The last couple of years of Chris van Heerden’s life has been anything but simple, from continuing his win streak in the ring and going through the turmoil of the murder of his father.
His father was a major influence in his life and in his career as a boxer and called him his best friend. But losing a father is not something that one can easily move past from. Despite his father’s death taking place in 2018, van Heerden never got a chance to properly grieve and mourn the death of his father until this summer.
With boxing taking a break this summer as a result of the pandemic, the South African welterweight, who had plans to fight this past April, took time to grieve and more importantly, heal. It was an opportunity for him to rest up physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“[Nothing but] ups and downs. I’ve had some fights canceled, but I had some beautiful things happen in 2020. Some of the best things happened to me in 2020, believe it or not. I got time to grieve the loss of my dad because I realized that I never said goodbye. Once I lost my dad, I went into fight camps and avoided it without knowing. So I got to grieve the loss of my dad, which was beautiful and then I got my green card. That’s really amazing,” van Heerden said.
The end result is a man with a smile beaming with positivity and in an infectious personality to match. More than anything, van Heerden is appreciative of the life he’s living, making the best out of a situation that many in the sport are currently living in.
Now, he is looking forward to another major opportunity to shine on a big stage against a great fighter. He will fight highly-touted contender Jaron Ennis on Showtime on December 19 for the IBO welterweight title.
“Everything I worked for, everything my dad believed in me, I’m healing. I want to say that I’m healed. I went through so much in the last two years. But, knowing that I came to America seven years ago with the hopes and dreams of fighting for a world title on a big platform on a big scale and to know I didn’t mess up the last five years of my relationship with my dad for nothing. Everything I worked so hard for, everything I prayed for, it’s happening. 2020 has been bad, but it’s been beautiful,” van Heerden said.Chris van Heerden
Despite multiple fights seemingly in the cards for van Heerden, they each fell through, leading him to think at one point that he wasn’t going to fight this year.
“Let’s not forget. In April, I was supposed to fight Antonio DeMarco in my third fight with Top Rank. That’s when COVID happened. I agreed to fight and step up to Sergey Lipinets and that didn’t happen. I was like, ‘This is it. There’s nothing happening this year.’ Then, this opportunity came around. Now, we’re here,” van Heerden said.
Once he got the call to fight Ennis on short notice, van Heerden felt a sense of relief he was getting a big fight. In addition, there was also a feeling of pride that his name still pops up in the minds of fighters, good fighters, looking for opponents.
A win against a fighter like Ennis, whom many have already tabbed as a future world champion, would put him in line to face some of the top PBC welterweights such as unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. in a rematch.
“There’s no doubt. Let’s be honest. I’m in a massive fight next. If I beat Jaron Ennis, I qualify to say, ‘Errol Spence, give me a rematch if I beat Jaron.’ I look at it like this. If I get the win, my next fight is going to be huge.Chris van Heerden
Spence and van Heerden fought in 2015 with Spence stopping him in eight rounds. Since that loss, van Heerden has won five straight. However, his last fight was on August 17, 2019, meaning it is 16 months since he last stepped foot in the ring. Ennis, on the other hand, fought four times, looking even more impressive each time out.
The challenge in this fight for van Heerden isn’t just the physically impressive Ennis. With 16 months of inactivity, he will have to find a way to shake off the ring rust as soon as possible. Even he admits it won’t be easy, but believes his years of experience will be the difference maker if he is to hand Ennis his first pro loss.
“Obviously, I wish I had eight weeks to train, but it’s a win-win for me. I’m always in good shape. I’m never out of shape. To know that I could have a fight before the end of the year, and a big one on Showtime, got me really excited… Let’s call a spade a spade. Being out for over a year, I’m sure the first quarter of the fight will be me trying to shake off the ring rust and get comfortable. Then again, I’m a veteran. I’m always training, always in the gym preparing for a fight. Being a veteran in the sport, I should be able to adjust very quickly. We’ll see what happens when the bell rings,” van Heerden said.
Van Heerden took the fight on short notice, replacing Thomas Dulorme as Ennis’ opponent after testing positive for COVID-19. Even with little time to fully prepare for Ennis, van Heerden wouldn’t have it any other way, fighting the best on a big platform such as Showtime. It’s always been his mindset to never step down from a challenge and take on any and all great boxers that may come his way.
“He’s got a bright future, which is why I took this fight. If you look at my resume, who did I lose to? I lost to Errol Spence and he’s currently the world champion. I don’t shy away from fights. I fight credible fighters. I want people to say that about me. The fact that there is this big hype around Jaron and everyone is saying he’ll be better than Spence soon, I wanted this fight because that’s who I am. If anything, I want people to give me credit for always saying yes and willing to step up,” van Heerden said.
Now fully entrenched into his boxing and ready for one of the biggest tests of his career, van Heerden recognizes the stakes involved. Professionally, a win over Ennis will jumpstart a massive 2021 for him. However, that’s not all he’s fighting for.
“I want them to know that I respect Jaron Ennis and that I’m excited for the fight. I want them to know that I’m fighting for so much more. You see a guy that is fighting for the loss of his dad. My father was murdered in South Africa, so I’m fighting for a country that needs to be heard and this fight is so much more to me. It’s healing and I’m about to have fun. Just know that I’m going to bring my best,” van Heerden said.
Ennis vs. van Heerden takes place on the December 19 Showtime Boxing: Special Edition card airing at 9 p.m. ET.
Full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE7fB0k6GdU