By Craig Watt
Undefeated WBA Featherweight champion Chris John (42-0-1, 22 KOs) is perhaps one of world boxing’s most unknown world champions, outside his home country of Indonesia. This is perhaps surprising since he has made ten title defenses of the WBA title he won in 2003, even more surprising since he also holds a unanimous points win over Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006 in the fifth defense of his WBA crown. Inside Indonesia however it is a different story and he is perhaps the greatest sporting icon – idolized and followed in the same way as Ricky Hatton is in England and Manny Pacquiao is in the Philippines. He is a household name in Indonesia, but on the world scene, less well known although his boxing talent and undefeated record in 43 fights is greatly impressive.
On February 28th John travels to the US for the first time in his career, defending his WBA title for the eleventh time against local hero Rocky Juarez at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The fight will give the 29 year old his debut on HBO’s World Championship Boxing and will be televised as the co-feature of the Juan Diaz vs. Juan Manuel Marquez lightweight fight. He is promoted in the US through Golden Boy Promotions and recently Oscar De La Hoya gave his opinion of the fight. He stated, “Chris John has been one of boxing’s most consistent world champions and we’re excited to finally bring him to the United States so fans here can see him in person. He is in for a tough night against Rocky Juarez, who is more determined than ever to capture a world championship. With John looking to impress US fans and Juarez looking for his first world championship, this has all the makings of a great fight.”
Such is the adoration of “The Dragon” in Indonesia he seeks his preparation and training for the fight in Perth, Western Australia under the expert guidance and training of Craig Christian. This is some 3,000 miles from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, but offers him the lifestyle and preparation he seeks to maintain the high standard of boxing he has created in his undefeated record in 43 fights. He lives and trains for 6-8 weeks at Harry’s Gym in downtown Belcatta, an industrial area of Perth.
Fightnews visited Harry’s Gym in Perth yesterday to see the WBA champion in his preparation and discuss the upcoming fight.
Chris, you are 3,000 miles from your home country of Indonesia – why do you seek to train in Perth, Australia rather than in Jakarta?
Ever since I moved trainers in 2005 with Craig Christian this has been my base for preparation where all the hard gym work and sparring is done. I have a room here in the back of the gym and stay with my brother for 6-8 weeks before each fight. It is an old cliché but here in Harry’s Gym I am able to eat, sleep and live boxing for the hard preparation I need to do to defend my WBA title. I don’t even go out – just live a monastic lifestyle and a boxing warrior. My country of Indonesia has made me proud and I train here away from the public adoration I receive at home to give me the mental and physical edge I need to be a dominant world champion at featherweight. The location, facilities and warm climate are perfect for getting me in shape.
People say you are the most popular sporting icon in Indonesia- does that put pressure on you?
It is fantastic to have the fan base I have in Indonesia – we are not a rich country and people respect what I have achieved. It is nice for them to see Indonesia mentioned around the world and with all my fights shown in my home country, most people come up to me and ask for my autograph and picture. Some women even ask me to marry them which is a bit of fun but generally I am a proud warrior of my country and feel a responsibility to maintain my unbeaten record and stay WBA featherweight champion. For a small country we have only had three boxing world champion in Nico Thomas and my own hero Ellyas Pical, alongside myself. We are a proud boxing nation for sure.
Are you excited at making your US debut on February 28th in Texas against Rocky Juarez?
This is an exciting fight for me in America and a new challenge – I want to show the rest of the boxing world what a good fighter Chris John is and defend my title in one of the biggest sporting countries in the world. It is a great ambition of mine and will help me show my talents on a bigger scale, with both a big TV audience in Indonesia and in America. I hope after they have watched me I can make some new fans in America. I want to retire as an undefeated featherweight champion and this is an exciting challenge for me, especially on the home turf of Rocky Juarez.
How do you see the fight with Rocky Juarez?
This is one of my toughest fights, probably alongside my win over Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006. He is a tough warrior and having challenged for a world title on four occasions I know this could be his last opportunity. In his home back yard he will have the crowd advantage and will come fully focused, motivated and ready for action. I think it will be a fantastic fight for the crowd – boxer versus aggressive fighter. It will be my toughest fight and that is why I am training so hard and so dedicated here in Perth. I don’t even go out of the gym. I live here with my brother in the back apartment and I train twice a day in the gym at 8am and 4pm and also complete my roadwork. Even more so with this fight I must be at my best – I have the nations expectations of Indonesia on my shoulder. I will do them proud.
The win over the great Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006 must have given you great confidence?
This was a fight I craved and no one gave me a chance in the build up. He had given Manny Pacquiao such a tough fight in 2004 in their much disputed draw and eve after my defeat of him he went on to beat Barrera, Casamayor and another close fight with Pacquiao. It shows it was not a faded Marquez, but a fighter in his prime and now the champion at lightweight. He disputed the decision and felt he won but if you looked at the scores of 117-111, 116-110 and 116-112 there was a unanimous decision, with some daylight in the scores. Whatever he says, I won that fight – it was close but I am a deserved winner.
Juan Manuel Marquez in the co-feature in HBO’s televised broadcast against Juan Diaz – if both of you win, is a rematch likely?
I am not sure – he is now at lightweight and I am at featherweight and I have no issues making the championship weight. It would make sense if he seeks revenge and if I beat Juarez it is a fight the boxing world would love to see but at the moment I am concentrating on Rocky Juarez. He is a tough challenger for my title and I cannot afford to think beyond that. There are no re-match clauses in this fight so the pressure is on. Juarez in the hometown hero and I have to be at my best – the best I have ever been. The pressure is on me to get the win and move my unbeaten record to 44 fights and be still the WBA featherweight champion. I will concentrate on that and nothing else.
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It is apparent from the time spent with Chris John he is a proud champion and his preparation is thorough under the guidance of his trainer Craig Christian. In Rocky Juarez he faces a tough challenge but with a win under his belt against Juan Manuel Marquez he has confidence of further success in his US debut.
Both world title fights Marquez vs. Diaz and John vs. Juarez will take place on February 28th from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas and be televised live on HBO’s World Championship Boxing beginning at 10pm ET/ 7pm PT.
Photos: Craig Watt