The champ is here… maybe!
No, that doesn’t have the same ring to it as Ali’s boisterous rendition. But by the time you’ve picked up the morning paper and taken a seat at the breakfast table, John John Florence could very well be a two-time WSL world champion.
The conditions looked favorable for a morning call over in Peniche, Portugal, but the 12-hour time difference might have had us sleeping through John John getting chaired up the beach for the second year in a row. With Jordy Smith having been knocked out of the contest in round three, Florence would be able to clinch the 2017 Championship Tour world title with an event win, or by reaching the final heat against anyone except Gabriel Medina.
With the current swell dissipating on Thursday and Friday, the projected offshore winds are currently making Wednesday morning look like the optimal time to resume the festivities.
Smith’s early exit cleared a very navigable path for Florence and even if he doesn’t pick up the win in Portugal, his necessary result at Pipeline should appear to be easily attainable. It would take a huge effort by Medina to overcome the wide deficit he faced entering these final two contests but he is still capable of making John John earn it the hard way.
Which result would be more enjoyable is a worthy discussion. It’s fair to say that many of us in this region of the world are hoping Florence does get that second straight world title. But it would remove some of the drama at Pipeline if he were to finish it off without needing a result at the year’s final stop. That was the case in 2016, as Florence clinched his first world championship a year ago today in Peniche.
The Pipe Masters is certainly strong enough to withstand there being no world title implications and it would still be the one accomplishment that John John hasn’t yet checked off on his career resume. But the stakes would be nonexistent for the top of the leaderboard. Last year was a fun homecoming for Florence, having crushed the rest of the field all season and getting to return with the title already in tow.
But I’m actually hoping his ultimate moment happens on Oahu this time around. Not to say I’ll be disappointed if he clinches sooner, but it’s just always more interesting when the stakes are high. It would be like playing the Super Bowl as just an exhibition game after already naming a champion.
Despite some big upsets early, the final eight competitors in Peniche feature some serious star power. Along with Florence and Medina, Sebastian Zietz is looking for back-to-back final heats. He’ll need to first get through Julian Wilson in the quarterfinals to make that a possibility.
John John has his hands full with Kolohe Andino in the quarters. Florence had the edge in their non-elimination heat in round four, but Andino has put up some of the biggest scores of the contest.
Medina has to get by Mick Fanning to keep his world title dream alive. The two surprises still in the mix comprise the matchup of Kanoa Igarashi against Miguel Pupo.
Back-to-back world championships have gone out of style of late, after Kelly Slater and Andy Irons had each made the achievement somewhat commonplace. We’ve had six different champions over the past six seasons — Slater, Joel Parkinson, Fanning, Medina, Adriano de Souza, Florence.
Florence is on the verge of ending that streak. Whether he has done it in Portugal or if he is to do it on Oahu is the only real drama remaining.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.