Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Chris John: Calm in the face of fierce opposition

January 26, 2008

Matheos Viktor Messakh, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Whatever the outcome of his match against Roinet Caballero today, Chris John will remain a boxing legend.

Unbeaten in 45 fights with 21 knock-out wins, the world featherweight champion is regarded as one of the country's most successful boxers, an achievement Chris attributes to the grueling training his father put him through early on.

His father, Djohan Tjahjadi, recalled that if he had not left his house in Jakarta and resided in his wife's village in Banjarnegara, a small town in Central Java, he might never have seen his son, Yohannes Christian John climb to the top of the boxing world.

Chris, born in Jakarta on Sept. 14, 1979, was 6 years old when Djohan, then going by the Chinese name of Thjia Foek Sem, moved to Gelang subdistrict in Banjarnegara in 1985.

It was Chris' father, then an amateur boxer, who introduced him to boxing. The more attention Djohan gave the sport, the more Chris would rebel.

"I felt like I was being forced to do something that I didn't like. My father did everything he could to make me like boxing, taking me to gyms when I was just a kindergarten kid. He never stopped teaching me about boxing -- not even at home," Chris recalled.

The tough training regime continued at their new residence. However, instead of a conventional gym, rice fields were converted into a training site for Chris and his younger brother, Andrean John. Andrean later discontinued boxing due to a bone problem.

Djohan had a reason for imposing the sport on his sons. "Although (Chris) was not naughty, he was a hyperactive kid. He'd create problems with the other kids and the parents would get dragged into it. I thought it was better for him to be doing something useful ... and the only skill I have is boxing."

Djohan bought his sons bicycles so they could ride to school in Purbalingga, some 22 kilometers from home.

"I bought the bicycles because I knew they would get tired upon returning from school and be forced to take a nap. They would train harder after that," Djohan said.

Chris said he trained three hours a day. "Everything was tightly controlled. Dad scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner. The training had to start and finish on time. It didn't matter if it was raining, or if something happened."

Djohan was impressed by his son's strong backbone and determination .

"I praised him for his restraint. He always did as he was told. It crossed my mind that I couldn't have been as disciplined as he was," said the man whose hard efforts as a coach began to pay off when Chris won his first medal in a local championship in 1996.

His initial reluctance to take up boxing aside, in the heat of a fight the 10-year-old Chris knew he had a special ability, although it was not until he had his first amateur match in 1995 -- when he was only 15 years old -- that he started to enjoy the sport.

He seemed to sense he was already on the road to stardom.

"I felt very happy when I beat my first rival, a boy named Joko from Purbalingga. As usual my father did not give much praise. Instead, he asked me to train harder and harder.

"My mother had a different attitude. I knew in my heart she was very worried about me," Chris said of his mother Maria Warsini.

Boxing is not the only sport Chris is skilled at. He is also trained in wushu, a Chinese martial art similar to kung fu.

While he claims wushu is "just a hobby", he has proved he has talent by winning a number of prizes including a gold medal at the Indonesian wushu championship, gold medal at the 1996 National Games, gold medal at the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games in Jakarta in 1997 and bronze medal at the 2001 SEA games.

In 2003 he decided to abandon wushu to concentrate on his defense of the WBA title.

After finishing junior high school at Santo Boromeus Catholic school in the town, he moved to the province's capital city, Semarang, where he was taken under the wing of Sutan Rambing, a well-known trainer and former amateur and professional fighter.

Chris' first true test came in 1999 when he came up against national champion Muhammad Alfaridzi. He bounced back from near defeat -- taking two knock downs -- to victory.

Even Chris found it hard to believe the turnaround.

"I was just lucky. It was a very hard match for me. My nose was broken. Until round four, I had no concentration anymore, everything was a blur. I was just punching around," Chris, the father of a 2-year-old, Maria Luna Ferisa, said.

Six years after turning professional, Chris earned the World Boxing Association (WBA)'s featherweight interim championship in Bali on November 2003 by defeating Oscar Leon in a split decision.

His title was later upgraded to WBA champion status when Juan Manuel Marquez was bumped up to WBA "super champion" after the Mexican unified the WBA/IBF title by defeating Derrick Gainer of the U.S.

His first defense was against Osamu Sato of Japan in June, 2004 followed by a match against Jose Rojas of Venezuela in December that year.

He split from Sutan Rambing in April 2005 over a payment dispute when he was about to defend his title against Derrick Gainer.

"It was a very tough moment for me, because at the time I was preparing for my fight against Gainer. I also had a fight with my previous trainer and manager," he said.

He joined Harry's Gym management in Perth, Australia, under trainer Craig Christian.

To date, Chris has defended his professional title eight times, and the bout with Roinet Caballero in Jakarta on Jan. 26 will be his ninth.

Chris is never caught bragging. He uses his mental toughness to stay calm and collected in the ring.

"For me, the most important thing is to stay focused on the fight till the very end, while trying to use my chances as best as I can to punch or to knock down my rival."

It seems that Chris prefers to let his punches to do the talking in the ring.

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