- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The exit strategy from boxing for longtime featherweight titlist Chris John is in motion: Three more fights to what he hopes will be a 50th career victory and then retirement as an undefeated titleholder.
Sampson Lewkowicz, John’s longtime adviser, and I were talking on Sunday and he outlined the plan for John (47-0-2, 22 KOs), a national hero in his native Indonesia.
John has a defense set for Sept. 29 in Singapore against Thailand’s Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (44-0, 27 KOs), who has fashioned a stellar record against one suspect opponent after another.
Assuming John wins, Lewkowicz said John would fight twice in 2013 and then call it a day.
“The plan is for three more fights to get 50 wins and then retire,” said Lewkowicz, who also is the adviser for middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and was responsible for bringing Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines to the United States. “Chris John will reach the 50th win and then have his retirement. We have three fights to go. He will have this fight in Singapore and maybe another in Singapore and then, most likely, he will have the last fight in Indonesia by the end of next year.”
John has already had a remarkable career. He is boxing’s longest active titleholder, having held his version of the 126-pound crown since 2003. He has made 16 title defenses, including a lopsided decision against Japan’s Shoji Kimura in May in Singapore. The most well-known names on his record, at least to Americans, are Juan Manuel Marquez, Rocky Juarez and Derrick Gainer. But John has beaten a number of top Asian featherweights, including Osamu Sato, Hiroyuki Enoki and Daud Yordan (in an all-Indonesian super fight in 2011).
John is not well known in the United States, but he did make back-to-back defenses here against Rocky Juarez in 2009 when Juarez was still a good contender.
In the first fight, John was saddled with a draw he absolutely deserved to win in Juarez’s hometown of Houston. (There’s that Texas judging for you!) In the rematch in Las Vegas, John got the obvious decision he deserved the first time.
But John never returned to fight in the United States. Lewkowicz said the reason he never came back, even though various interesting fights were possible for him to be involved in (such as against Yuriorkis Gamboa), was because he was upset by the decision in the first Juarez fight and because he could make better money in Asia than he was being offered for fights in the U.S.
“He didn’t come back to America because he never got paid what he was getting in Asia,” Lewkowicz said. “There was no reason to come to America. People appreciate and love him in Asia. It’s not all about America. Over there he’s an idol. America is just a market. He came here, proved himself and almost got robbed. Why take a chance to lose his undefeated record because of the judges?”
John has fought in five countries altogether: Indonesia, Japan, the United States, Australia and Singapore. Lewkowicz also pointed out another John statistic that I found quite impressive: Since his pro debut in 1998 and through 49 professional bouts, John has been a featherweight the entire time.
“He started his career at 126 pounds and will finish at 126 pounds and, absolutely not, he does not have trouble making the weight. To fight all his fights at featherweight for all these years, to be a champion for so long, that is unheard of after 50 fights.”