Whilst there was no sure fire evidence that Chris John (48-1-3, 22) was "shot" the WBA Featherweight "super" champion did not look amazing back in April when he retained his title with a technical draw against Satoshi Hosono. That fight, which saw John left with a nasty cut from a clash of heads saw John being tagged a few times early on by the Japanese "Bazooka" and many wondered what would have happened had that bout have continued.
Unfortunately for John there was no clash of heads to bail him out today as he took on South African Simpiwe Vetyeka (26-2, 16) and suffered the first loss of his illustrious and memorable career. Worse than just losing however, John was beaten into submission, broken down mentally and physically and finished the bout sat on his stool pondering the future.
The bout it's self was a slow burner. For 2 or 3 rounds very, very little happened. The two men, at times, seemed to perfectly neutralise one another. When one men threw the other blocked, and it looked like we were going to get one of those disappointing bouts where the strengths of each man cancel each other out. It was messy, it was uninteresting and there was very little in terms of clean effective punching. In all honesty the most interesting moments revolved around John twice falling to the canvas.
Round 4 saw the first really notable success from the South African though it was essentially drowned out by the crowd who attempted to sway the judges with a "Chris John" chant. The chant however did little to effect the men in the ring who continued to cancel each other out for the most part. By now though John was slowing. He had been able to land body shots earlier on but now there was very little in terms of clean action from the Indonesian.
We got our first talking point in round 5 as the bout flipped on it's head completely. John appeared to be knockdown around the mid way point of the round, the referee some how ruled a slip but from looking at John when he recovered it was clear that he was a man who was feeling the hurtful effects of something more than a slip. With John clearly hurt Vetyeka went in for the kill.
John would be sent to the canvas again in round 5 and again the referee ignored what was a clear knockdown. Quite what the referee was doing ignoring what looked like clear knockdowns was a mystery, though for John the referees actions didn't help as Vetyeka kept up the assault hurting John in a big way before the bell.
Bravely John came out for round 6 though he was still clearly feeling the ill effects of the previous round. He tried to fight back and tried to survive but again found himself on the canvas. Again it was ruled a slip from a referee who must have thought he was doing John a favour in some sick way. Only moments after getting back to his feet John was down again. This time, finally, there was a count given. Despite getting up and seeing the bell it was obvious that John's 34 year old body had effective said enough was enough. He retired his corner between rounds 6 and 7.
After seeing John remain in his corner an emotional Vetyeka celebrated, not as a man who had merely won a world title but as a man who had a great loss then won, not for himself but for his country, his people and his hero. For John this was a story of a loss of something material, his title. For Vetyeka however the fight was fought in dedication for the loss of the great Nelson Mandela, who had sadly passed away the previous night.
With Vetyeka now holding wins over the two premier names in Indonesian boxing, Daud Cino Yordan and Chris John, he may well need a new country to attack. With the WBA "super" title over his shoulder he'll likely have plenty of options on where to go. Fights with the likes of Nicholas Walters, Evgeny Gradovich or even Nonito Donaire would all hold intrigue and all be real possibilities.
Whilst Vetyeka has a host of options in front of him John's future doesn't look bright. At 34 this may well be his last bout, in fact from rounds 5 and 6 it really should be his last bout. He looked like he still had the speed and the skills in flashes but there was always something missing in this performance. It was like cheap imitation of man who had held some form of a world title for the better part of a decade.
We really hope John returns to Indonesia to a hero's welcome despite the loss. Then after a few days break hopefully he announces his retirement. It'd be awful to see him beaten again by a lesser fighter than Vetyeka, who we regard very highly. There is no shame in losing to Vetyeka, there is shame however in trying to deny that father time effects us all, even the greats like Chris John.
Note-For the picture we've used here, we've selected a younger Chris John, the one who really was one of the top Featherweights on the planet. Not the shadow of that man who fought today