In a make-or-break fight and his fifth attempt at a world title, Houston’s Rocky Juarez (28-4-1, 20 KOs) challenged reigning WBA Featherweight Champion Chris “The Dragon” John (42-0-2, 22 KOs), of Indonesia, only to come out on the short end with a draw, Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston.
In his previous challenges, to Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez, Juarez had failed to clinch a belt. This time around, dropping down to featherweight from super lightweight, Juarez showed the stuff of champions, though he had to settle for a draw decision, all three judges scoring the bout even.
The first began as a tactical round with both combatants exchanging jabs to create openings. John landed crisp jabs using his distance and reach advantage over the shorter Juarez. It was close round to call but the edge had to be for the champion.
The tempo and rhythm of the fight picked up in the second round with the crowd chanting “ROCK-Y! ROCK-Y!”
Juarez obliged the crowd by applying relentless pressure on John, landing well-placed body shots. John attempted to land his own but was sidetracked by Referee Lawrence Cole who warned him for what he thought was a low blow. In a round more decisive than the first, Juarez appeared to hold the upper hand.
In the beginning of the third, John landed some good combinations, then hold, thereafter employing a strategy to nullify Juarez’s pressure style of fighting. Juarez, undeterred, continued to pressure while attacking and landing a looping right. John, unfazed, caught Juarez with an uppercut coming in.
Juarez continued to press forward and make the fight as the energy in the arena gathered more momentum. At the end of the round, Juarez connected with a two-punch combination.
At the start of the fourth, Rocky, again, got caught coming in with straight rights and uppercuts that would start to swell his right eye. But just when it seemed that John had solved the puzzle, Rocky would land a right that revved up the crowd. The champion, however, shoed poise, and he continued his countering style, setting up punches and moving side-to-side from harm’s way. A one-two connect formula worked well for John as the fourth came to a close.
In the fifth, John was warned for hitting behind the head by Ref Cole. Jabs, one-two’s and the occasional clinches continued to work for the champ, keeping Juarez at bay and nullifying the Houstonian’s pressure.
Rocky landed a right hook that seemed to faze John, who returned with his own assault by way of an overhand right that opened up a cut on Juarez’s left eye. When the bell rang, Juarez’s cutman, Joe Chavez, went to work on the left eyebrow—a trouble spot in the past for Juarez, who’d undergone two surgeries already.
Chavez stopped the bleed and Juarez came out without a drop of blood. Fighting in close proximity, the two hit and clinched at one another. Toward mid-round, Juarez’s eye cut opened again. Spurred on, John landed an opportunistic overhand right on the back of Rocky’s head that dropped the former Olympian. ‘No knockdown’ was declared by the ref, who ruled it a push or slip. The bell ended with Juarez heading back to his corner showing a look of concern and discomfort.
As the seventh round began, John was back on his bouncing toes with a look of confidence. Sensing victory within grasp, John put on a boxing clinic, connecting at apparent will and slipping Rocky’s punches while countering effectively. John displayed a great exhibition of head movement while using his distance with a snapping jab and straight rights galore that would start to back up Rocky. John had appeared to be on a three-consecutive round sweep.
Heart can not be measured outside of the ring and Rocky was showing his hometown crowd a full plate of what he was made of in the eighth round. This was, by far, was one of Rocky’s best rounds, and he backed up John to the ropes, connecting and wiping the smile off John’s face. Rocky let his hands go, sensing the fight had gotten away from him. The momentum now shifted back to Juarez.
In the ninth, Juarez returned the favor, opening up a cut on John’s left eyebrow, with a solid shot. Rocky was reenergized upon seeing the blood drip from his opponent’s face. Sensing the turn of tides, Rocky continued to apply relentless pressure with a true warrior’s mentality. John did not back down, however, and Juarez’s face started to show the evidence of a hard-fought battle, his cheekbones and eyes swollen. John landed effectively towards the middle and end of the round, possibly taking the round with his counterpunching.
The see-saw battle returned in the center of the ring for the tenth round as Rocky began the round backing up his opponent. His back to the ropes, John was on the receiving end of two- and three-punch combinations. Sticking and moving, John moved the fight to the center of the ring, landing flush, clean punches. At the end of the round, John seemed to be in control and his conditioning was a key factor going in to the championship rounds.
With two rounds to win a world title, Juarez connected with a big straight right at the beginning of the 11th. But showing why he was unbeaten in 42 fights and 12 defenses, John displayed a rock-solid chin off of which Juarez’s punches ricocheted—until a big left hook to the body appeared to have the champ in trouble. Sensing that finally a dent was created in the armor of John, Juarez pressed the fight, finding more success closing the round with right hooks. The champion backpedaled, in apparent trouble as the bell rang.
The twelfth and final round saw Juarez pressing and John on his bicycle. Juarez landed—John continued to show a solid chin. With less than a minute left, the two exchanged heavily, with Juarez having the edge.
The elusive world title was not meant to be, for when the scores were announced, all three judges had it 114-114.
Photo: Chris Cozzone, Fightnews.com