Jamel Herring was set to defend his WBO junior lightweight title on July 2 against Jonathan Oquendo in what would’ve been the first real world title fight we’ve seen on Top Rank’s return to ESPN.
But then the 34-year-old ex-Marine and ex-Olympian tested positive for coronavirus, and obviously the fight had to be called off on June 23.
Herring isn’t waiting long, though, as he’s set to return to action with the same opponent in teh same world title fight next Tuesday, July 14. On paper, that’s good news — Herring (21-2, 10 KO) must be feeling well, must be ready to go.
But ESPN reports from Herring himself that no, he’s not 100 percent, and while he’s symptom-free, his team were concerned enough to ask if maybe he’d want to change it to a 10-round, non-title fight. And he’s confident that even if he still feels only 90 percent next week, he’ll beat Oquendo and make a successful second defense of his belt.
This does add a wrinkle to things, even if it is just narrative to help promote this fight as more dangerous than most likely expect it to be. Oquendo (31-6, 19 KO) isn’t considered a top contender, but he’s a capable veteran fighter and arguably should have already had his shot at Herring.
In May 2019, the now 36-year-old Puerto Rican fighter was on the wrong end of questionable scoring against Lamont Roach Jr in a WBO eliminator. Roach went on to lose to Herring in November.
Herring’s run to a title has been unexpected. Yes, he’s a former Olympian, but he came into the pro game a bit older than most, in large part due to his service in the Marines meaning he had a major obligation as a young man. And as a pro lightweight, he was doing OK but frankly didn’t look special. He was rather dominated by Denis Shafikov in 2016, and lost a clear decision to Ladarius Miller in 2017. The ceiling looked to be pretty low.
Then he made some moves: he went down in weight to 130, not easy to do at age 32, and hooked up with Brian McIntyre, most known for his excellent work training and cornering Terence “Bud” Crawford.
Since then, Herring has come to life. He also moved from PBC to Top Rank, and got a May 2019 shot at Masayuki Ito’s WBO belt. Herring won the fight clean and clear in Florida, and six months later made the first defense against Roach, looking sharp once again.
His health is the biggest question right now. Oquendo may not be elite, but he’s also not afraid to bring it to his opponents. If Herring’s wind isn’t there like normal, if his conditioning lets him down a bit, if he just doesn’t have his legs like he normally does, this could be an absolutely golden opportunity for the B-side challenger.