No matter what is said to the contrary, Jonathan Oquendo will never believe that he isn’t as prepared to challenge for the title as Jamel Herring is to defend it.
The confidence stems from the differing stakes for both combatants heading into their WBO junior lightweight title fight, which will air live from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas (Saturday, ESPN+, 10:00 p.m. ET main card). A win on Saturday night will keep Herring (21-2, 10KOs)—who attempts his second title defense—on course for a high-profile showdown with former two division champ Carl Frampton (28-2, 16KOs) later this year.
As for Oquendo, there is nothing on his current calendar beyond this upcoming fight.
“From the moment I was named as his opponent, I am convinced that Jamel Herring is looking past me," Oquendo insisted to BoxingScene.com. “I still believe they messed up by choosing me as the opponent. They handpicked me thinking I will be a tune-up (for Frampton), but you know what—it motivates me.
“I love it, I love being the underdog. It makes me hungry. They are looking ahead of me. It gives me motivation to shock the world and bring that title home to Puerto Rico.”
The bout marks the second attempt at any version of a divisional crown for Oquendo (31-6, 19KOs). The squat 37-year old from Vega Alta, Puerto Rico came up short in a December 2015 bid for a secondary version of a featherweight title, dropping a 12-round decision to Jesus Cuellar.
Five wins in his last six fights has since followed for Oquendo, who enters on the heels of a 10-round shutout of Charles Huerta last November. The lone loss over that stretch came in a competitive but clear decision defeat last May to then-unbeaten Lamont Roach Jr., whom Herring outpointed last November for his first successful title defense.
Herring was originally due to face Frampton this past June on the road in Belfast, Northern Ireland, only for the coronavirus pandemic to thwart such plans. Bound to fight stateside, the decision came to enter a voluntary defense versus Oquendo, who—at 5’4”—at least simulates the physical dimensions of Frampton.
It took three tries to get to this point, as Herring tested positive for COVID-19 in having to postpone their originally intended July 2 clash. Both boxers made it to The Bubble for their rescheduled July 14 headliner, only to find out prior to the weigh-in that the bout was once again delayed as Herring produced the equivalent of a false positive despite having tested negative before and at least twice thereafter.
With both boxers having tested negative throughout this camp and finally making it to the scale, the fight will finally see the light of day. The two-month delay in getting to this point, however, pales in comparison to a career spent dreaming of this moment.
“I’ve been waiting all my life for this opportunity to come about,” admits Oquendo. “I feel honored and privileged to have been chosen to fight for the world championship. I am more than ready, no excuses.
“I cannot wait for Saturday night. I know I will be victorious. They made a big mistake choosing me for this fight and I can’t wait to bring home that title to my family. That will be the reward for all of my hard work and the sacrifices we’ve all made.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox