Jamel Herring has allowed Shakur Stevenson to do all the talking leading up to their title fight on Saturday night. Herring, who is 23-2 with 11 knockouts, defends his WBO super featherweight title against 2016 Olympic U.S. silver medalist Stevenson (16-0 with eight knockouts) on Saturday in Atlanta, Georgia.
Herring was team captain of America’s 2012 Olympics boxing squad and also served in the U.S. Marines, with whom he was deployed on two different occasions to Iraq: once in 2005 and again in 2007. As a result, he’s earned the respect of his peers for his willingness to represent the United States in the ring and in the corps.
However, he still has to get a measure of respect from Stevenson, who has been dismissive of Herring since the fight was announced. Herring also enters the fight as a slight underdog, a rare stance for a defending champion, but a role he gladly accepts. “Semper Fi,” as Herring is known due to his service in the Marines, is making the fourth defense of his WBO title.
Herring gave Zenger the scoop on how this friends-turned-foes fight came about, explains why he didn’t let Stevenson pull him out of character and talks all things Herring-Stevenson.
Percy Crawford interviewed Jamel Herring for Zenger.
Zenger: Saturday night, you will be putting your WBO super featherweight title on the line against Shakur Stevenson. How has preparation been?
Herring: I feel good going into this fight. I had a good camp. No postponements, unlike my last two fights. I feel like we covered everything we needed to cover. So, I’m confident.
Zenger: This is not a bad thing because we have watched fighters like Floyd Mayweather benefit from it. But you seem to remain dangerously close to your fight weight. How do you find a balance to make sure you’re not overtraining?
Herring: It’s crazy, P… if it wasn’t for my trainers, I probably would be overtraining. I have no stop button. Once I hit the ground running, then I’m running. Luckily, I have a great team. They know how to pull me back. They tell me when enough is enough and when to relax.
For instance, my last fight, with all the postponements, going into the [Carl] Frampton fight, they actually had to tell me to take at least a week off, and go home for the holiday season. They wanted me to enjoy life a bit because I was so focused on that fight and really into my training.
Zenger: Speaking of that team, since joining co-trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre, we have watched you not only elevate your game but become a world champion as well. How comfortable are you with that team of “BoMac” and co-trainer Red Spikes now?
Herring: We are all on the same tune. Going into this fight, and I know this is a really tough fight, but I’m so confident in my team because we’re on the same page, I don’t have any worries. I don’t have any doubts floating in my mind. When I started with them to now, they have never led me in the wrong direction. With that being said, that eases my mind in a major way. I always feel great going into battle with these guys.
Zenger: Does watching a fighter like Mikey Garcia get upset by Sandor Martin put you on alert more in terms of going that extra mile in the gym?
Herring: Definitely! When I see fights like that, Mikey Garcia being the most recent one, it just gives me another sense of motivation and a lesson on what to do and what not to do. I’m not saying Mikey took his opponent lightly, but the narrative going into that fight was, people didn’t know who that guy was, it was a tune-up.
Somebody said it best: there is no such thing as a tune-up in boxing. What you may feel like is a tune-up may be your opponent’s lottery ticket. When I see things like that, it gives me a boost and a sense of urgency. It shows you that anything is possible in the sport of boxing. It’s never a 100 percent clear-cut result until the fight is over, as we are starting to see.
Zenger: Many feel like Shakur is … if not taking you lightly, being very dismissive of you. Do you sense him being dismissive or him putting on for the media?
Herring: I get a sense of both. At times I feel like he’s just trying to write me off and think it’s going to be easy work, and I’m a nobody. But there are times that I feel like he’s saying it for the media because he knows the team that I have. He’s worked alongside my team for his last fight. He knows the work that we put in to get these victories.
I find it kind of silly when he says certain things. But at times. I really hope that he’s overlooking [me]. He’s going to be in for a surprise, so it doesn’t bother me. One thing for sure, I’m not overlooking anyone. I never have. You have known that since you’ve met me. I don’t take anyone lightly, and I’m definitely not taking this fight lightly as well.
Zenger: You have always been the cool, calm and collected guy. Has Shakur pushed those limits because he has been talking this fight up and saying a lot of things? Has it been tough remaining calm?
Herring: It’s who I am. For example, you and I are both fathers; I have a teenage daughter. These kids see everything on social media. I remember my daughter coming to me when I was home, before I even got to training camp, and she said, “Dad, what’s up with this dude? I thought ya’ll were cool, and he’s saying a lot of crazy stuff.” I’m telling her, “It’s just fight talk. That’s how some fighters build up a fight.” And she looked at me and said, “Dad, no matter what, will you please continue being who you are and never jump out of character?”
When I went to the press conference, I had that in mind, so that’s why I stayed cool and calm. When we were face to face, I really wasn’t playing into what he had to say because I didn’t really care. At the end of the day, the contracts had been signed, and we had a date. We will have our opportunity to settle the score.
Zenger: It’s odd for any champion to be the underdog going into a fight where he’s defending his title, but here we are. There is a thin line between being the underdog and being disrespected. Where do you feel you stand?
Herring: I believe I sit on both sides at times. You know me, the underdog role never bothered me. It seems like I’ve been the underdog [the] majority of my career anyway. If anything, it’s the disrespect that I don’t take lightly. I know how to cope with it. I don’t go out there and lash out. No one can point out where I went on social media or did an interview and lashed out at anyone, even when I feel like I’m being disrespected. I never fight fire with fire. I go my own way and use that disrespect as motivation to get me to where I’m at now.
Zenger: That’s the out-of-the-ring stuff. In the ring, we’ll have two talented brothers, both southpaws, with experience on your side. Youth is on his. Given all that, what type of fight are you expecting?
Herring: I gotta be a dog, man. I feel like if I let it be too much of a “chess match,” it plays right into his hands. If you allow Shakur to do what he wants, he’s going to try and pick you apart, and do the bare minimum to steal the rounds. He’s fine with that. I gotta go out there and be dominant from start to finish. I gotta push myself. I gotta jump out of my own comfort zone.
My team and I have worked so hard in camp doing these things, I feel comfortable doing it. I don’t feel like I’m going in there second-guessing anything. I won’t be out of my element. I think of these things every day going into this fight. I always give him his credit. If you sit back and look too long and wait, and let him do what he wants to do, he’s going to get you.
Zenger: Are you and Shakur Stevenson cool?
Herring: You know me, P. I don’t hold any animosity towards anyone. That’s really a question you would have to ask him. I have no problem shaking his hand and showing love from the end of the fight on out, but out of nowhere he has a lot of disdain for me for whatever reason. I get it, we’re fighting for a world title, we’re competing, and we’re competitors.
But at the same time, I don’t get where some of the animosity that he has showed toward me comes from. At the end of the day, I don’t pay that any mind. I’m not the one out here saying that the mutual friends that we have must choose a side. That doesn’t bother me. If we’re cool with the same person, but I know that you rocked with him longer, I have no problem if you’re siding with him. I’m not going to get out there and say, “You being a snake.” It just is what it is.
I feel like he has a lot of growing up to do on his end. You see it now, he goes out there and puts this character on, but then gets upset when the people show him that they’re not feeling what he’s doing. It’s like, man, this is what you’re promoting, this is what you’re doing, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be out here playing the villain, but then you want to be treated like a hero.
I’m going to be the same me, regardless. I show everybody love at the end of the day. I give him credit even though he’s called me a B-level fighter in the media; he’s said that I’m not that good. Even when he had an underwhelming performance, I never went out there and bashed him. I didn’t have to do that. I was at the fight, and they interviewed me. I could have said that the fight was this or that, but I didn’t do that. I did me and went from there.
Zenger: I thought ESPN and Top Rank did an amazing job with the “Blood, Sweat and Tears” documentary, pre-fight build up show. Have you been able to treat this like a normal fight given the hype and enormity of it, or do you not want it to feel like a normal fight and invite this stage and all that comes with it?
Herring: It’s great how they are promoting and pushing this fight, but once I’m done watching it, I’m back to business. When you hit me up, I was getting my stuff out to go for a run. I don’t get caught up into it like that. I still … I’m like you, P. At the end of the day, I just want to do what I gotta do and go home to my family and continue being a husband and a father.
I don’t really care for much of the spotlight. I appreciate it and I’m grateful that I’m finally getting my shine. You know the long road I had to come through, but at the same time, it doesn’t change who I am. When you hit me up, I was happy.
You and I have had conversations where you have been dealing with guys, and then they’re telling you, “Call my man, and we can hook something up,” and you’re texting with the fighter. You’re answering my text, but I have to call your boy to set up an interview? Nah, man. We’re going to chop it up, and that’s just me.
When it’s all said and done, people are going to remember you for your character, not how much money you made, or how much press you were getting. I give everybody the same love that I would want in return. I’m motivated, I’m excited for this fight because it’s a big fight and a steppingstone for my career that I never thought I would have seen five or six years ago. I’m just grateful to be here. At the end of the day, when I leave that ring, I’m happy with just going home, sitting down and just chillin’.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki
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