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There should not be anything worthwhile about a 33-year-old veteran fighting for a world title. But Jamel Herring (19-2, 10 KO) is not boxing’s everyday veteran.
Ahead of a Super Featherweight championship fight, Herring’s reputation was forged by nine years in the Marine Corps, not just the prize ring. Two tours in Iraq, before fighting in the 2012 Olympics, the New York-born southpaw is preparing for WBO beltholder Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13 KO), who he meets May 25 on ESPN.
Herring, proudly nicknamed “Semper Fi,” is willing to guarantee a few things. “There’s going to be times I’ll have to dig deep,” the title contender told Round By Round Boxing. “There’s going to be some times I’ll have to go toe-to-toe.”
Despite being severely shorted by the oddsmakers, so shorted that the betting line was soon taken down after opening as a +1000 underdog, the retired Marine is confident in himself and the team around him. He’s under the watchful eye of trainer Brian McIntyre, who he met in 2017 sparring with superstar Terence Crawford.
“We got to be cautious to see what he brings to the table but we’re not too worried,” said Herring. “We have game plan that we’ll set in motion.”
Ito, 28, may be world ranked by major publications whereas Herring is not yet, but he does fall short in some ways to his American challenger. Quite literally, actually. Standing 5-foot-8, giving up two inches in height to Herring.
“Look at this last two opponents,” Herring assessed his opponent’s track record. “They were really small to him. I’m going in there as the bigger man.”
Herring is in tiptop shape training out of Colorado Springs. Formerly a Lightweight after competing in the Olympic Games at 141 pounds, boiling himself down to the Super Featherweight limit is not a problem for the veteran. It actually makes the entire process that much more rewarding.
“It’s all about how you take care of yourself. Inside and outside of the ring. It takes a lot of dedication and definitely a lot of hard work. So all that put together makes the grind well worth it.”
That extra grind—those extra reps, all the more sweat—it seems to be working. Herring has rattled off three straight wins since dropping to the Super Featherweight division in the beginning of 2018. It was a pivotal year for Herring, moving from under the PBC banner to fighting for Bob Arum and Top Rank.
The move has afforded him the biggest bout of his life. This weekend, he represents Ito’s second title defense.
Last year, the 28-year-old champion left Japan for the first time to prevail over Christopher Diaz, a Top Rank upstart, for the WBO strap. Never known as a big puncher, Ito still brutalized Diaz before heading back home to stop Evgeny Chuprakov in seven rounds, becoming increasingly one of boxing’s foremost indecipherable stylists.
Herring, though, has an interesting skillset of his own. Unlike many standout amateur southpaws, rather than relying on slippery ways, Herring can routinely be seen smiling in close quarters with his opponents: looking for a scrap, dragging one out of his man if he must.
Ready as ever, Herring recognizes the moment in front of him, speaking to those moments when the crowd melts away and the violence within those four corners swells. As he put it, “the heat of the moment” takes over. He is more than prepared to yet again lose himself in the action.
“You can’t underestimate nobody. I’ll have to sit down and dig deep. I’m looking for the best out of him.”
The best is what Herring strives for. The best is what the sport brought out of him. He owes a part of himself to it.
“Boxing basically saved my life,” said Herring. “It kept me off the streets—kept me out of trouble. Now as a pro, I fight for my family.”
Top Rank Boxing on ESPN will be broadcast live at 10:00 pm, ET.