Why Jamel Herring is prioritizing Oscar Valdez bout over his hard-earned WBO title

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

Jamel Herring is 35, much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. That, though, doesn’t stop the captain of the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team from dreaming big.

They’re the kind of dreams that could help lift the sport he loves.

But those dreams of winning multiple titles, becoming the man who beat the man and disposing of a series of highly regarded champions may come at the expense of the world championship he fought, sweated and bled for years to obtain.

Herring retained the WBO super featherweight championship on Saturday in Dubai with a career-defining sixth-round TKO victory over Carl Frampton.

He’s positioned perfectly for the future, because the majority of the division’s top fighters who would be potential opponents for him — such as WBC champion Oscar Valdez, top contender Shakur Stevenson and former lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko — are, like he is, promoted by Top Rank.

First, he had to get past Frampton, who was bidding to become the first Irish fighter to win world championships in three separate weight divisions.

“I could understand why people would choose Frampton over me,” Herring told Yahoo Sports. “He had the experience. He was the hungrier fighter because he was trying to make history, so of course, I knew what I was up against. It’s hard to beat a man who has a big dream. His dream was to do something not only for himself, but his country. I had to somehow topple that in terms of getting the victory.”

It was a remarkable performance, made all the better by the turnaround he had from his last fight, a win by disqualification over Jonathan Oquendo in September. Herring looked on the decline in that bout and nothing like a guy who in a few short months would state a strong case for himself as the best 130-pounder in the world.

A Marine whose boxing nickname is “Semper Fi,” Herring is the kind of guy not to make excuses. He fought the fight with Oquendo after having it twice postponed because he had COVID-19.

In retrospect, Herring admits that fighting on Sept. 5 was a mistake. There was, he said, no way he could be in the condition he needed to be in to perform at a high level shortly after dealing with the coronavirus.

Jamel Herring of the United States, right, lands a blow on Britain's Carl Frampton during their WBO super-featherweight world title fight in Dubai, UAE, early Sunday April 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Jamel Herring of the United States, right, lands a blow on Carl Frampton during their WBO super-featherweight world title fight in Dubai early Sunday, April 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

He was healthy and prepared for Frampton, though, and it showed. He won the fight in devastating fashion, sending the affable Frampton into retirement, and now has his eyes on the WBC belt held by Valdez.

That’s because Herring sees Valdez as the lineal champion. It would be a big fight because it’s a unification bout, and those always attract fan and media interest.

The problem is that Stevenson, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist and the former featherweight champion, is Herring’s mandatory for the WBO belt. Stevenson is going to fight No. 2 WBO contender Jeremiah Nakathila on June 12. Before the Herring-Frampton fight, the WBO sent a letter to all parties noting that the Herring-Frampton winner would have to notify it in writing within 30 days of the bout of the intention of fighting the Stevenson-Nakathila winner for the title. The letter noted that a failure to do so would result in the title being vacated.

He doesn’t want to give up his belt, but Herring feels the fight with Valdez is significant enough that it’s worth that if that’s what it comes down to.

“Valdez is the main priority for me,” Herring said. “I know Shakur is my mandatory, and this is nothing against Shakur, but if you have the opportunity to not only win another world championship but to possibly become the lineal world champion, [then you have to do it]. I believe the Valdez fight would do a lot more for my career. That’s not saying a fight with Shakur isn’t big, but I believe in terms of accolades and credentials right now, Oscar Valdez just has more to offer.”

Stevenson would be a difficult fight and he doesn’t have a championship, while Valdez would provide Herring the opportunity to be a two-belt champion.

Now, if the WBO strips him, he’d have to go in as the challenger and it wouldn’t technically be champion versus champion. 

No matter, though, everyone understands what it would mean.

“I want that lineal world title and everyone can’t get that lineal world title,” Herring said. “That lineal world championship clearly states that you’re No. 1 when you get it. We’re living in an era of boxing where there are so many world titles out there. People always argue about who’s the best in a certain division. But when you have that lineal title on the line and you win it, it cancels out all of that mess. I feel if I have the opportunity to go for it, why not?”

He’s right, of course. And if more boxers had that attitude, the sport would be in a much better place today.

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