Undefeated Shakur Stevenson extended his record to 17-0 (9KO) and became a two-weight world champion with an impressive 10th round stoppage of Jamel Herring in Atlanta.
IN THE RED CORNER – JAMEL HERRING
Jamel’ Semper Fi’ Herring entered this contest as the WBO champion and sitting atop the Ring Magazine rankings for the weight class, having won the belt with a convincing unanimous decision over Masayuki Ito in the summer of 2019. Herring won the contest in the midst of trauma outside the ring, with his daughter Ariyanah having recently passed away and the fight night marking what would have been her 10th birthday. As the final minute of the title bout counted down, the crowd chanted “USA” in support of the former Marine as the bell rang.
In his most recent bout, Herring defended the title and ran his career record to 23-2 (11KO) with a 6th round stoppage of former two-weight world champion and 2016 Ring Magazine fighter of the year Carl Frampton in Dubai. Herring was cut by Frampton in round four before dropping the Northern Irishman in the 5th and 6th round and seeing the towel thrown in.
Speaking to Ring Magazine on fight week, Herring stated his intent to be aggressive in this fight. “I think it comes down to who is the busier man. We know that if you let Shakur sit back and do what he wants, he’ll just pick you apart,” said the former Marine. “I have no issue jumping into the fire. That’s what makes your opponent open up when you make them feel uncomfortable.”
With both his career losses to date coming to left-handed fighters, Herring entered this bout more than aware of the threat Stevenson produced. After his second defeat, Herring changed teams in 2018 and paired up with current trainer Brian McIntyre, a move that preceded an active streak of seven straight victories.
The coach known as Bomac was renowned for his work with Terrence Crawford, perhaps the world’s greatest current southpaw, and would be a big factor in preparation for Stevenson. Herring and his team also brought in former world champion Amir Khan and had him spar as a southpaw to simulate and prepare for the hand speed and quick movement of Stevenson. It would likely be an important aspect of training camp, as ESPN reported opponents of Stevenson to land only 4.4 punches per round during his career to date, in contrast to 7.7 for the opponents of Herring.
IN THE BLUE CORNER – SHAKUR STEVENSON
While Herring came into the fight as a symbol in the eyes of many of perseverance in and out of the ring, opponent Shakur represented youth and unlimited potential. With a record of 16-0 so far in his young career, the 24-year old had announced himself as a contender with a convincing unanimous decision win over then-unbeaten Joet Gonzalez to claim the vacant WBO world featherweight title in 2019. The fight was something of a grudge match, with bad blood building up as Stevenson was dating the sister of Gonzalez, a relationship not met with universal approval from the Gonzalez family.
This past summer, Stevenson moved up to #5 in the Ring ranking list as he scored a convincing unanimous decision win over Jeremiah Nakathila (120-107 all three cards) but failed to impress despite dropping his Namibian opponent in the 4th round. “I’m not gonna lie, I almost fell asleep watching because I was waiting for him to step it up like I know he knows how to,” said ESPN analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. Shakur was unphased telling RingTV that “I really don’t care because on my bad night I dominated every round.”
Despite Herring holding an advantage in terms of experience, height, and reach, the younger Stevenson was installed as bookmakers’ favorite ahead of the bout. The 2016 Olympic silver medalist entered the bout confident but more than aware of the threat possessed by the defending champion. “He’s a big threat; every opponent is a threat,” Stevens told RingTV. “He’s tall, rangy, boxes a little bit; he’s got a little pop. I just don’t think his skill level is on my level. I’m going to put on a great show.”
At the weigh-in for this fight, a confident Stevenson tried to get under the skin of Herring by grabbing the belt on his shoulder and throwing taunts that did not phase the defending champion.
The fighters felt each other out in the opening round, a twitchy Stevenson taking the middle of the ring as Herring circled around the outside in search of an opening. Stevenson landed a solid one-two combination and likely edged a cagey opening period on the scorecards.
In the second period, Stevenson took control of center-ring and landed combinations, making Herring miss with quick head movement. The challenger started to find his range, landing a number of combinations that included a heavy left hand in the final minute, which split the guard of Herring. At the end of the round, a confident Stevenson stared down Crawford in the crowd in a knowing fashion.
Stevenson remained in the ascendancy in the opening minute of round three, landing some stiff left-handed shots and walking down the champion. In the second minute, Herring was on the receiving end of a barrage of punches before landing two blows of his own to halt the momentum. Herring looked to up the pace and pressed forward but was kept at bay by some heavy lefts and rights uncorked by the young challenger.
In the corner between rounds, trainer McIntyre used colorful language to tell Herring he needed to push Stevenson back and rough him up to break up his rhythm. This was sound advice as Stevenson looked in total control of the fight at the quarter mark. This showed up in the statistics shown by ESPN displaying that Stevenson had landed 59 of 173 punches in contrast to 21 of 135 landed by Herring.
As round four opened, Herring heeded the advice of his trainer, walking forward and crowding the space of Stevenson, but the challenger kept scoring with a sharp jab and straight punches. Herring landed a combination of his own in the final minute of the round, only for Stevenson to respond with an offensive volley of his own. As the bell rang on another round, it was the speed of Stevenson that was becoming the dominant factor in the fight.
The champion continued to try and smother the offense of Stevenson in round five, at one point leading with his head, only for Stevenson to grab him in a headlock under his right arm until referee Mark Nelson broke the pair up.
Herring began to have success with his jab, only for Stevenson to respond with a violent outburst that included a right hand that rocked the head of Herring back. The pair ended up in a clinch midway through the round, and Herring landed a body blow before Nelson quickly broke them up. The tactical change was beginning to pay off for Herring, and the remainder of the round was a case of the champion landing with some good work on the front foot before referee Nelson separated the pair. Stevenson landed some good counters, but Herring registered his first 10-9 round on this author’s scorecard.
The close quarter’s strategy from Herring continued in the 6th round, with the champion landing some good jabs before Stevenson burrowed in and made contact with a headbutt and landed a quick left hand after the referee separated the pair. Herring backed Stevenson onto the ropes, but the challenger’s speed and footwork showed when he landed a left hand, ducked under Herring’s reply, and circled around to connect a right hand to the body as he moved off the ropes.
Stevenson continued to land blows in the final minute of the round, including two stinging left hooks as swelling began to become visible on the right eye of Herring.
At the midway point of the fight, Herring had started to gain some traction by moving forward to apply more pressure, but the superior speed, movement, and power of Stevenson were showing itself consistently. Through six rounds, ESPN reported that Stevenson connected with 102 of 338 total punches, with Herring finding the target with 49 of 268.
It was one-way traffic in round seven, as Stevenson landed a succession of shots, including one as the referee separated the pair. Slick head movement by Stevenson caused Herring to punch the air with a pair of shots before Herring landed a blow that caused Stevenson to complain to referee Nelson. As the round ended, the challenger established dominance by going in close to fight Herring at his own game and getting the better of close quarter exchanges in the final minute of the round.
With the fight slipping away on the scorecards, Herring’s corner advised him to give himself room to punch on the inside and do his work there. Trainer McIntyre also emphasized that Herring land the first shot after the pair were separated by the referee. This strategy was easier said than done to this point against the speedy Stevenson.
In the opening minute of round eight, Herring looked to close space but could not get past a stiff right-handed jab from Stevenson that was occasionally followed by a snapping left hand. As the round approached the midway point, Stevenson connected with a flurry of punches; Herring responded by going in close and following his trainer’s instructions to a tee, landing a right hand to the body as they separated before applying pressure and ending in a clinch again.
In what was a much better round for Herring, he continued to stalk forward, occasionally eating some sharp shots but consistently managing to get inside and land on the body of Stevenson.
In the corner, trainer McIntyre told Herring to “keep the rhythm” of what had been a good round before warning his fighter to keep his shots clean as he needed to win the remaining rounds on the scorecard. In truth, he may have needed more than just that as Stevenson likely held a sizable lead.
The fight settled into a pattern in the ninth round, with Stevenson landing the cleaner shots, as Herring responded by applying pressure and landing shots to the body. The most notable punch of the round came when a Stevenson uppercut in the midst of an exchange caused a stung Herring to take a step back. Herring gamely continued to close the distance, but Stevenson landed enough shots to prevent the champion from gaining any true momentum.
At the start of the 10th round, Stevenson showcased his impressive hand speed by landing a triple jab, followed by a left hand. Soon after, referee Nelson stopped the fight and asked the fight doctor to take a look at a cut on the right eye of Herring that had opened up in the prior round. It was to be a short intermission as the doctor examined the cut and quickly allowed Herring to fight on.
With blood running from his right eye, Herring refused to go on the back foot and continued to stalk forward, applying pressure. Stevenson responded by landing crisp right-handed jabs before repeatedly landing a strong left hand on the cut eye, causing referee Nelson to wave the fight off with 1:30 remaining in the round and crown Stevenson the new champion.
After the stoppage, Stevenson celebrated excitedly and stuck his head through the ropes to pointedly yell “thank you” to Timothy Bradley Jr. in response to the criticism he had received in the summer. It was likely that after this performance, Bradley and the rest of the boxing world were wide awake to the threat Stevenson carries at the top end of the sport.
WHAT THEY SAID
Despite a heated buildup, the pair were full of mutual respect after the fight, embracing each other and even snapping a group photograph with both teams and #4 ranked pound for pound fighter Crawford.
The respect continued into the post-fight interview with Stevenson stating, “I feel like Jamel Herring is a great fighter. He’s tough, he (sic) got great boxing skills, he got great power, I was just the better man tonight.”
In reference to the criticism he received after his Nakathila win, Stevenson said, “I want to thank Tim Bradley. Tim Bradley was criticizing me, calling me boring, so I wanted a fun fight, I wanted to perform.” Without a doubt, Stevenson did just that against a top-quality opponent on this night.
A classy Herring apologized to his family, friends, and the United States Marine Corps for coming up short before paying tribute to the skills of Stevenson. “He’s sharp; he’s slick; his coordination is very good.”
WHAT NEXT FOR THE WINNER
It was clear after the fight that Stevenson is looking to face unbeaten WBC world titleholder Oscar Valdez. “There’s only one fight left; it’s the biggest fight in the division; Oscar can’t keep ducking; it’s time to fight,” said Stevenson. Stevenson against Valdez would be an excellent fight, with the winner likely entering the pound-for-pound discussion.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE LOSER
After the Frampton win, Herring expressed his desire to fight the coveted Valdez or wanted to contest for the Ring championship at the weight class, meaning Miguel Berchelt would have been the desired opponent in what would have been a #1 vs. #2 ranked clash for the vacant title.
In the immediate aftermath of this defeat, Herring changed his tone and expressed his intention to take his time before thinking of his options moving forward. “I have to think about my family, especially my Mom, my two daughters who have autism. I gotta start looking out for them. I can put myself through hell and back, but I gotta start thinking about the people who really care about me and love me. I just gotta wait and see what happens next.” Whatever happens next, Herring can rest assured his family has a living example of how to live with grace, move through adversity and move towards your dreams in an inspirational fashion.
If the dethroned champion does come back to the ring, there will be no shortage of takers, and top 10 ranked fighters such as Berchalt and Chris Colbert would likely look at Herring as a good name to add to their resume of fights.
Author’s Scorecard (round by round)
Stewart Flaherty is a freelance sports journalist who can be reached on Twitter @stewartflaherty