By Ryan Maquiñana
One by one, a quintet of 2012 U.S. Olympians made their respective pro debuts at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif., last month. All of them won with ease and notched their first victories, with the familiar sight of captain Jamel Herring cheering them on.
This past week, Herring left his ringside seat to join his compatriots in the professional ranks, opening his career with a lopsided unanimous decision over Jose Valderrama in Anaheim, Calif., on the Luis Ramos Jr.-Ricardo Williams Jr. undercard.
BoxingScene.com caught up with Herring, a former Marine sergeant from Coram, N.Y., who once served two duties in Iraq, to get his recollection of a night he will undoubtedly remember for the rest of his life.
BoxingScene.com: Tell me about your first experience as a pro, especially leading up to the fight.
Jamel Herring: For starters, the timing was different. In the amateurs, you weigh in in the morning, but my first professional weigh-in was different with all the paperwork and contracts. It was late, too, like five [o’clock] in the evening. Plus I was going down from my usual weight of 141 [pounds] to the contracted weight of 137, but because I was waiting for so long, I got all the way down to 135 and a half. I got to rehydrate and gained about 10 pounds. I felt strong the next day though.
BoxingScene.com: What about as far as fight night was concerned? Were you nervous, anxious, or excited?
Jamel Herring: I was in the swing bout, so you don’t know when you’re going to fight. Everyone in the undercard was getting knocked out, so they rushed me getting my hands wrapped. I thought I was going after Rau’shee [Warren], but then they told me I’d go after the main event. I did have butterflies, but I was just more anxious than anything. [With] something like that, you have to stay warm, stay loose, but try to keep focused.
BoxingScene.com: How did you stay focused with the long wait? I know you’ve mentioned in the past how influential Andre Ward was in your camp leading up to London.
Jamel Herring: Actually I was thinking about something Andre Ward told me during my camp for the Olympics. He said that there’s not a fighter out there who doesn’t get nervous or have butterflies. That’s just a normal state. You just have to get in your comfort zone and do your best to stay calm, cool, and collected. Once I came to the realization this was all part of competing, it worked. It all went away.
BoxingScene.com: You outboxed your opponent for four rounds and had your hand raised, but this was your first bout since the London Games. Did you feel rusty at all?
Jamel Herring: I wanted to prove that I showed I had improved from my last fight in the Olympics. I wanted to put that behind me. Once that bell rung, I just wanted to get my feel and get my rhythm back. And actually, I’ve always been a little of a slow starter in the amateurs, and the pace in the pros was kind of the same. I felt comfortable, even without the headgear. With my style, I like to move a lot, and feeling the lighter 8-ounce gloves was different at first, but I got used to it after the first round.
BoxingScene.com: Did you feel like you had something to prove based on your first-round exit in the Olympics?
Jamel Herring: Me and you have talked in the past, and you know how we all felt about the criticism we took as a team, especially myself in my Olympic debut. You could imagine in the last three months, I had that in the back of my head. I just wanted to prove that was a one-time thing, and that it wasn’t going to carry over to the next level. I still have a lot of growing. I’m a realist; I know one fight isn’t going to change everything, but to get a lot of praise from people compared with the last time I was in the ring, it’s great for your confidence. It’s a great feeling.
BoxingScene.com: What’s next for Jamel Herring?
Jamel Herring: Working with [advisor] Al Haymon, I plan on being back in there around the 12th of January. You’ll see a lot of us [Olympians] back around then. I’ll probably go visit family for a while and be back in the gym in no time.
BoxingScene.com: The last of your teammates who went pro, Joseph Diaz Jr., makes his debut Saturday on CBS. Now that you’ve been in there, what advice do you have for Joseph? What can he expect to see?
Jamel Herring: I speak to Joseph all the time. He’s my little brother on the West Coast. He’s got a pro style. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem with him at all. He’s going to be relaxed in there. Basically I’d tell him what I just said about not worrying about getting butterflies. He might start off a little slow, because he does that sometimes, but when he gets his rhythm, he’s going to be great in there.
BoxingScene.com: Anything else you’d like to tell the fans, especially back home in Coram, N.Y., as well as those in the Marine Corps?
Jamel Herring: I just want to thank everyone for supporting me. I’m still hyped up from the fight. I’m definitely excited to see Joseph Diaz in his pro debut. I just want to wish him the best of luck, and also congratulations to [fellow Olympian] Jose [Ramirez] for winning his debut, too.
BoxingScene.com: Congratulations on the win and hope to see you back soon.
Jamel Herring: Thanks, but let people know I’ll definitely be looking for the knockout next time around. (Laughs)
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.