By Jake Donovan
Jamel Herring has represented the United States in more ways than most other American boxers can claim.
The 33-year old southpaw from Eastern Long Island, New York is a decorated U.S. Marine who served two tours in Iraq, having also boxed his way to the 2012 London Olympics, where he served as team captain for the U.S. Olympic boxing squad.
It’s perhaps only fitting that his first title fight comes on a patriotic weekend, as the event precedes the Memorial Day holiday. Two days before Americans reflect upon those who died in combat while defending the nation’s freedom, Herring will challenge Japan’s Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13KOs) for the super featherweight title. Their bout takes place Saturday evening, live on ESPN from Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Florida.
“This is probably one of the best camps that I have had,” noted Herring (19-2, 10KOs), who looks to extend his current three-fight win streak, while also dedicating the his first shot at a major title to two special people he’s lost in his life.
In honor of Memorial Day, he fondly recalls fellow Marine and close childhood friend Stephen Brown, whom Herring had known since he was seven years old. It was Brown—who was a year older and a grade ahead—whom motivated Herring to do better with his life at the time he was set to graduate from Coram’s Longwood High School in 2003.
Herring followed his friend into the U.S. Marine Corps but would ultimately fight for his legacy as Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004, passing away two years later.
Three years later would come the birth of Herring’s third child, Ariyanah who would be 10 on Saturday. The date serves instead serves In Memoriam, as she passed away at just two months of age due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in July 2009.
Simply put, Herring always has something to fight for every time he enters the right. This time around, however, he heads into fight night confident that others have fought for him.
The amount of time and attention now afforded his career is what prompted his joining both the Top Rank family and renowned boxing trainer Brian ‘BoMac’ McIntryre. Herring—who relocated from Long Island to Cincinnati, Ohio upon turning pro—was part of an all-star camp that included Adrien Broner, 2012 Olympic teammate Rau’Shee Warren and—when traveling from his Toledo hometown—Robert Easter Jr. among many others.
Finding sufficient work was certainly never a problem; the same could not be said for the one-on-one commitment required to further his own boxing career.
"I just felt that I wasn't getting the attention that I needed and in order to succeed in the future. I needed to make some changes to my inner circle,” Herring noted at the time of aligning himself with McIntyre, best known for his work with unbeaten pound-for-pound king and three-division champ Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford. “He really believed in me, especially after I helped Bud in (past camps).”
Of course, not all of the time spent training in Colorado Springs (Col.) and Crawford’s Omaha (Neb.) hometown will land squarely on Herring, especially when the two are in camp together. There was minimal overlap this time around as Crawford was in training for an eventual 6th round stoppage of Amir Khan on April 20 at Madison Square Garden.
Herring was on hand to support his stablemate, as the entire team does anytime another is in the ring. Following the fight, though, came the heart of training camp where he served as the star attraction for his challenge of Ito, who attempts the second defense of the 130-pound title he claimed last July.
“The main focus was on me,” Herring said of the past several weeks training in the Midwest. “We’ve done everything that we needed to do and work on, and I’m ready to go.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox