All that Jamel Herring was willing to change about his upcoming title defense was the date.
The 34-year old southpaw from the Coram section of Long Island, New York is prepared to put his 130-pound crown on the line for the second time when he faces Vega Alta’s Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Oquendo. The two will collide on July 14 live on ESPN from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Their bout was originally due to take place July 2, only for Herring to have tested positive for COVID-19 and thus delaying the fight by 12 days. During that stretch came the opportunity to change the terms—come in a little heavier and make it a non-title fight, or even abandon the assignment altogether and await a more lucrative opportunity later this year.
Both were unquestionably dismissed by the decorated U.S. Marine and 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team captain.
“I had that chance, play it safe and just wait for that big paycheck to come along later,” Herring (21-2, 10KOs) told BoxingScene.com. “When I tested positive for corona, I could’ve easily pulled out of the fight. That was never a consideration for me. Bomac (Brian McIntyre, Herring’s head trainer) asked I just wanted to make it a non-title fight, come in a little heavier and not push my body as hard to make weight. I wasn't hearing that, either.
“The way I see it, I made a commitment. I promised Top Rank I’d defend my title on this (closed-doors) series. I was ready to travel to Belfast to fight Carl Frampton before this pandemic started. I’m ready for this fight, too. Champions don’t make excuses.”
Herring claimed the WBO junior lightweight title with a 12-round unanimous decision over Japan’s Masayuki Ito in a career-best performance last Memorial Day weekend in Kissimmee, Florida. His first defense—a hard-fought 12-round nod over unbeaten mandatory challenger Lamont Roach Jr.—took place last November, two days prior to Veteran’s Day.
A similarly patriotic theme was to have come with his showdown versus Oquendo (31-6, 19KOs), with original plans calling for the bout to take place two days prior to the nation’s traditional celebration of Independence Day. COVID-19 ruined that vision, but never to the point of not wanting to still defend his crown.
“If you look around, every other champion and bigger option is tied up anyway,” Herring notes. “Miguel Berchelt just fought and is probably going to fight Oscar Valdez (who first faces Jayson Velez on July 21). Leo (Santa Cruz) and Tank (Gervonta Davis) are likely fighting each other. My old Olympic teammate, JoJo Diaz has a mandatory. Even Carl Frampton is looking like he’s ready to get back in August.
“So why wouldn’t I fight and defend my title now? As long as I’m world champion, I’m going defend my title. It was never about the purse, or fighting in front of fans. I’m getting older and I need to fight. I made a promise to Top Rank, to ESPN and to Jonathan Oquendo—who’s been training hard for this fight—and I always keep my word. That’s how true champions are supposed to carry themselves.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox