ATLANTA – Shakur Stevenson smiled and diverted his attention away from Jamel Herring when he heard Brian McIntyre talking trash a few feet away from the stage Thursday afternoon.
McIntyre, who trains Herring and Terence Crawford, ordinarily would support Stevenson at a press conference or weigh-in because McIntyre, Crawford and the rest of their team are close with Stevenson and his team. Stevenson’s fight Saturday night with Herring is an unusual situation because it pits McIntyre and his training partner, Jacqui “Red” Spikes, against the undefeated challenger for Herring’s WBO junior lightweight title.
McIntyre yelled Thursday that Stevenson was “nervous” because the former WBO featherweight champion rocked back and forth while he and Herring stared at one another following a press conference at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center. Stevenson scoffed at the suggestion he is nervous about a 12-round, 130-pound title fight that he demanded.
The 24-year-old Stevenson did acknowledge during an interview with BoxingScene.com recently that Herring’s training team is “the best thing” Herring has going for him in a main event ESPN will televise as part of a three-bout broadcast from State Farm Arena (10:30 p.m. EDT). Stevenson stressed, though, that Herring’s team “can’t fight for him” and that he cannot envision any scenario in which Herring could become the first professional opponent to beat him.
Crawford, who will attend their fight, and his trainers would’ve preferred it if Herring would’ve boxed unbeaten WBC champ Oscar Valdez in a title unification fight. Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs), the mandatory challenger for Herring’s title, pushed their promoter, Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., to make this fight instead.
“It’s a weird thing,” McIntyre told BoxingScene.com, “but when Shakur said he was moving up [from 126 pounds to 130] I knew eventually it was gonna come, as long as Jamel would keep winning. It’s an easy fight for Top Rank to make. And what they try to do is out with the old and in with the new. I understand that. It’s the cycle of boxing. But the one thing they fail to realize is the heart of a champ. Jamel, I think he’s on his fourth defense, and like any other fighter that I’ve worked with, the more he wins, the stronger he gets and the more and more he’s maturing into a champ. So, that’s what I like about our chances from the time they announced the fight.”
The 35-year-old Herring is 7-0 since McIntyre and Spikes started training the 2012 U.S. Olympian following his 10-round, unanimous-decision defeat to Ladarius Miller in August 2017 at Sam’s Town Casino & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas. They’ve tinkered with his style so that the 5-foot-10 southpaw makes better use of his height and reach.
McIntyre and Spikes are as familiar with Stevenson as they are with Herring (23-2, 11 KOs) because Crawford has mentored the 2016 Olympic silver medalist since he turned pro.
There have been instances over the past few years when Crawford, Stevenson and Herring all were preparing for fights at Crawford’s gym in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Herring trained for this fourth defense of his WBO belt in Colorado Springs, but Stevenson moved his camp to Las Vegas because it would’ve been awkward if they trained in the same area.
Knowing what they know about Stevenson, McIntyre realizes that Herring is in for a difficult fight against a fellow southpaw who is one of boxing’s best defensive technicians.
“I know everything about Shakur, you know, and I’ve watched every last one of his fights,” McIntyre said. “I probably commentated on the first six or seven of them. I know his style. I know everything about him. But one thing that you can’t teach against is heart. He’s got tremendous heart. He’s a tremendous boxer. I can tell my fighter everything about him, but it’s on the fighter to execute the plan. So, I have 110-percent faith in Jamel, that he’s gonna execute the plan, that he’s gonna take all the little nooks and crannies in there with him that he knows about Shakur or what has been said about Shakur to be able to try to [win] the fight.”
The betting public and handicappers have established Stevenson as at least a 7-1 favorite, according to most Internet sportsbooks. Herring has drawn some more motivation from those lopsided odds.
The Coram, New York, native also has drawn confidence from his knowledgeable, successful team’s intimate knowledge of Stevenson.
“It helps a lot,” Herring told BoxingScene.com. “It’s like basically my team doing tape study, but actually being there in the mix the whole way through, not just from looking at a TV. They see him up close from every dimension – his work habits, his best weapons, his weaknesses. So, it’s a big advantage. But like he said, I’ve still gotta go out there and fight the fight. I still have to go out there and, you know, believe in myself and believe that I can execute the game plan.
“Because he has gone out there and said he knows my whole schedule, which is fine. But that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t put the work in. I can write out everything I’m gonna do during that day, but if I don’t do the work, what good does that do me anyway? So again, it’s like you can know everything you wanna know, but you have to go out there and execute and believe that you can do it.”
Stevenson and his team also have intimate knowledge of Herring from when they have trained for fights at the same time in Colorado Springs. The former WBO featherweight champion is trained by his grandfather, Wali Moses, and Kay Koroma, who is particularly close with Crawford’s trainers.
McIntyre, meanwhile, is confident that they’ve designed a good game plan that’ll enable Herring to produce a second straight terrific performance 6½ months after his sixth-round stoppage of Carl Frampton in Dubai.
“When Jamel wins this fight Saturday,” McIntyre said, “I look at him as being the first person on the ballot for ‘Fighter of the Year.’ Two impressive wins. And I expect nothing less.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.