The resurgence of COVID in various pockets within the US, and outside our borders continues to mess with boxing, and so some of the fights that would have been made, and announced and getting fight fans pumped up to enjoy a robust return to form for pugilism sit on the stove.
You'll recall that WBO 130 pound titlist Jamel Herring looked like a peak version of his fighting self when he handled Carl Frampton on April 3 in Dubai, scoring a TKO6 stoppage which helped convince the Irish hitter to hang up the mitts, and step away from the ring after turning pro in 2009.
We've heard the chatter, that the 35 year old Herring (23-2 with 11 KOs) will put his crown up against younger gun Shakur Stevenson, the 24 year old lefty with a 16-0 (8 KOs) mark.
I reached out to Herring, to ask for an update, and to see if there's any progress on that tango, or whatever is being planned for would be the fourth defense of the crown for Herring.
“I was supposed to have an answer, two weeks ago,” Herring told me. “Hopefully we’ll get more concrete news this week. That’s why I’ve been so quiet on things. I can’t really say what’s going on at this point! They wanted to make it happen in October but due to everything getting pushed back it may happen by the second week of November, but I really haven’t heard much other than that.”
The “everything” referenced above relates to the fluidity–OK, that's a euphemism, it's more like ‘the minor chaos' that we've seen play out in a busy (not in a good way) couple of months–of the schedule that reminded us to use pencil when filling in the fight calendar. In early May, we started hearing that Triller would probably blink, and cede the weekend of June 4-6 to allow the grand stage spotlight to focus fully on the Floyd Mayweather v Logan Paul exhibition in Miami. Ryan Kavanaugh and Peter Kahn and company shifted the Lopez extravaganza to June 19, and it looked like they'd need a heckuva walkup to get the gate to where they hoped it would be..but that became immaterial when four days before the show it was announced that Teofimo had COVID and the fight card was off. It's still up in the air as to when and if Lopez and Kambosos will do their planned dance, or will we see Teofimo slide back over to Top Rank after a brief and unconsummated romance with the Triller team?
And fluctuating planning–OK, sorry for the euphemism again, “instability” is a better word choice–hasn't only bedeviled Triller, which has had a bumpy ride since their April 17 Jake Paul-Ben Askren event in Atlanta occured. Triller has a “head of piracy,” we learned May 5, named Matt St. Claire, who told Reuters, “We will be able to identify each and every person, VPN or not, as each stream has a unique fingerprint embedded in the content. Triller will pursue the full $150,000 penalty per person per instance for anyone who doesn’t do the right thing and pay before the deadline.” Yes, the company responded to “the piracy problem,” which was nothing resembling a secret to anyone looking to enter the pay per view space, by threatening to sue the pants off kids who watched Jake v Askren on illegit stream. No one suggests that Trillers' brain trust send thank you notes to “pirates,” but threatening to sue 'em and receive damages above and beyond what's ever been recovered in similar situations came off as amateur hour to some, or a curious and possibly self-defeating response, in the very least.
Team Triller did indeed choose to move their Teofimo Lopez 135 pound titles defense against Aussie George Kambosos from June 5 to June 19, and the whispers about Trillers' planning and execution moved to full-throated declarations.
In the third week of May, the decision to up the price of the Lopez-Kambosos card by $10 had eyebrows raising to the sky among seasoned fight game people. The date gets moved, the price gets boosted while there was no shortage of chatter about poor ticket sales in Miami, which sent a note to Triller that this boxing business is not as ripe as they assumed for the conquering by “disruptors” not grounded in the idiosyncracies of the sweet and savage science.
Then the card got cancelled, which is the word I will go with until a re-set date is announced. On June 15, four days before the event was to lift off the runway, the Lopez-Kambosos tiff got yanked from the schedule, because Lopez tested positive for COVID.
And it's by no means just Triller that is having a choppy ride during these uncertain times; Top Rank, who promotes Jamel Herring and Shakur Stevenson, has been on a bumpy flight for the past couple months. The company earned the dismay of no small segment of boxing fans when the planned Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua battle got smashed into aerosol. An arbitrator ruled that Fury was obligated to fight Deontay Wilder for a third time before he gloved up with what would be in monetary scope the biggest prize-fight the UK has ever platformed.
That would have been forgiven if not forgotten had the July 24 Fury-Wilder trilogy contest come off on that date. On July 8, word dropped, like jettisoned sewage from a Boeing 747 on unsuspecting townspersons in the village thousands of miles below, that Fury-Wilder 3 would have to be postponed, because COVID infected the Tyson Fury camp. One can only imagine the blowup that Bob Arum had when told that Fury was COVID positive, and that the tall Traveller chosen not to arm himself against the virus supposedly because he was afraid of the after-effects of the second COVID jab. Right, and why didn't he get vaccinated months ago, so the second-poke effects wouldn't affect his prep? That's for Fury to explain. (And our Gayle Falkenthal spoke to this matter very effectively, click here to read her take on the issue.)
So…all that is to say that boxing has been in a weird place the last couple of months, more so than usual, and that lots of business has been affected by all the unsettled affairs not being solidified. To be fair, I'll not even imply that Top Rank effed up grandly with the Fury positive–that was on him alone, really. But it only makes sense that the staff over there has been consumed a bit by all the churn.
I ran the “chaos theory” by Herring, and he agreed that all the weirdness, and also the as-we-speak uptick in cases popping up in unvaccinated zones, while the more-transmissible “Delta” variation makes the rounds, is probably impacting the specifics for his next. “This is why I’m looking at November,” Herring said. And he's staying busy, staying in shape, and also looking forward to working with blow by blow man Ray Flores on the August 3 Triller Madison Square Garden Theater show topped by Michael Hunter.
OK, so should we presume that Herring, the team captain for the 2012 US Olympic squad, hasn't started building his mental mindset for this fight, and refining his body and brain with the primary focus of beating Shakur, who took part in the 2016 Olympics for Team USA?
“At this point I don’t even care about the mental energy, I’m just excited for the competitive nature of the fight,” Herring said. “I know I’ll pretty much be the underdog but that’s what motivates me, and takes pressure off of my shoulders. Plus at this point, it’s a familiar role I’m accustomed to, even as the champion. I just want the win, they can speak all they want, I just want the win.”
Noted; so let us presume Herring will face Shakur come fall. How hard a hill to climb, I asked Herring, is Shakur? He's done plenty of rounds with him, right, enough to have ample ideas on how to proceed?
“Honestly I don’t know, and I don’t really bank on old sparring sessions from the past so much either,” Herring said. “I sparred with Lamont Roach before we fought, and he showed up as a different fighter.”
“Not to mention I haven’t sparred Shakur since 2017. Also I can’t sit and say how hard of a hill it’ll also be, because I go off what’s in front of me in the fight. But I train like it’ll be the fight of my life. People counted me out heavily coming into the Frampton fight, but I used that as fuel to train my heart out, and we saw the outcome. I’ll also do the same here in this one as well. I don’t have any fear, I don’t have any doubt, because I’ve beaten the odds more than once, and I’m set out to continue molding my legacy. That’s what keeps me going. I was expected to move up after my last outing, but there’s so many good challenges at junior lightweight, and I want to be a part of those big fights. I’m still fighting for credibility, though some would even say out of all the current champions in the division, I have the strongest resume. But I’d rather be underrated than overrated any day, and I’m at peace with the way things have turned out for my career, because I earned everything given to me.”
Still making sense…
And here's an “issue,” maybe, that could affect the dynamic in a Shakur Stevenson v Jamel Herring fight–I heard on the grapevine that Shakur experienced and/or is experiencing some drama in his camp. I messaged coach Kay Koroma, who was in Stevenson's corner in his last fight, which got rough reviews because he didn't show a finishing instinct against overmatched foe Jeremia Nakathila.
Is it true that Koroma had a falling out with Team Shakur, and is no longer working with Shakur? I will insert his reply if received. I also messaged Julie Goldsticker, who has worked on behalf of Shakur doing publicity, and asked her about the same issue. I didn't hear back, but will insert a reply if received.
Herring was kind enough to indulge me when I asked a hypothetical: what would a Jamel Herring 2017 vs. Jamel Herring 2021 fight look like, anyway?
“For starters, 2021 Mel has a whole different team from 2017,” Herring told me. “Smiling face with open mouth and smiling eyes. I’m far more confident. Older, yes! But I’ve always taken care of myself pretty well throughout the years, and gotten better with time. I just need to continue following my team's instructions, guidance, and be smart. I don’t like to look ahead too far, which is why I always say focus on winning one round at a time. I know I’ll be in top shape and more prepared than when I was fighting back in 2016 and 2017, plus Bomac (trainer Brian McIntyre) and the gang haven’t let me down once. So I’m fully OK following their lead into battle!”