ATLANTA – Jamel Herring realizes criticism comes with the glory and the money when you’re a world champion.
Herring still couldn’t help but take offense when cynics questioned his heart after an unusual disqualification win over Jonathan Oquendo 13 months ago. The WBO junior lightweight champion couldn’t continue after the eighth round that night because he couldn’t see out of his right eye.
Since referee Tony Weeks ruled that an intentional head-butt by Puerto Rico’s Oquendo during the fifth round caused Herring’s vision issue, Herring won by disqualification in their main event at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Herring was way ahead on all three scorecards (80-70, 80-70 and 79-71), but the rugged Oquendo had gained momentum as their scheduled 12-round fight progressed.
Skeptics speculated that Herring wanted out of what had become a difficult fight, despite his wide lead on the scorecards. Herring used that skepticism as motivation throughout training camp for his following fight, an impressive, sixth-round stoppage of Carl Frampton on April 3 in Dubai.
“Honestly, I think had more nerves going into that fight because of the outcome of the Oquendo fight,” Herring told BoxingScene.com. “I felt like my back was against the wall. And I remember just seeing all the criticism I took, but I took it as motivation. I didn’t let it eat me up, but I knew I had to make a big change. And I just used it as fuel.
“I went to the gym every day, just motivated and pumped. And I’m actually glad that I got cut in [the Frampton] fight, like I did in the Oquendo fight, because it showed the difference in character from the Oquendo fight to the Frampton fight. And I put on one of the best performances of my career.”
The 35-year-old Herring (23-2, 11 KOs) floored Frampton twice, once apiece in the fifth and sixth rounds, before their bout was stopped. That lopsided loss sent Northern Ireland’s Frampton (28-3, 16 KOs), a two-weight world champion who was stopped for the first time, into retirement.
Herring’s critics contended he might be better off walking away from boxing following the Oquendo ordeal. The 2012 U.S. Olympian, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, proved them wrong.
“I think just being labeled as a quitter, that bothered me,” Herring said. “I never backed down from anything, but I knew something was wrong, to the point I had to go see an eye specialist. It wasn’t so much the cut, it was the eyeball itself. And at one point in time, they thought my orbital bone was broken, but thank God it wasn’t. So, I had to take a lot of time off just to rest. And mind you, I was just fighting COVID. You know, I came off of COVID, and if you look at the history of fighters and COVID, not too many boxers, after they’ve fought COVID, come back and have their greatest performances, either.”
The Herring-Oquendo fight was postponed twice because Herring tested positive for COVID-19.
Herring has accepted a tougher assignment Saturday night than the Oquendo or Frampton fights, a 12-round title defense against unbeaten mandatory challenger Shakur Stevenson. The 24-year-old Stevenson is younger and more skillful than Herring, but Herring is his most accomplished opponent.
Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, has tried to get under Herring’s skin.
“He said I had no heart at the [first] press conference,” Herring recalled, “and I just smirked.”
Herring believes Stevenson simply is trying to sell a fight ESPN will televise from State Farm Arena as the main event of a three-bout broadcast set to start at 10:30 p.m. EDT.
“I think it’s all just boxing talk,” Herring said. “To me, it’s just all trash talk, so I don’t really care. He hasn’t been through everything that I’ve been through, so I don’t take what he says personally because he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I’ve been through.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.