In terms of world titles in the modern era, Higgins is fifth behind Stephen Hendry (7), Steve Davis (6), Ray Reardon (6) and Ronnie O'Sullivan (6). His 31 career ranking titles puts him in third place behind Hendry (36) and O'Sullivan (37). Known as a prolific break-builder, he has compiled over 800 century breaks in professional tournaments, second only to O'Sullivan. He has also compiled 11 competitive maximum breaks tied with Hendry (11), placing him second behind O'Sullivan (15). Higgins has been world number 1 on four occasions.
In 2010, the News of the World tabloid newspaper carried out a sting operation in a hotel room in Ukraine, which claimed to show Higgins and his then-manager arranging to lose specific frames in future matches for money. Although an investigation cleared Higgins of match-fixing allegations, it was found that he had brought the sport into disrepute by failing to report, and giving the impression of agreeing with, an invitation to breach the sport's betting rules. The WPBSA banned Higgins from professional competition for six months and fined him £75,000. He returned to the tour midway through the 2010–11 season.
Higgins added a third UK Championship title in 2010 and claimed his fourth world title in 2011. He then experienced a slump in form, and between 2012 and 2014 only won the 2012 Shanghai Masters. He spoke frequently in this period about his struggles with confidence and consistency. However, in 2015, Higgins returned to winning ways, capturing three ranking titles. He reached three consecutive World Championship finals between 2017 and 2019, but lost to Mark Selby in 2017, to Mark Williams in 2018, and to Judd Trump in 2019.
Higgins turned professional in 1992 and reached the quarter-finals of the British Open during his first season on the professional tour. He rose to prominence in the 1994–95 season when, at the age of 19, he won his first ranking tournament at the Grand Prix, defeating Dave Harold 9–6 in the final. He went on to win two more ranking titles at the British Open and International Open, making him the first teenager to win three ranking events in one season, and he also reached the finals of the Welsh Open and the Masters. By the end of the season, he had moved from 51st to 11th in the world rankings. By the end of the following season, assisted by two more ranking titles and another ranking final, he had moved up to 2nd in the world.
In the 1996 UK Championship final in 1996, he recovered from 4–8 down against Stephen Hendry to lead 9–8, only to lose 9–10.
In 1998, Higgins won his first World Championship, beating Jason Ferguson, Anthony Hamilton, John Parrott and Ronnie O'Sullivan, before overcoming defending champion Ken Doherty 18–12 in the final. He made a then-record 14 centuries in the tournament (an achievement that was later eclipsed by Hendry, who made 16 centuries in the 2002 World Championship). After winning the world title, Higgins became world number 1 for the first time in his career, ending Stephen Hendry's eight-year tenure in the top spot.
After the first world title
During the 1998–99 season, Higgins won the UK Championship and Masters with 10–6 and 10–8 defeats of Matthew Stevens and Ken Doherty, respectively, to become only the third player after Davis and Hendry to hold the World, UK and Masters titles simultaneously (Mark Williams later joined this elite group). In addition, he is one of just six players to have claimed both the World and UK Championship in the same calendar year (1998); the others are Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Parrott, Ronnie O'Sullivan, and Mark Selby.
Higgins remained as World no. 1 for two years, when Mark Williams replaced him at the top of the rankings at the close of the 1999–00 season. Higgins and Williams met in the Grand Prix final in 1999, where Higgins came from 2–6 down to claim a 9–8 victory; the World Championship semi-final in 2000, where Higgins was defeated 15–17 after surrendering a 14–10 advantage in the final session; and the UK Championship final in 2000 – Higgins winning by a margin of 10–4 to earn his second UK title.
He reached the World Championship final in 2001, but lost 14–18 to Ronnie O'Sullivan. At the beginning of the 2001–02 season, Higgins became the first player to win the opening three tournaments of a season: the Champions Cup, Scottish Masters (both invitational events), and the British Open. Higgins then failed to win a major title until his fourth British Open triumph in 2004.
In the Grand Prix final in 2005, Higgins beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 9–2. In doing so, he became the first player to record four consecutive centuries in a ranking tournament, with breaks of 103, 104, 138 and 128 in frames 7 to 10. Higgins scored 494 points without reply, which was then a record (Ding Junhui managed 495 points against Stephen Hendry in the Premier League in 2007). Higgins and O'Sullivan also contested the Masters finals in 2005 and 2006. Higgins was beaten 3–10 in 2005. In 2006, he lost the first three frames, but won the next five to establish a lead after the first session. O'Sullivan levelled in the evening, and the match went to a deciding frame. On a 60 break, O'Sullivan missed a red to a baulk pocket, and Higgins made a clearance of 64 to win 10–9 to claim the title for the second time.
Second and third world titles
Higgins beat Michael Holt, Fergal O'Brien, Ronnie O'Sullivan, and Stephen Maguire en route to the final. His break of 122 in the 29th frame of his semi-final against Maguire, on recovering from a deficit of 10–14 in the final session to prevail 17–15, was the 1,000th century to be made at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield since the World Championship was first staged there in 1977. In the final, Higgins held a 12–4 advantage over Mark Selby overnight, but Selby reduced his arrears to a single frame on day two. However, at 14–13, Higgins rediscovered his form to win four consecutive frames to clinch the match 18–13 to secure his second World title at 12:54 am, the latest finish to a World final (equalled when Neil Robertson beat Graeme Dott in 2010); and nine years after his first title – the longest time span between successes since Alex Higgins (1972, 1982), and the longest at The Crucible. He regained World no. 1 status.
As World Champion, Higgins reached the quarter-final stages in only the Welsh and China Open tournaments. He helped to establish, and actively promoted, the World Series of Snooker – a tour intended to bring snooker to new venues outside the traditional United Kingdom and recently developed Far East markets. He won the inaugural event in St. Helier in June 2008, beating Mark Selby 6–3 in the final. Higgins also devised a new players' union with his manager Pat Mooney, called The Snooker Players Association. He won the Grand Prix for the fourth time in 2008, beating Ryan Day 9–7 in the final in Glasgow – his first ranking tournament win on home soil.
In the World Championship in 2009, Higgins beat Michael Holt 10–5 in round one. His second-round and quarter-final matches both went the full distance of 25 frames, with Higgins overcoming 10–12 and 11–12 deficits against Jamie Cope and Mark Selby, respectively, to win 13–12. He established a 13–3 lead in the semi-final against Mark Allen and progressed 17–13 – withstanding a comeback by the Northern Irishman. Higgins recorded an 18–9 victory over Shaun Murphy in the final to become the ninth player to win the World title three or more times after Joe Davis, Fred Davis, John Pulman, John Spencer, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan. He joined Steve Davis, Hendry and O'Sullivan as the only players to have lifted the trophy three or more times at The Crucible. At two weeks before his 34th birthday, Higgins became the oldest player to triumph since Dennis Taylor in 1985, who was 36 years of age.
In the 2009–10 season, as reigning World Champion, he lost 5–6 on the black ball to Neil Robertson in the semi-final of the Grand Prix; and 8–10 to Ding Junhui in the final of the UK Championship, after surviving a comeback by Ronnie O'Sullivan in the semi-final when leading 8–2, to advance 9–8 the previous evening. He also defeated Neil Robertson 9–8 during the tournament. He captured the Welsh Open title by defeating Allister Carter 9–4 in the final, and ended the season as World no. 1 despite an 11–13 loss to Steve Davis in round two of the World Championship.
Match-fixing allegations and fourth world title
On 2 May 2010, Higgins and his manager, Pat Mooney, a World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) board member, were the subject of match-fixing allegations after being filmed in a sting operation conducted by the now defunct News of the World. An undercover News of the World team, led by Mazher Mahmood, posing as promoters, met Higgins and his manager on 30 April, in a hotel room in Kyiv under the pretence of organising a series of events linked to the World Series of Snooker. The newspaper alleged that Higgins and Mooney had agreed to lose four frames in four separate tournaments in exchange for a €300,000 total payment, and further discussed the mechanics of how to fix a frame, which tournaments and opponents to choose, and how to transfer the money to Higgins. Higgins was immediately suspended from the game and Mooney resigned from his position on the WPBSA board. Higgins issued a statement on the same day denying he had ever been involved in match-fixing, and explained that he decided to "play along" out of fear for his safety, suspecting the involvement of the Russian Mafia.
A full investigation was conducted into the allegations by David Douglas – a former Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent, and head of the WPBSA's disciplinary committee. The independent tribunal that followed on 7–8 September, hosted by Sports Resolutions (UK) and chaired by Ian Mill QC, concurred that the WPBSA was right to conclude that Higgins had truthfully accounted for his words and actions and to withdraw the more serious charges of match-fixing, but found him guilty of 'giving the impression' he would breach betting rules, and of failing to report the approach made by the News of the World. Higgins received a six-month ban, backdated to the start of his suspension period, and was fined £75,000.
Return to snooker
Higgins returned to professional competition on 12 November 2010 in the Ruhr Championship – European Players Tour Championship (EPTC) event five in Hamm and went on to win the tournament beating Shaun Murphy 4–2 in the final. His winning streak continued in the Prague Classic (EPTC6) in Prague where he reached the final again, but lost 3–4 to Michael Holt.
In the 2010 UK Championship, his first tournament on British soil since his return, he reached his third final in succession. He fought back from 2–7 and 5–9 down against Mark Williams, and from 7–9 after trailing 0–61, and needing a snooker to level the match. He made a 68 break in the decider, and sealed a 10–9 victory with a sensational double on the brown. In securing his third UK title, Higgins became only the fourth player after Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan, to win the second biggest ranking tournament in snooker three or more times. As a result of his progress in those three events, where he won 18 out of 19 matches, Higgins earned sufficient points to regain his position as World No. 1 under the new two-year rolling ranking system after having slipped to third by missing the start of the 2010/2011 season.
Higgins lost in the first round of the Masters 4–6 against Graeme Dott and withdrew from the German Masters after defeating Robert Milkins 5–3 in round one, to return home due to the deteriorating health of his father, who subsequently died after a long battle against cancer. A little over two weeks later, Higgins successfully defended his Welsh Open title by beating Stephen Maguire 9–6 in the final – dedicating victory to his late father. Higgins won the Hainan Classic, defeating Jamie Cope in the final. Higgins reached the quarter-final of the China Open, where he lost 2–5 against Shaun Murphy. Higgins' next tournament was the Scottish Professional Championship, where he defeated Anthony McGill 6–1 in the final.
In the World Championship, Higgins defeated Stephen Lee 10–5 in the first round, Rory McLeod 13–7 in the second round and Ronnie O'Sullivan 13–10 in the quarter-finals. On the way to a 17–14 victory over Mark Williams in the semi-finals, Higgins was heckled by an audience member who shouted out, "How do you swallow that three hundred thousand, John? ... You're a disgrace to snooker." Higgins went on to defeat Judd Trump 18–15 in the final to win his fourth world title, which prompted Steve Davis to comment "I think John Higgins is the best snooker player I've ever seen in my life". Despite the victory, Higgins lost the world number one ranking to Mark Williams.
Struggles with form
Higgins had a poor 2011–12 season, reaching only two quarter finals of major ranking events. His season-best performance was reaching the semi-finals of the Masters, where he lost 4–6 to Shaun Murphy. Before the start of his World Championship title defence, he admitted that his performance levels had not been good enough and that he had not been trying hard enough, managing just one or two days of practice a week. In the first round of the tournament, he came from 6–8 down to defeat Liang Wenbo 10–9. He then played Stephen Hendry in the second round, the first time the two players had ever met in a World Championship, but Hendry thrashed the defending champion 13–4, with Higgins calling it the worst he had ever played at the Crucible. He finished the season ranked world number five.
Higgins started the 2012–13 season well, winning his 25th ranking title at the Shanghai Masters after coming back from 2–7 down to defeat Judd Trump 10–9 in the final. He made a maximum break during the final, and compiled another 147 break in his second-round match against Mark Davis at the 2012 UK Championship. He also won the minor-ranking Kay Suzanne Memorial Trophy, defeating Trump 4–2 in the final, and reached the final of the minor-ranking Bulgarian Open, where he lost 0–4 to Trump. However, the season thereafter was another disappointing one for Higgins, who lost 3–4 to unranked amateur Jordan Brown at the minor-ranking Scottish Open and reached only one other semi-final of a major ranking event, the World Open, which he lost 2–6 to Mark Allen. He exited the World Championship in the first round, losing 6–10 to Mark Davis. Afterward, he admitted that doubts about whether he could remain at the pinnacle of the sport after 20 years as a professional had affected his form. He finished the season ranked 11th, slipping out of the top 10 for the first time in 17 seasons.
Playing with a new cue, Higgins began the 2013–14 season strongly, winning the minor-ranking Bulgarian Open with a 4–1 victory over Neil Robertson in the final, having beaten Shaun Murphy and Ronnie O'Sullivan earlier in the event. This win allowed him briefly to regain his top-10 ranking. He reached the final of the season's first major ranking event, the Wuxi Classic, which he lost 7–10 to Robertson. His form then deteriorated again and he suffered early defeats at a number of minor-ranking events, including a 0–4 loss to Mark King in the last 128 of the Paul Hunter Classic. He changed his cue again before defending his Shanghai Masters title, but lost 1–5 to Mark Davis in the last 16. His Kay Suzanne Memorial Cup title defence ended when he was whitewashed 0–4 by Andrew Higginson in the last 128. He lost 2–4 to Ding Junhui in the last 16 of the 2013 Indian Open, and lost 2–6 to Matthew Stevens in the last 32 of the 2013 International Championship. In the invitational Champion of Champions tournament, he lost 3–4 in the first round to Stephen Maguire.
Higgins switched cues yet again before the 2013 UK Championship, but continued to struggle in his matches, calling his poor form "soul-destroying." He lost 3–6 to Maguire in the last 16. Referring to Higgins's frequent changes of cue, 1986 World Champion and television commentator Joe Johnson alleged that Higgins was "searching for something that is not there" and "looking for someone or something to blame" for his poor form. Higgins retaliated by claiming that players in Johnson's era had struggled to make breaks of 30 or 40 on tables with much larger pockets, and by calling Johnson one of the sport's worst commentators. After the UK Championship, he slipped to number 12 in the world rankings, having failed to progress beyond the last 16 of any tournament since the Wuxi Classic in June.
Before the Masters, Higgins revealed that he had reached the "depths of despair" after the UK Championship, after spending months "in turmoil." He also revealed that he had switched to yet another cue, had regained his tempo, and felt that he was playing better than he had in some time. He defeated Stuart Bingham 6–2 in the first round, but lost 5–6 in the quarter-finals to defending champion Mark Selby, despite having led the match 5–3.
At the German Masters, Higgins lost 3–5 to Dominic Dale in the last 32. At the Welsh Open, he defeated Judd Trump 4–3 in the last 16, but lost 1–5 to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals. At the World Open, he came from 0–4 behind to defeat Trump 5–4 in the last 16, but lost 3–5 to defending champion Mark Allen in the quarter-finals. He reached a third consecutive ranking tournament quarter-final at the Players Tour Championship Finals, but lost 1–4 to Marco Fu. At the China Open, he lost 2–5 to Ding Junhui in the last 16. He suffered a second consecutive first-round exit from the World Championship when he lost 7–10 to fellow Scot Alan McManus at the Crucible. After the match, Higgins described himself as a "journeyman top-16 player now," suggesting that he no longer regarded himself among the top contenders at tournaments. He ended the campaign as the world number 11, the lowest he has been at the end of the season in 19 years.
Higgins failed to impress in the opening ranking events of the 2014–15 season, losing 4–5 to Alan McManus in the last 32 of the Wuxi Classic, 2–5 to Robert Milkins in the last 16 of the Australian Goldfields Open, and 4–5 to Ryan Day in the last 32 of the Shanghai Masters. He defended his minor-ranking Bulgarian Open title, but lost 1–4 against Judd Trump in the last 64. At the ranking International Championship, he lost 1–6 to Li Hang in the last 64. He lost 1–4 to Barry Hawkins in the first round of the Champion of Champions invitational tournament, and in the last 64 of the minor-ranking Ruhr Open, he failed to score a single point on his way to a 0–4 defeat by Marco Fu, who outscored Higgins by a cumulative total of 412 points to 0.
Higgins arrived at the 2014 UK Championship stating that he was struggling for confidence and concerned that a poor result in the championship could cost him his top-16 ranking and his place at the Masters. However, he defeated Lee Walker 6–2, Jamie Cope 6–4, and Matthew Stevens 6–2 to reach the last 16, where he lost 5–6 to fellow Scot Anthony McGill. This was enough to keep him inside the top 16, at number 14. At the Masters, he faced Mark Allen in the first round. Even though he made three century breaks, including missing the yellow when on for a maximum break, Higgins lost the match 4–6. After the match, he said that "I feel my form is steadily coming back – even when I've been losing matches I have still been gaining nuggets of confidence and I thought I played pretty well again."
Return to form
In the German Masters, Higgins lost 2–5 to Peter Ebdon in the first round, but he showed improved form and confidence at the Welsh Open, where he defeated Stephen Maguire 5–1 in the quarter-finals, Luca Brecel 6–4 in the semi-finals, and Ben Woollaston 9–3 in the final to claim a record fourth Welsh Open title and his first ranking title in two and a half years. Afterwards, he said that "It's great to win and get a bit of confidence back." In the last 16 of the Indian Open, he suffered a sixth consecutive defeat by Mark Davis when he lost 0–4, scoring only 38 points in the match. He lost 3–4 to Graeme Dott in the last 32 of the World Grand Prix, and lost by the same scoreline to Stephen Maguire in the last 32 of the Players Championship Grand Final. In the China Open, he reached the quarter-finals, defeating Dott and Trump along the way, but lost 4–5 to Ding Junhui. At the World Championship, Higgins won his first match at the Crucible since 2012 with a 10–5 first round victory over Robert Milkins, but he lost 9–13 to Ding Junhui in the second round, despite winning 5 of the first 6 frames.
Higgins made the perfect start to the 2015–16 season as he claimed the Australian Goldfields Open by beating Martin Gould 9–8 in the final. He soon won the 28th ranking title of his career after he defeated David Gilbert 10–5 in the final of the International Championship. This moved Higgins level with Steve Davis in the list of ranking events won, but still eight behind Stephen Hendry. Higgins opened up his quarter-final with Neil Robertson at the 2015 UK Championship with the 600th century break of his career, but trailed 4–1. A 69 and two 134 breaks saw him level the tie, before Robertson went on to win 6–5. Higgins almost made it through to the final of the China Open, but a 131 break by Ricky Walden in the last frame saw him lose 6–5 in the semi-finals. He saw off Ryan Day 10–3 and Walden 13–8 at the World Championship, but lost 13–11 to Alan McManus in the quarter-finals having been 11–9 ahead and said later that he had cracked under pressure.
At the 2016 World Open, Higgins reached the 100th ranking event quarter-final of his career, but was thrashed 5–0 by Ali Carter. He lost in the quarter-finals of both the English Open and International Championship 5–1 to Judd Trump and 6–2 to Ding Junhui respectively. He got to the final of the inaugural China Championship by beating Mark Allen and from 7–7 with Stuart Bingham, Higgins made three successive centuries to claim the title and £200,000, the highest ever victory cheque awarded outside of the UK. At the Champion of Champions he defied four centuries from Ding in the semi-finals to win 6–5. Higgins played Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final and was 5–4 down after the first session, but returned to take six of the next eight frames and win his second title in a week. In the second round of the Northern Ireland Open he made the eighth 147 of his career and also scored breaks of 137 and 130 in a 4–1 victory over Sam Craigie. Higgins forced a deciding frame in the quarter-finals of the UK Championship after having trailed Selby 3–0, but lost it. He closed out 2016 by beating O'Sullivan 5–2 in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Open and then came back from 5–1 down to Judd Trump to win the semi-final 6–5. He opened the final against Marco Fu with three centuries and built a 4–1 lead, but lost eight frames in a row to be defeated 9–4. Higgins won the non-ranking Championship League by beating Ryan Day 3–0 in the final.
Higgins was involved in a match of the highest quality against Mark Allen in the second round of the World Championship. At 9–8 ahead he cleared the table with a 63 break after Allen had had a kick when on a break of 58. Higgins went on to win 13–9 and then had routine victories over Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins to reach his first World Championship final in six years and, at 41 years of age, be the oldest finalist in 35 years. It was also a rematch of the 2007 final as he faced Mark Selby and Higgins started well to take a 10–4 lead. He then lost 12 of the next 14 frames, but pulled back to 16–15 down, before Selby won the two frames he required to claim the title.
Higgins passed Stephen Henry's career total of 775 centuries during the 2019 Scottish Open. He made his 775th century on 11 December during his match against Alexander Ursenbacher, and made his 776th against Jack Lisowski the following day. Higgins made his 800th career century on the first day of the 2020 Champion of Champions, although he lost the match to Ding Junhui.
First ranking title in 3 years
In the 2020/21 season, Higgins reached his first Masters final since 2006 after beating Mark Allen, Ronnie O'Sullivan, and David Gilbert. However, he was defeated by tournament debutant Yan Bingtao 8-10 in the final. On 28 February 2021, Higgins defeated Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final of the Players Championship to claim his 31st ranking title and his first ranking title in three years. After his win, Higgins said that was "the best week of [his] snooker career" in terms of the way he played. In particular, his most impressive performance came in the quarter final against Mark Selby, Higgins outscored his opponent 546-7 in a 6-0 victory. After the match, Selby stated that, "I've never had a match where [he] has so few chances. John froze me out from start to finish, he played an incredible match.”
Higgins was escorted off a plane for being drunk in 2006 after losing the Malta Cup final to Ken Doherty, but became teetotal in preparation for the 2007 World Snooker Championship, which he went on to win.
Higgins was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.
In February 2010, Higgins and his wife Denise appeared on ITV's Mr. and Mrs. and reached the final after answering all of their questions correctly to win £30,000. They donated the money to The Dalziel Centre – a day hospice for cancer patients, based at Strathclyde Hospital in Motherwell, of which Higgins became a patron after they cared for his terminally ill father.
Performance and rankings timeline
Ranking finals: 51 (31 titles, 20 runners-up)
Minor-ranking finals: 6 (3 titles, 3 runners-up)
Non-ranking finals: 36 (19 titles, 17 runners-up)
1 No Play-off. Title decided on league table only.