Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
For the second time in a span of five weeks, a fighter has been removed from an ESPN-televised main event due to what amounts to a false positive on a COVID-19 test. Jamel Herring is the latest victim, as his planned 130-pound title defense versus Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Oquendo on July 14 was scratched shortly before Monday’s pre-fight weigh-in.
The bout was due to headline Tuesday’s edition of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN, live from a crowdless MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Those plans were once again scrapped after Herring (21-2, 10KOs) was deemed to have tested positive for the infectious disease—which would have marked the second time in three weeks if accurate. A follow-up antibody test disproved the result, although the fight was already canceled at that point by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
“I can’t win, bro,” Herring quipped to BoxingScene.com after learning of the antibody test result.
The bout versus Oquendo (31-6, 19KOs) was originally due to take place on July 2, only to have been postponed on June 23 due to Herring having tested positive three days prior. The 34-year old southpaw from Coram, New York was summoned to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period at which point he tested negative for COVID and resumed training camp.
Herring tested negative again upon arriving in Vegas, the only way in which any participant or deemed essential personnel is permitted access into the secured MGM property area known as “The Bubble.” Needless to say, Monday’s development came as a stunning surprise.
“[T]his result is a complete surprise,” admits Herring. “I was fully prepared to make my second title defense tomorrow night.
“I am hoping that my team and Top Rank can reschedule this fight soon.”
The recovery process suggests that Herring would be medically cleared to fight as soon as next week, which would leave room to land on Top Rank’s final card of July. Undefeated former featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez (27-0, 21KOs) is set to face Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez (29-6-1, 21KOs) in a non-title fight at 130 pounds, where Herring has held the WBO title since last May.
A more realistic scenario in keeping the title fight intact would be to once again reschedule for an open date in August, when Top Rank will run Thursday-only shows from Vegas. Both boxers were already on weight despite never making it to the scale on Monday, and asking to make a hard 130-pound limit seven days later is an unnecessary demand.
For now, the decorated U.S. Marine and 2012 U.S. Olympic team captain will have to quarantine external to The Bubble, per NSAC COVID-19 protocol.
Meanwhile, Oquendo is left with nothing to show for an extended training camp for his planned second career title fight.
“It is what it is,” noted Oquendo, a 36-year old from Vega Alta, Puerto Rico.
The veteran contender and his team did their best to take the news in stride.
“We’re very sad for Jonathan,” Bryan Perez, executive director of Promociones Miguel Cotto—Oquendo’s co-promoter along with Golden Boy Promotions—told BoxingScene.com. “He has been pursuing this opportunity all his life. This was his chance.”
The evening’s headliner now belongs to another COVID victim, one who suffered the exact same fate as the very boxer she’s replacing.
Mikaela Mayer (12-0, 5KOs) was promoted to the main event, as she will face Nigeria’s Helen Joseph (17-4-2, 10KOs) in a scheduled 10-round bout. The 2016 U.S. Olympian and current unbeaten junior lightweight contender was originally due to face Joseph on a June 9 card—the first of the ongoing closed-doors series in Vegas—but was pulled after the Nevada commission claimed she tested positive for the infectious disease.
Having already tested negative prior to leaving her training camp in Houston, Mayer insisted the result was a false positive—proven in a follow-up test she took one day later in her adopted home state of Colorado.
The testing snafu led to Mayer suggesting that Nevada perhaps administer two separate tests—one nasal and one oral—in efforts to prove a false positive.
Other testing protocol measures were modified—including one which allows boxers to remain on a show in the event a team member tests positive, so long as said athlete continues to test negative. However, the advancement of testing standards has yet to take place even as history repeats itself.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox