The thought of title unification has always been the goal for Jamel Herring, especially now with another beltholder finally calling his name.
Herring still has to get through a dangerous title defense of his WBO junior lightweight crown versus former two-division champ Carl Frampton (28-2, 16KOs), with their bout finally due to take place Saturday on ESPN+ from Caesars Palace in Dubai. With a win, the 35-year-old southpaw will retain his status as the division’s longest-reigning titlist.
“I will say, Oscar Valdez has entered the equation,” Herring told BoxingScene.com. “His name has popped up quite a bit. I’ve heard rumors on his side that he is interested in unifying as well. We all know that there is the Shakur [Stevenson] fight out there. He’s the mandatory and—look, I love Shakur. He’s a good dude and a good friend of mine. I believe he’s fighting in June.
“That might provide us with that wiggle room to squeeze one in.”
Valdez (30-0, 23KOs) shook up the title picture with an emphatic 10th round knockout of Miguel Berchelt (38-2, 34KOs) to annex the WBC junior lightweight title this past February at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. After the fight, Valdez was not shy about calling out the best in the division, including showdowns with Herring and Shakur Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs)—the latter who is currently the number-one contender with the WBC and WBO.
Herring (22-2, 10KOs)—a decorated U.S, Marine and 2012 U.S. Olympic Boxing team captain from Cincinnati by way of Long Island, New York—entered his May 2019 title challenge versus Japan’s Masayuki Ito of the belief that the winner would get a crack at Berchelt (38-2, 34KOs). Apparently, title unification was only on the table had Ito won the fight.
Berchelt was ringside for their bout at Osceola Heritage Park (OHP) in Kissimmee, Florida, entering the ring to congratulate Herring before never again looking his way.
“No disrespect to Berchelt, but he never wanted to fight me,” notes Herring, who has made two title defenses heading into Saturday. “He was ringside when I beat [Masayuki] Ito to get the belt. He got in the ring when I won the belt. You’d think from there we’d have been next, and even again after we both pulled fights a week apart [in Nov. 2019], when I fought Lamont Roach a week after he fought Jason Sosa. We still hoped it would be next.
“He did what he did, though, so I went and pursued the Frampton fight. He was already looking at Valdez and I didn’t want to be that world champion who doesn’t have a marquee fight when everyone else in the division has one. Oscar Valdez mentioned my name on the [Max on Boxing] ESPN show. I want to be that real champion, the true lineal champion. Me and Valdez should help get us there. After that, I can ride off to bigger and better things, leaving the division on a high note.”
Valdez remains the best option for Herring to land a title unification bout. The WBA picture is a mess, while the IBF title is currently vacant.
Of course, Herring still has to prevail this weekend before thinking about his next step. His last bout was a reminder to embrace the moment, looking shaky in an 8th round disqualification win over Jonathan Oquendo last September. The fight was twice rescheduled due to Herring testing positive for and subsequently recovering from Covid-19, all while serving as a replacement for the oft-postponed showdown with Belfast’s Frampton.
“All love and respect to Oscar Valdez. I was rooting for him because I knew he’d want to fight me. Miguel Berchelt was a great champion. I pray and hope that he is doing well, not only did he suffer the loss the way he did but also came out of battling with Covid before then like I had to. I never want to see anyone have to worry about those long-term effects. In his case, I hope he fully recovers.
“As for my future, I would love to unify with Oscar Valdez. If we can’t get that fight, then I’d love to become a two-division champion by winning at lightweight. First things first, though. We can’t look past Carl Frampton. I love and respect everything about Carl Frampton and all that he’s accomplished. This will be a great win for my resume once I’m done.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox