You had to feel for Jamel Herring this weekend. A proper world champion at 130 pounds. A proper military veteran. His daughter Ariyanah died from a new fathers worst nightmare. All that led him to a place where he would fight Shakur Stevenson without the slimmest chance for victory.
Stevenson is slick and Stevenson is fast and when Stevenson decides he does not wish to be struck he will not be stricken. His punches lack obvious power but they are so precise and so sharp and so fast that they have the dreaded accumulative effect on opponents. Timothy Bradley was aggressively wondering why Herring did not simply rush in to smother Stevenson. Apparently he did not see that Stevenson was cutting and stabbing Herring with jabs and right hooks every time the champion tried to move in.
That is the Stevenson problem. He cannot hurt you with one shot but he can hit you with any shot. He does not have to sacrifice his defense to hit you. He is a ghost when he wants to be and he is physically strong enough to walk guys to the ropes when clinched. The fighter who beats Stevenson will have to hurt Stevenson and to hurt Stevenson you have to catch Stevenson. Stevenson will beat you and Stevenson will make you look ordinary. There is no joy in fighting him.
Herring tried. He tried to get his jab going but with every foray he was met with a right hook after Stevenson side stepped him. He tried to make the fight physical and it was then clear that while Stevenson is no puncher he is a strong man. By the middle rounds Stevenson was snapping off four and five punch combinations before the clinch came. He would then push the taller and ostensibly bigger Herring back toward the ropes to reestablish the centre of the ring. It was brilliant.
The stoppage was somewhat contentious. Let him lose his title! You can't take it that way! Generally I agree but Herring has stopped putting forth offense and the referee recognized that he was not going to go down. There was a bad cut in the right brow. There was some moderate bordering on serious swelling to the left eye. There was no indication that Herring had a knockout in him. It was the rare good stoppage that came too early.
Stevenson now moves on. Likely to fight and defeat Oscar Valdez to unify a handful of titles. Likely then to try to unify the other two titles. Likely then to move on to 135 where Teofimo Lopez will grind him into a fine paste. Such is the way of this sport. Jamel Herring fought and clawed and survived war zones and personal tragedies to get to the top of the mountain at 130. Only to find he was beset on all sides by younger and better fighters that wanted nothing more than to hang his head on their wall of victories. The wonderful man Jamel Herring. Doomed to be a good win on a fighters résumé.
I always leave these fights feeling lighter than I did at the start of the evening. Having watched a proud man get thoroughly and soundly beaten by a younger man is always difficult for me. My heroes are all old now. Tyson and Lewis and Gatti and Klitschko and Cotto and all the rest. They are ghosts and shadows now. Herring is never going to be mentioned in those circles. Not credibly. But when someone scrolls through a list of past champions in twenty years they will find Herring and they will say his name. Herring lost but Herring was a champion and Herring did a great thing for his family in spite of his loss.
Unfortunately for Stevenson he has entered the space where fighting him is a lose-lose for the bulk of available opponents. He will make good fighters look ordinary and ordinary fighters will get hurt. The same way my beloved Cuban Uncle Guillermo Rigondeaux was exiled for beating Nonito Donaire without making it look fun Stevenson will be ridiculed every time he simply beats a fighter fans want him to destroy. The fans will wrap their arms around a loser but a winner who affects his success through finesse and careful planning will be ostracized.
That path to stardom requires at least one highlight kayo of a legitimate opponent. Half the reason people were upset about the stoppage is that it did rob Stevenson of his highlight moment. A knockdown followed by a stoppage would have made old Arum's pants tight as a drum. While I did agree with it it likely cost Stevenson several million dollars in the aggregate.
Such is the way of boxing. Wins are not created equal. Cruising to a victory over a quality fighter and world champion should be enough. Yet for Shakur Stevenson I fear he will not be loved while he slips and dodges and counters his way to victory. While boxing fans like to watch boxing matches they love to watch the ritual of violent disconnection from consciousness. Even I found myself feeling cheated when Mark Nelson stepped in and called a preemptive stop to the nights affair. There can be no true resolution without blood.