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Jamel Herring focused on Oscar Valdez unification fight, possibly moving to 135

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Jamel Herring doesn’t seem all that interested in facing Shakur Stevenson, but the other options aren’t worse.

Jamel Herring has the WBO junior lightweight title for now, but there seems a good chance he may give it up soon.

Shakur Stevenson and Jeremiah Nakathila will fight on June 12, with the winner guaranteed a shot at Herring’s title, and Herring has to sign an agreement for that, or he’s going to be stripped. At the moment, Stevenson-Nakathila is for the interim title, but will be for the full belt if Herring doesn’t agree to face the winner.

On The Last Stand Podcast with Brian Custer, Herring made it pretty clear without explicitly saying so that he is not currently aiming to fight Shakur Stevenson. But his eyes aren’t on a worse fight, they’re on a better one: Unification with WBC titleholder Oscar Valdez.

“Oscar Valdez has called me out. He has a title. I feel like that’s the most logical and best thing for me to do in my career,” Herring said. “Shakur is not a bad fight either, but there’s more benefits fighting a guy like Oscar Valdez. It can be a unification, he has the WBC crown. He’s considered either the No. 1 or No. 2 guy in the division. I want to continue pushing myself, so why not keep going for the guys that are above me and go from there?”

As much as people might not like to see it, Herring is taking aim at a bigger fish here. He has previously said he’s not totally counting out fighting Stevenson (15-0, 8 KO), but the Valdez (29-0, 23 KO) fight is unquestionably bigger; Valdez not only has a title, he’s seen as the best in the division after his dominant win against Miguel Berchelt in February.

“We can fight in September. That’s big for boxing, especially with Mexican fanfare. Whenever they want to do it, that’s fine with me,” Herring said of a Valdez fight. “But I want to have a spectacular year to where not only I come back from a rough 2020, but if I win another fight against a great champion like Valdez, that has to put a guy like me at least in the conversation for Fighter of the Year. That’s what I’m going for. I’m not going for tune-ups, I don’t want too long of a break. I don’t want to fight anyone that people are not interested in seeing. Whenever his team wants to come to the table.”

If a fight with Valdez can get done, the WBO could certainly sanction that unification with the winner having to agree to fight the Stevenson-Nakathila winner. It’s worth noting that Valdez previously moved up from 126 instead of defending his WBO featherweight title against mandatory challenger Stevenson. All three fighters are with Top Rank, so in theory it should be easy to do.

Perhaps less easy to defend for fight fans will be that if he doesn’t get the Valdez fight, Herring isn’t so much talking about facing Stevenson, but moving back up to the lightweight division.

“I have unfinished business there. I have to make my statement there as well. I was willing to move up back up after the Frampton fight, but the Valdez fight is just so intriguing,” he said. “I have an opportunity not only to become a two-time world champion but also the lineal champion. That’s a rare feat to accomplish. So I’m willing to stay around (at 130) for that fight. But if things don’t go my way, I always have a lot of opportunities at 135 as well. I’m very accustomed to the weight class, so that’s not an issue.”

Herring says right now, he’s focused on “collecting as many titles” as he possibly can. In theory, a move back to lightweight could allow him to get an immediate title shot against Teofimo Lopez, who has the WBO title, as well as the WBA and IBF. Or, if Lopez moves up after his fight against George Kambosos Jr on June 5, we could see Herring in the mix for a vacant title fight at 135.

It’s hard to get around the sense that Herring does not seem to want that fight with Shakur Stevenson. He’s not even trying to get easy fights instead; he wants Valdez or potentially Teofimo Lopez. These are big risks, too. And they’re bigger fights than Shakur.

Still, unless he fights Shakur, he is going to have at least some people — some loud ones — accusing him of ducking the fight with Stevenson. He probably knows that, and as he says in this interview, you can’t please everyone.