Chris John, who held a featherweight world title for nine years and made 18 successful defenses, announced his retirement Thursday in a ceremony carried on national television in Indonesia, where he is an icon and the nation's most famous athlete.
The 34-year-old John (48-1-3, 22 KOs) had hoped to reach 50-0-3 and retire undefeated. However, on Dec. 6 in Perth, Australia, Simpiwe Vetyeka of South Africa scored a major upset. John, known as "The Dragon," got knocked down and eventually retired on his stool after the sixth round, losing his title, his undefeated record and a chance to tie International Boxing Hall of Famer Eusebio Pedroza's division record of 19 title defenses of a 126-pound world title.
"Now that I have achieved more than I have ever dreamt of in my career, I would like to formally announce my retirement," John said at the ceremony, which took place at the television studios of RCTI, the Indonesian national network that carried his fights. "I would like to give back to the sport of boxing, which has been so good to me and given me and my family a better life, and continue to represent Indonesia as best as I can.
"Most importantly, now I will spend time with my wife and children. The most important title I have held in my life is father."
John won an interim belt by split decision against Oscar Leon in 2003, was elevated to a full titleholder in 2004, and outpointed Osamu Sato in Sato's home country of Japan to begin a remarkable run that saw him defend his title in five countries: Indonesia, the United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore.
"My first defense of my title was against Osamu Sato in Japan. I knew it would be very hard to win against a Japanese in Japan because they are all warriors," John said. "But I knew I had to represent my people of Indonesia and make them proud. This was a very special moment in my career."
When Vetyeka ended John's reign, he had been the longest active world titleholder in boxing and had become so famous in Indonesia that the president of the country would meet with him after his victories.
The biggest win of John's career came in 2006, when he outpointed Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez in Indonesia.
Although in the later years of his career John did not face the elite of the featherweight division, he did score some notable victories during his long reign, including against former titleholder Derrick Gainer, longtime contender Rocky Juarez and countryman Daud Cino Yordan in 2011 in the biggest fight in Indonesian history.
John, under the guidance of adviser Sampson Lewkowicz, fought Juarez in the United States twice in 2009. John appeared to clearly outpoint Juarez in their first meeting in Juarez's hometown of Houston, but the fight was ruled a draw. In the rematch later that year, John cruised to a unanimous decision, but he returned to Indonesia and never fought in the U.S. again.
Among the many people involved in John's career, two were especially significant -- trainer Craig Christian and Lewkowicz.
"My trainer, Craig Christian, he has been like a second father to me," John said. "His knowledge and wisdom has taught me so much. Every time I fought, I feel like he is in the ring with me. From Craig I learned my three D's -- dedication, discipline and determination. Sampson Lewkowicz, from Las Vegas, he has guided my career, and I cannot thank him enough. Craig gave him the name 'Picasso' because in boxing he is a legendary artist."
During his retirement remarks, John recalled the toughest fight of his career, his 12th professional bout, which resulted in a 12th-round knockout of Muhammad Alfaridzi in 1999.
"I was 20 years old, fighting Muhammad Alfaridzi at the Indosiar Studio in Jakarta in July 1999. It was for [the Indonesian] national featherweight title," John said. "I was knocked down two times in Round 1 and I had my nose broken in Round 1, and had massive bleeding. But I would never let this opportunity pass. As my father taught me, success is when opportunity meets preparation, and I was well prepared, and in the 12th round, I knew I had the opportunity for the KO and had no [other] option because so much blood was coming from my nose."
John, who spent his entire 15-year professional career fighting as a featherweight, got the knockout and continued his undefeated run until the loss to Vetyeka two weeks ago.
"I did my best to attempt to equal the record of 19 WBA world featherweight title defenses but lost," John said. "But that's boxing. You cannot win all the time.
"Vetyeka is a good boxer, and give him full credit for the win. He deserves it. But I could no longer make the featherweight limit, and it was the toughest challenge of my career just to make the weight to be able to defend my title."