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Jamel Herring: I know I’ll be the underdog against Shakur Stevenson, that motivates me

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The WBO 130 lb titleholder does expect to face Stevenson this year.

D4G Promotions Fight Night In Dubai Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images

You’ll recall that WBO 130 lb titlist Jamel Herring looked like a peak version of his fighting self when he handled Carl Frampton on April 3 in Dubai. We’ve heard the chatter, that the 35-year-old Herring (23-2, 11 KO) will put his crown up against younger gun Shakur Stevenson, the 24-year-old lefty with a 16-0 (8 KO) mark.

I reached out to Herring to ask for an update, and to see if there’s any progress on that tango, or whatever is being planned for what would be the fourth defense of his crown.

“I was supposed to have an answer two weeks ago,” Herring told me. “Hopefully we’ll get more concrete news this week. That’s why I’ve been so quiet on things. I can’t really say what’s going on at this point. They wanted to make it happen in October but due to everything getting pushed back it may happen by the second week of November, but I really haven’t heard much other than that.”

The “everything” referenced above relates to the fluidity — OK, that’s a euphemism, it’s more like “the minor chaos” that we’ve seen play out in a busy (not in a good way) couple of months — of the schedule that reminded us to use pencil when filling in the fight calendar.

In early May, we started hearing that Triller would probably blink, and cede the weekend of June 5-6 to allow the spotlight to focus fully on the Floyd Mayweather vs Logan Paul exhibition in Miami. And indeed, Triller shifted the Lopez event to June 19, and it looked like they’d need a heckuva walkup to get the gate to where they hoped it would be. But that became immaterial when four days before the show it was announced that Teofimo had COVID and the fight card was off. It’s still up in the air as to when and if Lopez and Kambosos will do their fight.

It’s by no means just Triller having a choppy ride during these uncertain times. Top Rank, who promote Herring and Stevenson, has been on a bumpy flight for the past couple months. The company earned the dismay of no small segment of boxing fans when the planned Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua battle got smashed into aerosol. That would have been forgiven if not forgotten had the July 24 Fury-Deontay Wilder trilogy contest come off on that date.

But on July 8, word dropped that Fury-Wilder 3 would have to be postponed, because COVID infected the Tyson Fury camp. One can only imagine the blowup that Bob Arum had when told that Fury was COVID positive.

All that is to say that boxing has been in a weird place the last couple of months, more so than usual, and that lots of business has been affected by all the unsettled affairs not being solidified. To be fair, I’ll not even imply that Top Rank effed up grandly with the Fury positive — that was on him alone, really. But it only makes sense that the staff over there has been consumed a bit by all the churn.

Herring agrees that all the weirdness — and also again-rising COVID numbers — is probably impacting the specifics for his next, saying, “That’s why I’m looking at November.”

“At this point I don’t even care about the mental energy, I’m just excited for the competitive nature of the fight,” he added. “I know I’ll pretty much be the underdog but that’s what motivates me and takes pressure off of my shoulders. Plus at this point, it’s a familiar role I’m accustomed to, even as the champion. I just want the win, they can speak all they want, I just want the win.”

Let’s presume Herring will face Shakur come fall. How hard a hill to climb is Shakur? He’s done plenty of rounds with him, right, enough to have ample ideas on how to proceed?

“Honestly, I don’t know, and I don’t really bank on old sparring sessions from the past so much either,” he said. “I sparred with Lamont Roach before we fought, and he showed up as a different fighter. Not to mention I haven’t sparred Shakur since 2017.

“Also I can’t sit and say how hard of a hill it’ll be, because I go off what’s in front of me in the fight. But I train like it’ll be the fight of my life. People counted me out heavily coming into the Frampton fight, but I used that as fuel to train my heart out, and we saw the outcome. I’ll also do the same here in this one as well. I don’t have any fear, I don’t have any doubt, because I’ve beaten the odds more than once, and I’m set out to continue molding my legacy. That’s what keeps me going.

“I was expected to move up after my last outing, but there’s so many good challenges at junior lightweight, and I want to be a part of those big fights. I’m still fighting for credibility, though some would even say out of all the current champions in the division, I have the strongest resume. But I’d rather be underrated than overrated any day, and I’m at peace with the way things have turned out for my career, because I earned everything given to me.”

Herring was also kind enough to indulge me when I asked a hypothetical: What would a Jamel Herring 2017 vs Jamel Herring 2021 fight look like, anyway?

“For starters, 2021 ‘Mel has a whole different team from 2017,” he told me. “I’m far more confident. Older, yes, but I’ve always taken care of myself pretty well throughout the years, and gotten better with time. I just need to continue following my team’s instructions, guidance, and be smart. I don’t like to look ahead too far, which is why I always say focus on winning one round at a time. I know I’ll be in top shape and more prepared than when I was fighting back in 2016 and 2017, plus ‘BoMac’ (trainer Brian McIntyre) and the gang haven’t let me down once. So I’m fully OK following their lead into battle!”