By Francisco Salazar
It means a lot to Jamel Herring to be fighting this Fourth of July weekend.
Herring is not just an unbeaten prospect. He is a former marine who served his country in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq, before turning pro.
As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July weekend by barbecuing or throwing back a few cold ones, Herring hopes to celebrate with a win tonight.
Herring takes on Denis Shafikov at the Santander Arena in Reading, Penn. The 10 round bout will headline a 'PBC on ESPN' broadcast, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT.
The 30-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio has fought in the shadows of fellow 2012 Olympians, such as Joseph Diaz, Jr., Oscar Valdez, Felix Verdejo, and Rau'Shee Warren.
Herring (15-0, 8 KOs), a southpaw who won a one-sided 10 round decision over Luis Eduardo Florez in his last bout on Feb. 9, is grateful for the opportunity to fight on this type of platform tonight.
"It's a huge honor and blessing to headline on ESPN on the Fourth of July," said Herring, who is originally from Coram, N.Y. "I want to put on a good show."
"It's extra special to honor on this weekend, being that I was a marine and to headline. I want to put on a patriotic and great performance."
He faces a quality foe in Shafikov, who is from Russia. Shafikov has not fought since Dec. 18, when he lost a 12 round unanimous decision to Rances Barthelemy for the vacant IBF lightweight title.
The southpaw Shafikov (36-2-1, 19 KOs) has challenged for a world title belt twice, losing both times.
Despite having a five-inch height advantage going into tonight's fight against Shafikov, Herring is not overlooking him.
"I have a great deal of respect for Shafikov," said Herring, who sparred against Lamont Peterson in preparation for this fight. "(He is a) tough guy, experienced. This is my toughest fight on paper, but I feel good."
"He had his chance and it's my time now. It's my time to earn my respect."
Herring is not ranked by any of the sanctioning bodies, but a win over Shafikov could put him amongst the ranks of contenders in the lightweight division.
It would be a feel-good story for Herring to win tonight. But Herring understands that he has to put in the effort and fortitude for him to become victorious.
Then there could be talk of contender status and world titles.
"I believe a win will open the doors for a world title. In my mind, I am taking this fight as a world title fight. That is how important this fight is."
"Before the end of the year, I hope to get a crack at a world title."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also cover boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing