Boxing’s longest current reigning titlist Chris John racked up the 15th defense of his featherweight belt Wednesday evening with a unanimous decision over Stanyslav Merdov at Challenge Stadium in Mt. Claremore, Australia.
Scores were 116-111 (twice) and 115-112 in their 12-round bout.
The bout featured the best and worst of John, who has enjoyed status as an undefeated alphabet champion in an uninterrupted reign that has just surpassed ten years. The 32-year old Indonesian is beginning to show signs of slowing down, though, as Merdov was able to overcome a second round knockdown and an early deficit to rally back late and make the fight a lot closer than necessary.
On the plus side, John is now fighting with more aggression these days. Perhaps it’s a concentrated effort to ditch the ‘boring’ label often associated with his bouts, and his career in general. More likely, it’s a veteran learning to adapt in realizing the gifts that helped get him to where he is, are no longer there to be fully utilized.
With that, we saw a version of John throw punches with the purpose of actually hurting his opponent, rather than just for the sake of scoring points. The newfound power surge led to the bout’s lone knockdown, which occurred midway through the second round. The sequence even seemed to catch the crowd off-guard, as little more than tepid applause and the occasional cheer were offered in the evening’s walk out bout.
Still, John kept plowing forward, controlling most of the action in the first half of the fight. Appearing to cause even more harm than the knockdown sequence was an overhand right hand midway through the fourth, which snapped back the head of Merdov. By round five, the Ukrainian was forced to contend with a bloodied nose as John kept piling up the offense.
The second half of the fight slowed down in comparison, but worked to the challenger’s benefit. As was suggested in his first bout with Rocky Juarez nearly three years ago, fatigue has become a concerning issue in John’s career as he now tends to slow down late in the fight.
Merdov caught wind of it and turned up his attack as the bout wore on. His jab was landing with precision, forcing John to remain outside of effective punching range and also keeping him off balance. The rally proved to come a bit too late, for which John was thankful as sheer exhaustion was showcased in his demeanor as he slowly crept back to his corner after the 11th round and again at fight’s end.
The benefits of sprinting out to an early lead were enough to keep him unbeaten, as John enjoyed his second in-ring appearance in Australia. The 13-year veteran previously played Down Under in 2005 with a 10th round stoppage of Tommy Browne.
As his career moves on, John is beginning to take more risks both from bell to bell and with his career in general. The event marked the fourth time in his last six fights he has fought on the road after having spent the majority of his career in his native Indonesia. The road trip to Australia nets him his 15th consecutive title defense as he improves to 46-0-2 (22KO) overall.
The rail thin Merdov loses for the first time in his past six contests, falling to 32-8 (24KO). The fight marked his first trip outside of his native Ukraine in more than nine years, with his lone other occasion taking place in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Barring a sudden retirement, John’s next return to the ring will inch him closer towards Johnny Kilbane for the longest title reign in featherweight history. Kilbane reigned as lineal champion for more than 11 years prior in the early 1900’s, though the Ohioan held the title prisoner more than actually putting it on the line, with just nine title defenses spray painted over that span.
The division record for most title defenses is held by Eusebio Pedroza of Panama. His reign began in the late 1970’s and lasted midway through the 1980’s and was the complete opposite of that of Kilbane, cramming in a whopping 19 defenses in that seven year stretch before losing to Stevie Cruz in 1985.
John is still a ways from both marks – three years and four defenses, respectively, with historians likely to argue those numbers since his reign began in interim capacity with a Sept. ’03 split decision win over Oscar Leon. The win came while Juan Manuel Marquez was still the sanctioning body’s “full” champ and Manny Pacquiao was on the verge of claiming lineal championship status from Marco Antonio Barrera.
John never managed to land a fight with Pacquiao in what would’ve been one of the biggest in the history of Asian boxing. He did cross paths with Marquez, scoring a controversial decision in their infamous March ’06 bout that saw the Mexican travel halfway around the world for a $32,000 payday.
Marquez’ career has since taken off, while John has remained steady but barely in the spotlight.
As the saying goes, though, slow and steady wins the race. Unbeaten in 48 fights and more than 13 years of action, eight of which have come in championship fights, John continues to truck along.