Jamel Herring and Carl Frampton get to stick to the original program.
Concerns over their oft-postponed title fight seeing the light of day were alleviated as clearance has been granted to proceed with such a contest. BoxingScene.com has learned that the World Boxing Organization (WBO) will permit Herring to make a voluntary defense of his junior lightweight title before being ordered to enter a fight with mandatory title challenger Shakur Stevenson.
The ruling paves the way for an awaited clash between Herring and Frampton to take place potentially by year’s end or January 2021 should a date in an already packed December not be made available. The winner of such a bout will be on the hook to next face Stevenson by no later than 90 days after the completion of their contest.
“We have the sanctioning from the WBO for the fight,” Frank Warren, Frampton’s co-promoter revealed on Saturday during a fight card on BT Sport in the United Kingdom. “The fight will be on, this year.”
Stakeholders within the WBO declined a request for comment or verification of such a ruling. Top Rank representatives did not respond to an inquiry from BoxingScene.com seeking comment.
The Athletic’s Lance Pugmire was the first to report this development.
Prior to the latest update, Herring was required to honor his mandatory title defense obligation by no later than January 2021. The Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body, however, has always stopped well short of declaring that its reigning 130-pound champion must next face Stevenson or that he would be stripped of the belt for proceeding with a fight versus Frampton.
Stevenson—a 2016 Silver medalist for the United States Olympic boxing team which competed in Rio and a former WBO featherweight titlist—and his team have aggressively pushed for a title fight ever since being named mandatory challenger earlier this summer. The 23-year old Newark native moved up in weight this past June, scoring a 6th round knockout of Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo, entering the fight with his featherweight title intact. Stevenson vacated soon thereafter, in exchange for a number-one ranking at junior lightweight.
From there came the demand for a showdown with Herring (22-2, 10KOs), a 34-year old southpaw from the Coram section of Long Island, New York with whom they have shared past training camps. Herring—a decorated U.S. Marine and team captain of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Boxing team which competed in London—has served as WBO titlist since a 12-round decision win over Japan’s Masayuki Ito last Memorial Day weekend in Kissimmee, Florida.
Two successful defenses have followed, including a competitive but clear points win over unbeaten mandatory challenger Lamont Roach last November in Fresno, California. The event took place two days prior to Veteran’s Day, marking two straight fights where Top Rank—whom promotes Herring, Frampton and Stevenson—had the proud Marine veteran fighting on weekends preceding U.S. patriotic holidays.
Three weeks after Herring’s win came Frampton’s foray into the junior lightweight division, scoring a 10-round shutout of Tyler McCreary last November in Las Vegas. The wins set up a direct head-on collision to have taken place this past June in Frampton’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, only for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to ruin those plans.
Both boxers were instead granted separate bouts airing on ESPN platforms. Frampton (28-2, 16KOs) scored a 7th round knockout of Darren Traynor this past August, while Herring managed an 8th round disqualification win over Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Oquendo three weeks later on the Saturday preceding Labor Day.
Herring’s title defense proved struggling from concept through execution. The bout was twice rescheduled, both due to the reigning champ producing positive tests for COVID-19 which ruined plans for an ESPN headliner on July 2—preceding Independence Day—and again on July 14.
The two finally collided on September 5, only for Herring to suffer a horrific cut from what was ruled an intentional headbutt. The infraction took place in round five, with Herring complaining of compromised vision to the point of being ruled unable to continue after round eight at which point referee Tony Weeks disqualified Oquendo for the earlier foul.
Conversation took place after the bout of the possibility of Herring not being able to fight by January, at which point Stevenson and his team sought to have his mandatory status enforced. Instead, the unbeaten boxer will have to wait until at least next spring for his bid at becoming a two-division titlist.
For now, Herring only has to worry about Frampton—and of course when the fight will take place.
The hope heading into Herring’s last fight was for the bout to land on the November 14 undercard of stablemate Terence Crawford (both are trained by Brian “Bomac” McIntyre) in a welterweight title defense versus Kell Brook. The cut suffered by Herring pushed back those plans, with an eye on having the clash serving as the chief support to the third fight between World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former WBC titlist Deontay Wilder which was targeted for December 19 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Fury-Wilder III is suddenly in limbo, though both sides offering varying takes on the status of the event.
“It would’ve been definite if Fury and Wilder would’ve taken place, that day as a co-feature,” Herring told BoxingScene.com. “[Wherever it takes place], I just hope there’ll be somewhat of a crowd.”
Belfast’s Frampton previously served as a unified junior featherweight titlist before moving up in weight to win a featherweight strap. The latter feat came in a thrilling 12-round majority decision win over Leo Santa Cruz when both boxers were unbeaten ahead of their July 2016 war. Frampton was later named Fighter of the Year, though his glory was short-lived, having conceded the title to Santa Cruz in their January 2017 rematch.
A bid to become a two-time featherweight titlist fell well short as Frampton dropped an entertaining but clear-cut decision to unbeaten Josh Warrington in their December 2018 title fight. Already the only-ever two division titlist to come out of Northern Ireland, Frampton now seeks to become its first three-division champ.
“I've just got the news that I've wanted for a long time,” Frampton tweeted. “I will be fighting the champ Jamel Herring before the end of the year.
“Thanks to MTK & WBO for making this happen. Time to become 3 weight champ.”
Whether or not that happens can only be determined in the ring. Thanks to the latest ruling in this development, the door has been opened for such an opportunity to resurface.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox