Life, Death, Boxing, Faith and the Perseverance of Chris Van Heerden
August 27, 2019
Anthony Saldana (107 articles)
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Life, Death, Boxing, Faith and the Perseverance of Chris Van Heerden

By Anthony “Stacks” Saldaña

Growing up the son of a boxer in Johannesburg, South Africa, boxing ran through the veins of Chris Van Heerden. By the young age of six Chris was already fighting at amateur shows “My father knew I had it in me be a world champion” stated Van Heerden in a recent sit down interview with Supreme Boxing. “When I would tell my dad I didn’t want to train to fight, he would tell me, I don’t care what you want put on your shoes and let’s go.” Boxing was instilled into Cris by his father Daniel who was also his best friend. Chris would eventuality follow in his father’s footsteps, turn professional in 2006 and quickly rise through rankings of the welterweight division, winning several regional African titles before capturing the IBO Welterweight Title. “I was on top of the world, I had money, fame, girls and absolutely no worries in life” stated Van Heerden. 

That feeling was an empty one however and soon after defending his title against Matthew Hatton, Van Heerden would begin a new journey in his life and bring his talents to the United States. “A lot of people have missed opportunities in life because they were afraid of taking risks. I had a dream and vision, and I was sad I wasn’t living up to that vision. I wanted to be the best fighter in the world and I was willing to take the risk to be the best”  Van Heerden said. His journey however wasn’t what he expected it to be. Van Heerden was locked into a bad contract, not getting the fights he deserved, he was stripped of his title and his world was crashing down around him. “I was in a very bad place in my life, I had trouble getting my visa, my bank accounts from South Africa were froze, I was sleeping on a couch and there was a time where I didn’t eat for two days” Chris had gone from the top of the mountain to hitting rock bottom. It was then that Chris decided he would end his life. “I was about to walk in front of a car and kill myself, I was in tears and asked the Lord why he had forsaken me, and before I made that ultimate decision to end it all, the Lord spoke to me and said Chris I’m here for you, I never left you.” Van Heerden who was raised by his dad to be a man of faith accepted the Lord once again. The very next day Chris received his Visa, and a day after that he got the call to be Miguel Cotto’s sparring partner. Things got better for Chris, he was training with Freddie Roach, sparring with some of the best fighters in the world, including Canelo Alvarez, but he still had the management issue and no fights.

Undeterred with his management issues, Van Heerden took it upon himself to negotiate a fight on four weeks notice, with an undefeated prospect and US Olympian by the name of Errol Spence JR. Leading up to his big fight, life would again throw another curve ball at him. First Van Heerden would receive a call from his mom informing him that her and his father had decided to divorce. Van Heerden then got a call from Freddie Roach letting him know he would be unable to make the trip to Canada for the fight and wouldn’t be in his corner. Lastly the night of the fight Van Heerden’s managers decided to show up in his locker room and threaten him with litigation and demanded money. Van Heerden was never mentally prepared to enter the ring and was outclassed, out boxed and stopped by Spence Jr. that night. 

Van Heerden would eventually have his contract with his former managers terminated and sign with manager Peter Kahn. Kahn quickly set up negotiations for Van Heerden to fight Manny Pacquiao and when that fight fell through Van Heerden would go on to win three fights in a row before signing last November with Top Rank. “Signing with Top Rank was a childhood dream I finally achieved. To be with Top Rank is the reason I left South Africa four years ago,” said Van Heerden. Through faith, and the strength to follow his vision Van Heerden knew it would only be a matter of time before he was back on top. Chris shared the excitement with his father Daniel on daily basis “My Dad would wake up and he’d phone me and if he didn’t got a hold of me, he’d phone me three or four times just to say, ‘Son, I love you and I hope you are well.” Daniel and Chris were best friends, they had an unbreakable bond and life for Chris was good again.

Two days after Christmas of 2018 however Chris Van Heerden would wake up to a nightmare. “When I picked up my phone that morning, the first thing that popped up was a picture of my father, I had six missed calls from my father ” Van Heerden said. That morning he got the worst news imaginable. His father, Daniel Van Heerden, was shot in the back by a security guard following an argument and was killed. “I was raised by my Dad a certain way, and I’m a man of faith,” Van Heerden said. “I try to lead by example and I always try to be a good person. Of course, this tested me, but my faith really made a difference. I know this may sound wrong, but I didn’t have anger toward the man who killed my father. I forgave him, I went to the court and I told him I forgive you. I just wanted to know details. My main thing was, I wanted to know that my dad didn’t suffer. My heart is broken, but at least I’ll have peace knowing that my father, who was a very hard-working man and who had a tough life, is free from the pain and the worries and stresses and just the evils of this world. 

Photo by Cynthia Saldaña

After his fathers death Van Heerden stayed in camp and soon after made his Top Rank debut winning that fight over Mahonri Montes. Van Heerden recently fought at the new Banc of California Stadium on the inaugural Top Rank card and was again victorious. “I miss my father everyday. My Dad and I were the best of buddies. I was very close to my Dad. People have told me that I should mourn. Even though it’s been less than a year since his death, I still feel connected to me Dad because me signing with Top Rank was a dream for him as well.” Stated Van Heerden. “I feel him and his presence with me daily, and I have no doubt or stress going into fights, because I know he’s with me” 

South Africa has had an ominous history when it comes to race relations. In 1948, its all-white government immediately began enforcing existing policies of racial segregation under a system of legislation that it called apartheid that lasted for almost 50 years until it ended in 1994. It ruined a country and it was wrong. Due to these social injustices, prejudice and racism are still heavily present in South Africa and its people are suffering because of it. Van Heerden’s message about what’s happening in South Africa is simple, “It is not okay for a political party to motivate the killing of another race. It’s not okay to do that and get away with it,” said van Heerden. “What’s happening at the moment in my country, is killing the white man is being put on a podium. Politicians, the EFF is standing on a podium right now and saying kill the white man, they are motivating the killing of another race, They say it.” Stated Van Heerden. “I have a bigger purpose now. I want to shine a light on what’s happening in my country for everyone that wants to see peace and love and that want to live together and hug each other. I want to fight for those people. I want to be a voice for those people because we are all one race”

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Anthony Saldana