Jamel Herring planned to use this weekend as a business trip, although recent stories have put into question what exactly lies ahead for the reigning WBO junior lightweight titlist.
An interim junior lightweight title fight between Shakur Stevenson and Jeremia Nakathila—which airs live this Saturday on ESPN from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas—is intended to determine the next challenger for Herring (22-2, 11KOs), who will be ringside for the bout. The winner of the bout will be ordered to immediately begin negotiations for a fall title fight, with Stevenson as the overwhelming favorite to prevail this weekend.
However, Stevenson (15-0, 8KOs)—after months of hounding Herring, even while the two were in training camp together—has suddenly placed his focus elsewhere. The 2016 Olympic Silver medalist and former featherweight titlist has dismissed Herring as a past-prime titlist and instead has specifically called for a showdown with two-division and current WBC junior lightweight champ Oscar Valdez (29-0, 23KOs).
“It’s a bit hard to take this scouting trip seriously, after recent comments if I’m being honest,” Herring told BoxingScene.com. “I've seen Shakur say on video that I’m not the fight he wants, because I’m old with two losses. That tells me that there’s a high possibility that this fight won’t take place, not to mention in that same interview he went on record expressing his interest in fighting Valdez, next.
“I don’t take offense to what Shakur says, in fact there’s no bad blood between him and I. The only issue I have is mainly with the people that have attacked me for wanting to fight Valdez, since I myself said it’s the biggest fight out there. But when I pushed that narrative, people were claiming I was ducking Shakur, and even Shakur himself confronted me recently in Colorado claiming that he wanted his belt, and I have to see him next.”
Herring remains on the hook to satisfy his mandatory title defense obligation, per an official ruling handed down by the WBO in allowing his voluntary defense versus former two-division champ Carl Frampton. The WBO approved that bout on the condition that the winner next face Stevenson, or Nakathila in the event that the unbeaten Namibian pulls off a major upset this weekend.
The decision to assign an interim title was done to appease the needs of Newark’s Stevenson (15-0, 8KOs), the former WBO featherweight titlist who now serves a mandatory contender for the title Herring (22-2, 11KOs) has held since May 2019. The matter has become something of a building rivalry between the two, despite having regularly shared training camps and their respective teams generally enjoying the other’s company.
Friendship quickly gets put aside when it comes to business, which brings Long Island’s Herring to Vegas and its triple-digit temperatures this weekend. Herring has made three successful defenses of his title, most recently in a career-best 6th round knockout of Frampton this past April in Dubai.
Ironically, Herring’s own stated target is a title unification bout with Valdez in his own quest to become the lineal junior lightweight champion. The hope was that Stevenson would agree to allow such a fight to happen and then fight for two belts and the division’s true championship afterward.
Still, Herring was willing to go about it the right way, first facing Stevenson and—with a win—moving on to a mouthwatering showdown with Valdez sometime in the first half of 2022. Instead, the current longest reigning junior lightweight titlist watches rumors swirl without his name involved other than as an afterthought.
“Once (Stevenson) decides that Valdez is the biggest fight for him, in his words, people turn a blind eye to everything that was said of me in the past,” points out Herring. “Again, I’m not knocking him for saying that he wants Valdez, because I still want Valdez, and Valdez respectfully is the top dog in the division, especially once Gervonta (Davis) moves up to fight Mario (Barrios, the reigning WBA “World” junior welterweight titlist) later this month.”
That part is unacceptable to the 35-year-old southpaw from Long Island, who—in addition to having served as WBO champ since May 2019—is a decorated, two-tour Iraqi war veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps who was the team captain of the 2012 U.S. Olympic squad that competed in London. All of that will be addressed to the Top Rank team by the time he takes his seat ringside for Saturday’s show.
“I will still attend the fight, but this trip may have gone from a scouting trip to a business trip,” notes Herring. “I plan on sitting down with Bob Arum and going over some things.
“At the end of the day I can only focus on me, I can’t force fights to happen.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox