With no fights currently taking place, and we don't need to explain why, we've decided to begin a new series looking at fights that could have been. These are match ups that may, or may not, have been mooted but are fights that could have happened. Not only do we intend to look at who the men involved were, but when the bout could have been made, why we would have liked it, how we feel the bout played out and how history played out instead.
Chris John Vs Hozumi Hasegawa
We began this series with an all out war, and this week we go in a very different direction for what could have been a genuine show case of incredible boxing skills, speed, ring IQ and pure ring craft. It's a match up between two men who knew how to box, were surprisingly aggressive and would have made the bout look like high speed chess of the highest order. For a purest this would have been something special, and it would have been exciting enough to have made even the most blood thirsty enjoy it. This would be a Featherweight showdown for the ages between Indonesian great Chris John and Japanese Ace Hozumi Hasegawa.
The window for this bout isn't mega huge, like it would be for some bouts, but there was a clear overlap in 2010 and 2011 when the two could have clashed in a unification bout. At the time John was enjoying a lengthy reign as the WBA "super" champion whilst Hasegawa was the WBC champion. Alternatively the bout could have taken place a little bit later with just the WBA "super" title of John's on the line.
Ideally however this would have taken place in April 2011, when Hasegawa instead took on Jhonny Gonzalez, and was stopped. Had we seen this instead we would have had a unified WBA/WBC champion, as well as a special, special bout.
Chris John is the greatest boxer in Indonesian boxing history. He was a very long reigning WBA champion at Featherweight, and had his title upgraded from interim, to regular to super. His reign is much maligned for not facing the biggest names the division had, but unlike anyone else at the time he was proving a willing road warrior and was taking some solid scalps along the way. During his long reign he fought in Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the US. Whilst he lacked massive amounts of power John made boxing look natural and easy. He moved around the ring with excellent balance, had an excellent boxing brain, could adapt and had solid hand speed. He lacked in the physical aspects of the sport, but more than made up for it in the technical areas.
Hozumi Hasegawa was similar in some ways to John. He wasn't a power puncher, but he was quick, razor sharp puncher, with an excellent boxing brain, a willingness to brawl when he needed to and was a southpaw to boot. His weakness was his chin, but even that was rarely exposed and was often covered by his excellent will to win and tenacity. Although not a big puncher he did hurt fighters when he landed clean, and was a great example of the old adage "speed kills". This was seen against the tough Vusi Malinga and his KO of Veeraphol Sahaprom was something special. Featherweight wasn't his best weight, that was Bantamweight, and his time at 126lbs was was relatively short, but an excellent win over Juan Carlos Burgos showed he could have success there.
How would we see it playing out?
Where both men lacked was their physicality. Neither was easy to push around, but neither made a knack of physically bullying opponents either. Instead both boxed. They boxed in different styles, but they were both boxers at heart, and not fighters. They both liked creating some space to work with, countering mistakes and taking advantages of when an opponent slipped up. But both could force the action when they needed to and, when they landed clean, they could do damage.
Physicially the bigger guy would be John, the natural Featherweight, and he would almost certainly boss the few clinches we'd see. John also has a slightly longer reach, though both guys are pretty much the same height. Hasegawa would however perhaps edge the speed, both hand and feet, and his southpaw stance could prove a problem for John.
Early on we'd expect to see a very technical chess match. John probably the more aggressive in the first round or two, but not by much as both looked to draw a mistake from the other, with patience being the key. From there on though the bout would pick up, and we'd start to see a slow build, yet always compelling, technical war. We don't expect many exchanges, but what we'd get would be sensational.
Sadly for Hasegawa we do see him coming up short, as natural size plays a part over 12 rounds. It'd be close, hotly competitive, and intriguing through out with both men showing amazing foot work and ring craft, with John just sneaking the decision.
Would history of been changed?
Looking at the time frame we'd want the bout, against early 2011, Hasegawa wouldn't have faced Gonzalez, if he lost here, and the WBC linage from him would have been starkly different. It would potentially have done away with the reigns of Daniel Ponce De Leon, Abner Mares and even Gary Russell's long reign, which has ran since 2015. We would still expect to see Hasegawa move down in weight, and eventually become a 3-weight champion.
As for John history would look kinder on him, and the Indonesian super fight with Daud Yordan would have been pushed back to later in 2011. There's a chance his reign would have ended earlier than it did, as this bout may have put some miles on his clock, but in reality if he squeezed this in then continued with what he did his loss to Vetyeka, which we would envision now being in 2014, would have come when he was 49-0-3.
Of course it's hard to know for a fact how things would have played out, both in the ring and in terms of politics, but we suspect the Featherweight division would look a bit different had we seen the "Dragon" and the "Ace" clash in 2011.
If you go on to to a boxing forum you will see the name "Chris John" followed by the phrase "only fought bums". Unfortunately this view, generally held by Americans and European, seems to ignore what John actually did as they try to downplay his achievements and treat him as a second rate champion.
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.
Home town fighter
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".
Although John did have some genuinely notable defenses I can't pretend they all were. There is no way on earth that I would defend someone like Zaiki Takemoto, pictured, Stanyslav Merdov or even Roinet Caballero who weren't really fit to get in the ring with John. The bigger problem isn't actually who John fought but rather who he didn't fight.
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.
*Bernard Hopkins has fought 3 world title bouts on international soil, though none of them were title defenses.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces