Typically, the fighters competing in the curtain-jerker, or opening bout, of a boxing event can expect to ply their crafts to an audience of empty chairs. Lightweight prospect Jamel Herring, who opens up Saturday’s Paul Malignaggi-Adrien Broner WBA welterweight title fight card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., won’t be fighting to the tune of crickets, however. The 27-year-old is expecting a great deal of family and friends to make the trip from his hometown of Coram on New York’s Long Island to witness his first pro bout on home turf.
“I’m excited but at the same time I have to keep my composure and focus on what I have to do to get this win on Saturday,” said Herring, a southpaw with a 3-0 (2 knockouts) record. Herring’s opponent for the four-round bout will be Calvin Smith (2-3) of Prichard, Ala. The main event, plus the Johnathan Banks-Seth Mitchell heavyweight rematch and the Sakio Bika-Marco Antonio Periban vacant WBC super middleweight title fight will be aired on Showtime, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Saturday’s fight is a long overdue homecoming for Herring, who has been away from his native state for the better part of a decade. Shortly after graduating high school in 2003, Herring enlisted in the United States Marines, based out of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. It was there that he began to excel on the Marine boxing team, but wouldn’t get a chance to fully blossom until after two tours of duty in Iraq – first in Fallujah in 2005, then Al Tiqudam in 2007.
While stationed at Camp Lejeune, Herring took home the silver medal at the World Military Boxing Championships in 2010, qualified for the Olympic trials by winning gold in the 2011 Armed Forces Boxing Championships in Texas, then followed that up by winning the 2012 USA Boxing National Championships. Herring made the Olympic team by going unbeaten in the trials, becoming the first active member of the military to do so since 1992.
Though Herring didn’t medal in London, his struggle to make it to that juncture was a fitting tribute to his daughter Ariyanah, who passed away in her sleep in 2009 at just two months old.
“For awhile it crushed me,” said Herring. “My two little boys [Stephen, 5, and Jamel Jr., 3] were my motivation to continue boxing because I feel that the Olympics will open more doors for me where I can give my sons a better life. My main goal is to give them the life I never had so every time I jump in the ring I’m fighting for their future.”
After retiring from the military with the rank of sergeant, Herring needed a new trainer. That’s when he called Mike Stafford, trainer of Adrien Broner and Herring’s Olympic teammate Rau’shee Warren. “I was getting off the military last September and I really needed a new trainer since the coach I was working with had a contract with the National Marine Corps,” said Herring.
“So I just decided one day out of the blue to give Mike a call. When I called him, he welcomed me with open arms and said he would love to train me since we had good chemistry during training camps in the Worlds tournament and the Trials.”
Working with Stafford meant relocating to Cincinnati, where he has learned from the deep talent pool in his gym. “It’s an honor to be around that type of guys,” said Herring, who hasn’t sparred Broner for this camp due to Broner’s jump to 147. “Who wouldn’t want to be around a world champion or a world class trainer? I’m just soaking in all of that knowledge. It’s like a guy that works around Manny Pacquiao or Freddie Roach, they’d be honored. So just having that in your corner alone, the advantage is a great pleasure.”
Herring will be joined by his Olympic teammates Warren and Marcus Browne on Saturday’s undercard. Those wanting to see Herring in action can join his family and friends at the early show, beginning at 4 p.m.
Photo / Al Bello-Golden Boy
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.