of John.
When you see people talking about Chris John one of the first things they mention was that he was a home-town fighter. A man who never fought outside of Indonesia and never traveled. To many he was a passport-less fighter who refused to travel. The truth however is startlingly different to the much purported myth.
John, who started his career back in 1998 fought, as we know, 52 professional contests. In those 52 bouts he fought in Indonesia, obviously, but also in Singapore, Australia, Japan and the USA.
Of the 52 professional contests John fought in 44 bouts in Indonesia. The rest were shared between the other 4 countries with 3 in Japan, 3 in Australia, 2 in Singapore and 2 in the USA. 8 of his 52 contests took place outside of his homeland, that's 15% of all of John's bouts.
If we break John's fights in to 2 types. All bouts (52) and world title bouts (20) then look at how many times he traveled to fight in world title bouts then we actually get 8 of 20 world title bouts were fought away from home. That's a staggering 40% of Chris John's world title bouts were fought outside of his homeland. Hardly a stay at home champion after all.
The 40% figure is one that very, very few active champions can match.
Unfortunately however people, for some reason, don't seem to understand that Indonesia isn't part of Singapore, Australia or Japan. For a fair comparison it'd be similar to calling America, Canada and Mexico the same or Britain, France and Germany. They are all different countries and John, unlike Floyd Mayweather Jr, Andre Ward and Bernard Hopkins* has defended his title on foreign soil.
Note-The image here is the poster for John's fight with Hiroyuki Enoki which was fought in Japan.
So now that myth has been exposed lets look at who Chris John has beaten.
John's first notable victory came in 2002 when he defeated Thai Ratanachai Sor Vorapin. Ratanachai was himself on the way up though had twice fought for world titles. Admittedly it wasn't until 18 months after he lost to John that he finally claimed a world title, but Ratanachai was hardly a nothing opponent and was a clear world level fighter when John fought him,
In 2003 John claimed the WBA "interim" title by beating Colombian Oscar Leon. Despite the fact Leon had lost in his only previous world title fight, a close split decision to American Derrick Gainer he was still regarded as a solid opponent. John, who also only took a split decision over Leon, did a better job on him than Gainer, who was then ranked by Ring Magazine.
Having claimed the interim title with a victory over Leon it's worth noting that John was quickly upgraded to "regular" champion. In the first defense, in 2004, of his regular title John traveled to Japan and took on Osamu Sato. Sato, whilst unknown in the West, was a former OPBF and WBA Super Bantamweight champion and a man ranked by Ring Magazine, albeit at Super Bantamweight.
Just 6 months after beating Sato by decision John was expected to fight Derrick Gainer. That fight however fell through and instead John found himself fighting against Jose Rojas, a former 2-time title challenger and a man who had stopped Celestino Caballero. Sure Rojas was nothing special but he was another fighter who was on the fringes of being world class and his stoppage over Caballero is the only time the Panamanian has ever been stopped. Unfortunately this bout ended in a technical draw after a clash of heads in round 4.
John finally got his fight with Gainer in 2005 and although John was dropped in the opening round he did manage to take a clear decision over the American. Gainer, at that point, had been inactive for over a year but that was in part due to the issues that had forced John to fight Rojas.
John's biggest win came 11 month after the Gainer fight as he took on, and defeated, Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez. Although for many who hadn't seen it the bout was controversial, though for those who had seen it the right guy won and John scored a career defining victory. Unfortunately the myth about controversy regarding this bout has hung, like a shadow, over John's head but it shouldn't have as he had fairly beaten a future HOF fighter.
John's next notable victory came a year later as he defeated Jose Rojas in a rematch of their 2004 clash. Rojas was down twice in turned out to be a clear victory for John who seemed to be showing just how good he was at that point. He appeared to have grown in confidence following the Marquez fight and was looking sensational at times.
One of John's most over-looked title defenses came in 2008 as he returned to Japan and took on the then unbeaten Hiroyuki Enoki. Enoki, a former Japanese and OPBF champion, was a hard hitting fighter who gave John one of his most memorable challenges as the two men traded leather and put on a certifiable war with John showing the fighting spirit that many thought he lacked. The bout, a real modern classic was a perfect showing of what John could do when he had to though unfortunately outside of the truly hardcore and the Asian fans this bout was a widely ignored war. Unfortunately Enoki was never the same fighter afterwards and lost 3 of his subsequent 4 bouts before retiring. Going in to the bout though Enoki was Ring magazine ranked and seen as a very good fighter by those who had seen him.
The victory over over Enoki was then followed by John fighting back-to-back fights in the US against American Rocky Juarez. Although the first ended in a draw John showed his championship heart and returned to set the record straight with a clear decision over Juarez, then ranked very highly by Ring Magazine. The bouts with Juarez's were John's only bouts in the US though should have shown enough to have blown open the myth that he was merely a stay at home fighter.
Having fought a trio of bouts on the round with the Enoki contests and the 2 with Juarez, John fought at home for the first time in 2 years as he took on Argentinian Fernando David Saucedo. Although Saucedo was never a world champion he had been on an excellent run and was 6 years removed from his previous loss, a decision to Brazilian legend Acelino Freitas. John dominated Saucedo from the opening round and took a very clear decision in a bout that could well have been viewed as a shut out.
John continued to face notable opponents as he took on fellow Indonesian Daud Cino Yordan in his next bout. Yordan was viewed by many as the man to take the Indonesian mantle from John and had given Robert Guerrero a real scare before a clash of heads saw Guerrero bail out of the bout. John did what was needed to take a hard fought decision over Yordan in what was the first ever all-Indonesian world title bout. The bout was a tough one and another that was great to watch, though unfortunately it again went on under-the-radar of Western fans, despite being streamed by RCTI.
In 2012 John came in for some abuse for fighting Japan's Shoji Kimura. Kimura, a 2-time Japanese champion, had lost to Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym in his only previous title fight though had put that loss behind him with a good win over Ryol Li Lee. It wasn't one of John's best defenses but it certainly wasn't a "bum of the month" defense as some may suggest, especially when you consider some of the men who had come before it including Yordan, Juarez and Enoki.
Just 6 months after the "easy" defense against Kimura we saw John take on a fellow unbeaten in the form of Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo. Sure Chonlatarn's unbeaten run wasn't full of recognisable names but at 44-0 he was a live opponent and a man who viewed as having a credible chance against John. The odds, again suggest John was the favourite, also had Chonlatarn as a well priced under-dog. Despite the odds and unbeaten record Chonlatarn was little threat to John and appeared to show his inexperienced with John taking over the bout completely in the middle and later rounds.
Earlier this year, 2013, John made his final successful defense courtesy of a 3rd round technical draw against Satoshi Hosono. For many this was "another" easy defense on paper though again it was the ignorance of some fans that made them believe it was easy without truly know about Hosono. For many all they about the Japanese fighter was that he had lost to Celestino Caballero and Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym. Sadly however few knew that "Bazooka" was a big punching and very tough Japanese fighter who had been both the Japanese and OPBF champion. Hosono could well have been a tough opponent for any world champion at 126 pounds in recent memory but unfortunately the fact fans didn't know about him saw him written off as a no hoper.
As we all know John lost last time out to Simpiwe Vetyeka, a man who, like many others, was dubbed a bum despite being a highly skilled and very talented fighter. The fact so few knew about Vetyeka seems to have perpetuated the myth that John wasn't very good, unfortunately this is how many Western fans are likely to remember John. Had they actually known about Vetyeka however they'd have known John was up against a very good fighter and a man who could pose problems to almost anyone currently fighting in the 126lb division. Hopefully Vetyeka manages to build on his win and forge a great career for himself that may see many realising that John wasn't beaten by a "bum".
In the US over the last few years we've seen the division heat up with fighters like Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Mikey Garcia, Evgeny Gradovich, Orlando Salido, Abner Mares, Jhonny Gonzalez and most recently Vasyl Lomachenko. The fact John never faced any of them will obviously work against him.
On the flipside though none of them faced John. John, like it or not, was the top guy in the division following his victory over Marquez. The fact he defended his title regularly and faced a string of credible challengers is something that should be applauded. When you look at the opponents of say, Gamboa, you see a man who has fought Jose Rojas, a man John beat 2 years earlier, Rogers Mtagwa, a journeyman, and Whyber Garcia, who was stopped by Roinet Caballero. Gamboa fought in just 6 title fights at 126 lbs and that's 3 of them.
If you'd rather we looked at Lopez you'll find that "Juanma" only made 2 defenses of his Featherweight title stopping bother Bernabe Concepcion and Rafael Marquez. On paper they look fine but Concepcion is only a limited fighter who is a natural Super Bantamweight whilst Marquez was a 35 year old natural Bantamweight coming in on the back of a long career including 4 tough bouts with Israel Vazquez.
You can go through all the other other supposedly top fighters and find that they really haven't beaten enough top fighters themselves to be ranked higher than John. Unfortunately, in my eyes anyway, the worst thing that John did was not fight on US TV. Had he been on US TV he, his opponents and his reign would have been viewed a lot more favourably than it has been.
From where I'm sat John, like many other Asian fighters, has been a victim of the US media and the US fan base as opposed to anything else. It may sound harsh but John's career should the career, alongside Pongsaklek Wonjongkam's, that shows just how over-looked Asian fighters are when they have long and successful careers.