WBO 130-pound world champion Jamel Herring has been in the center of the attention of the boxing sphere lately. The 34-year-old athlete went through a rocky road including back-to-back positive coronavirus tests and fight postponements to finally be able to defend his belt against Jonathan Oquendo in early September in Las Vegas.

The fight itself turned out to be a bittersweet experience for Herring (22-2, 10 KOs), who suffered multiple headbutts and cuts over his right eye that blurred his vision until he ultimately decided to stop fighting and awarded a win by disqualification over his Puerto Rican opponent.

Herring instantly became a target by boxing insiders for his retreat from the fight until he later declared he had suffered a scratched cornea during the fight as well as has ‘an old broken fracture’ in his face that needs time to heal.

The question now is when he will get fully recovered to fight and who will be his opponent on his ring return.

Top Rank is still chasing a bout between Herring and former two-division world champion Carl Frampton. The World Boxing Organization, though, made clear the champion needs to face his mandatory challenger by January 2021, who is Shakur Stevenson (14-0, 8 KOs).

“The WBO has rules. Herring is no special or super champion and these rules should apply to him too,” stated Nestor Tobias on behalf of WBO No. 3 ranked contender Jeremiah Nakathila (19-1, 15 KOs) to BoxingScene.com.

Tobias has been vocal on the matter as his protégé has been waiting tirelessly to get his shot at the world title for almost two years. During this period, the WBO has elevated two former featherweight belt holders to mandatory challenger status in Oscar Valdez and now Stevenson.

“If Herring is unwilling to fight Stevenson, then Stevenson must fight Nakathila and no special rules should be created that will suit Herring and his promoter. We must all respect WBO rules with no exceptions.”

BoxingScene.com reached out to the WBO to get an official statement on the matter. President Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcarcel was straight on point with his answer and made sure their rules will get respected.

“All I can tell you at this time is that the World Boxing Organization will enforce its rules and regulations accordingly.”

The rules, however, are only one of the determining factors when we are talking about a mandatory matchup between Herring and Stevenson. Friendship is another.

“We’ve stated many times in the past that we wouldn’t fight unless it was the very last resort,” said Herring to BoxinScene.com following his victory over Oquendo.

In fact, the fighters share a trainer in Brian ‘BoMac’ Mcintyre and they train in the same facility in Omaha, Nebraska.

“We work with the same people. BoMac, Red, they help me out a lot, also. So, I’m not gonna get on record and call out Jamel Herring because me and him are real tight,” stated Stevenson to BoxingScene.com’s senior writer Keith Idec following his successful debut at super featherweight against Felix Caraballo back in June.

“It’d be a real weird situation. I wouldn’t call for no fight like that, but if it came down to it, and it’s my last resort and the only way I could get a world title [shot] or something else drastic, that would make me fight Jamel. But other than that, I wouldn’t wanna get in the ring with him.”

Herring and Stevenson has a tough decision to make. And arguably the most enthusiastic supporters of their friendship at the moment is No. 3 rated Jeremiah Nakathila and his team.

“Stevenson is the current mandatory challenger and Nakathila is next in line. This would make for a great fight and should Herring not want to fight Shakur, Stevenson vs Nakathila for the vacant WBO world championship cannot be avoided,” concluded Tobias.

You can reach Tamas Pradarics at pradaricst@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TomiPradarics.