InstantBoxing.com caught up with former IBO welterweight champion Chris Van Heerden (21-1-1, 11KO’s) this week and covered a variety of topics including training under world renowned trainer Freddie Roach, sparring Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez and his big move from his native South Africa to Los Angeles ten months ago.
As an amateur Chris Van Heerden had 97 fights, with an impressive 94 wins as a result. He was the South African champion three years in a row, whilst also picking up the silver medal in the Africa Cup in 2005 and travelling the world with the South African national team.
Pressed upon the state of boxing at home in South Africa and the kind of unique following it has he said, “South Africa has some world class fighters with real inspiring talent and heart. We have real passionate fans that love boxing and it’s one of the top sports in the country. It’s picking up slowly – but positively.”
In a career which started in 2006, “The Heat” as he is known to fans, has not had things run all his way. While there were many good times inside and outside the ring during the early stages of his career, Van Heerden suffered his first loss in his sixteenth fight, relatively early for a fighter of such talent. Explaining the fight in question he said, “My first loss as a pro was in 2010 against IBF inter-continental junior middleweight champion Nikola Stevanovic. I had to go up in weight to fight him and that was my manager’s advice and plan at that time.
To this day I believe I never lost that fight and I had to KO him in Serbia if I ever hoped of victory, but it’s in the past. I learned a lot about the sport and myself after that fight. I have grown and been on a unbeaten eight fight streak ever since.”
A short time after that loss in 2010 he rebounded to win the International Boxing Organization welterweight title against Kaizer Mabuza just sixteen months afterwards. Explaining what that win meant for him Van Heerden said, “Winning the IBO world title against a former world champion and a top fighter Mabuza in 2011 was a dream come true – it is a feeling I will never forget. I was the underdog going in to the fight as Kaizer just came off a big win against Kendall Holt in the USA and an unlucky loss to Zab Judah.”
In the following eighteen months Van Heerden’s career started progressing at a rapid rate. With a wide decision win against Argentinian Sebastian Lujan in the summer of 2012, a big named fight suddenly came upon the horizon and the South African was more determined than ever to stamp his intent upon the world welterweight scene with a big victory against a credible foe in Britain’s Matthew Hatton. “Taking that fight against Matthew was somewhat scary. Watching him against Canelo Alvarez he showed big heart and guts and I respect him so much today. I knew I would beat him but knew it would not be a KO win. Fighting Hatton was a dream come true by itself as I watched him on TV growing up in my own career as a pro.”
In 2013, Van Heerden made the biggest decision of his career in moving from his native South Africa to further his career in the USA. Taking residence in Los Angeles at the world famous “Wildcard Gym” he explained the decision wasn’t too hard to make, “A big move to USA was always the plan I had in mind. The reason for my move was because my dreams are much bigger than just being a world champion for my people in South Africa.
Winning the world title made me a star back home but my dreams were and still are bigger and that’s the reason for my move to America to compete against the best in the world in the biggest arenas in boxing. I will get there no matter what time it takes me. Having to give up the IBO belt was hard because I was in a tough place and I literally had no power to hold on to it.”
Explaining his career since migrating to the States he said, “I’ve had two fights and two wins so far in the US. Being in USA really brings out a more competitive side of me as I’m fortunate enough to be around top fighters like Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and many more. I’m benefiting a lot from the experience I’ve obtained in the last 10 months”.
Pressed on how the move to the Wildcard in particular came about, he spoke candidly, “I’m now blessed to be with Freddie Roach as he is my head trainer in Hollywood. It all came after Freddie saw me in sparring camp with Miguel Cotto. I was Cotto’s main sparring for five weeks before his fight with Sergio Martinez. Freddie asked me to be Martinez and I imitated Martinez almost to a “T”.
Freddie told me I have all the skill and heart to become a star, so not long after that I approached Freddie about training me and he welcomed me with open arms. I’m still to make my debut with Freddie in my corner but just from training having Freddie’s eyes on me giving me advice and teaching me the art is beyond words. It’s so motivating and I’m very excited for what is to come.”
Continuing he said, “I came to USA telling myself that I needed people to talk about me when they saw me in sparring and that’s exactly what happened. The people [in the gym] they love watching me in sparring. Working with Miguel Cotto for five weeks and then with Canelo Alvarez for five weeks is something money cannot buy. I’ve gained so much self confidence in myself it’s scary. I’ve been tested and I’ve passed those tests and I know I can now go in with the top fighters in the world now.”
Looking at the next twelve months it seems to be an exciting one for Team Van Heerden, he said, “I see myself landing a big fight on either HBO, Showtime or even over in UK maybe on BoxNation.”
Asked what a fan should expect to see if they were watching “The Heat” fight for the first time he said, “Expect a skilled, hungry fighter that’s going to give the fans a hell of a fight because that’s what they deserve. There is really no fight in my past that will live up to what’s coming since joining Freddie Roach, there’s a new “The Heat” coming to the ring.”
“I’m in the gym everyday; we are working hard on securing me a big fight and I’m hoping and praying that it’s coming soon. My name is on the table and on the lips of all the promoters out here – it’s coming.
I’d love to fight Brandon Rios, Mike Alvarado, Jessie Vargas, Kell Brook or even Amir Khan if the offers are reasonable.”
You can follow Chris Van Heerden on Twitter @theheat001.