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A Cut Eye Not Nearly Enough to Deter Marine Veteran Jamel Herring

Bernard Fernandez

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The cut was in a troublesome spot, in Jamel Herring’s right eyelid, an area that had been bloodied before, in his most recent fight seven months earlier, against Jonathan Oquendo. Jamel Herring did win that fight, via eighth-round disqualification, as referee Tony Weeks had previously determined that the cut had been opened in the fifth round by an illegal head-butt. But Herring, who was well ahead on all three official scorecards and thus came away with a unanimous-decision victory, did not look as sharp as he might have preferred. Now here he was again, nicked up but clearly winning another fight, against two-division former world champion Carl “The Jackal” Frampton, who had to realize that his best chance at victory – maybe his only chance – was to target the area that was dripping crimson into Herring’s field of vision. The difference is that, this time, the cut had been opened by a punch in the fourth round, not a butt. Had Herring not been able to continue before the conclusion of the 12 scheduled rounds, he might have come away with a dispiriting TKO loss, regardless of what the scorecards might indicate.

There are more than a few fighters who have become overly cautious, to their detriment, when cut, especially if the blood flow limited what they could see of a suddenly emboldened opponent.  Other fighters similarly affected went the other route, abandoning a sound tactical strategy to go all-in for the knockout, the better to eliminate any possibility of losing via stoppage due to a worsening cut. But Jamel Herring, a Marine Corps veteran of two tours of duty in war-torn Iraq, has seen blood before. Lots and lots of blood in places far more dangerous than the ring. He continued to do what he had been doing so capably since the opening bell, fully utilizing his advantages of five inches in height and seven inches in reach, flooring Frampton twice, in the fifth and the sixth rounds, the second knockdown leaving the clearly buzzed challenger reeling, so much so that his trainer, Jamie Moore, threw in the towel, prompting Italian referee Giustino Di Giovanni to wave things off at the 1:40 mark of the sixth of the ESPN+-televised bout from the Caesars Palace Dubai.

“It was just an emotional roller-coaster just to get here,” the 35-year-old Herring (23-2, 11 KOs) said after he had retained his WBC super featherweight title in impressive fashion. “My last outing wasn’t my best. People doubted me. They called me every name in the book. But even with the cut I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to quit.”

The disappointing outcome for Frampton, 34, who was attempting to become the first Irishman (he is from Belfast, Northern Ireland) to win world championships in three weight classes, also represented something of an emotional roller-coaster, except that his thrill ride had come to an end. The Boxing Writers Association of America’s 2016 Fighter of the Year, he announced his immediate retirement to spend more time with “my beautiful wife and kids,” in addition to complimenting the man who had just conquered him.

“I said before I would retire if I lost this fight, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Frampton announced with the class and dignity he has always demonstrated throughout his commendable career. “I just got beat by the better man. I really struggled to get inside him. He was sharp, shooting from a distance. A perfect game plan. I just got beat. Zero excuses. I had an amazing camp. I came into this fight to win it.”

So did Herring, who had to patiently mark time through two postponements, both owing to his testing positive for COVID-19. But they say all good things come to those who wait, some having nothing to do with his current occupation.

“Some of the criticism of Jamel Herring going into the fight was warranted,” offered two-division former world champ Andre Ward, one of the commentators for the ESPN+ telecast. “You’re only as good as your last performance, and his last performance against Jonathan Oquendo was not great. He didn’t respond the right way. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t respond the right way tonight. He did, and he deserves everything that’s coming his way.”

What could be coming next for Herring is a unification showdown with Mexico’s Oscar Valdez (29-0, 23 KOs), the WBC and lineal super featherweight ruler. It might be a move up to lightweight, which seems reasonable for someone of his elongated physical dimensions (5’10”, 72-inch reach) for a 130-pounder.  But whatever awaits him, it has to be less harrowing than the path he already has followed to get to this point in a life marked by exhilarating highs and plunging lows.

Did Frampton say something about how Herring was “shooting from a distance”? How ironic that remark is, considering his two deployments to Iraq. Herring has seen fellow Marines killed or seriously wounded. He knows what it’s like to have RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) whiz over his head, to cringe when an IED (improvised explosive device) blew up the Humvee just ahead of the one in which he was the gunner, an exposed position that left him especially vulnerable to snipers with high-powered rifles that could cut him down from hundreds of yards away.

To have lived through that and twice to have come home whole, at least physically, reflects no small amount of good fortune. But that is not to say that Herring was not damaged in ways that are not readily discernible. He is the father of six children, one of whom, daughter Ariyanah, was only two months old when she died unexpectedly and without warning of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Her loss left a hole in her father’s heart that has yet to fully heal.

There are other unseen wounds to veterans of armed conflicts that never appear on X-rays or medical charts.

“Sniper fire. That was my biggest fear,” Herring said in a 2016 interview with ESPN’s Mark Kriegel. “Whenever we got stopped, I felt like I was a sitting duck, ’cause I’m on top of the Humvee.

“It’s rough over there. You’re deployed for seven, eight months out in the desert and it’s a different world where people are trying to kill you. You have to be watchful at all times.”

Back home and presumably safe, Herring – who had been the team captain of the USA Boxing Team at the 2012 London Olympics – had to cope with the death of his baby daughter and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). He began to drink heavily, and even now feels the need to sit in restaurants with his back to a wall with a view of all entrances. Some might call that a form of paranoia, but it is what it is. But, fortunately, Herring’s strong and controlled performance against Frampton offers proof, and hope, that the worst is increasingly behind him.

The story of Jamel Herring could easily be adapted into a feature-length or made-for-TV movie, but then isn’t that the case with so many fighters who dealt with issues that supersede anything they may have encountered inside the ropes? Boxing has always provided Hollywood with rich veins of material to be mined, from Jim Corbett to James J. Braddock to Rocky Graziano to Micky Ward to Muhammad Ali. Maybe the tale of Jamel Herring can be put into the future bin of inspirational scripts along with those of Matthew Saad Muhammad, Bernard Hopkins and Arturo Gatti, a select group of life underdogs who rose above their circumstances to achieve a form of glory reserved for those with enough gumption to defy the odds.

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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