Jamel Herring tested positive for COVID-19 twice in July. Each positive test cost him a date on ESPN to defend his WBO super featherweight title. Herring was not angry. He was not bitter. Instead, he said he felt lucky.
“It’s not just me who’s going through this,” Herring said. “The whole world is going through this pandemic. At least I am fortunate enough to still come back and get another fight date and do what I do for a living. So many Americans can’t go back to work. I am grateful and lucky that physically it didn’t hit me as hard as it hit others. I lost people in my life to this virus.”
After two postponements, Herring (21-2, 10 KOs) will defend his title on Sept. 5 against Jonathan Oquendo (31-6, 19 KOs) inside the Top Rank bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The fight will be televised by ESPN.
“I feel great,” said Herring, 34. “Training camp has been going smoothly, mentally I am in a good place. I am just ready to go now. Everything happens for a reason. This was a kind of like a blessing in disguise. In July, I was still flushing out the virus in my system. Everything happens for a reason.”
The original fight was scheduled for July 2, but was postponed when Herring had his first positive test. It was rescheduled for July 14 and the date appeared safe when Herring tested negative before arriving back in Las Vegas. But, on July 13, Herring tested positive while inside Top Rank’s bubble and the fight was again canceled.
"Jamel has gone through an awful lot with the COVID-19 diagnoses and postponed fight dates, but he’s as mentally strong as any fighter I’ve ever met,” said his promoter Bob Arum. “This is another challenge he’s passed with flying colors. He’s a resilient young man who is proving it yet again. Jamel’s preparation and will to win have never wavered. Come Saturday, you will see the best version of ‘The Fighting Marine.”
Herring grew up in Coram and learned to box at the Veterans Memorial Gym in Shirley. He left Long Island in 2003 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. After serving a tour of combat duty in Fallujah, he found his way onto the Marine Corps boxing team.
Herring now lives in Cincinnati but still has a connection to many of the fighters he grew up with on Long Island. Last weekend, he said he was “rooting all night” for light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr., who won a title-elimination fight on ESPN.
“When you are from Long Island you always have to prove you are tough because you always had the fighters in the city who looked down on Long Island fighters,” Herring said. “Long Island can also build champions. I never forget where I came from.”
Herring earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and turned pro later that year. In May of 2018, he captured the WBO title with a decision over Masayuki Ito.
As a former Marine, Herring is often asked about athletes taking a knee and social justice issues.
“That’s their right,” Herring said. “The reason why we defend our country is for people who live here in America to freely express their believes and their first amendment rights. I’d rather see peaceful protesting, rather than violence and rioting that causes harm and death.”
As his fight with Oquendo approaches, Herring said he is not concerned with the interruption in training. After the second positive test, he quarantined for two weeks at home with his family. That time was used to relax and disconnect. The time away from the gym, he said, allowed him to return to training with a clear focus on September 5. Herring will be tested twice for COVID-19. The first time when he arrives Wednesday at the Top Rank bubble and then again the night before the fight.
“I know Oquendo is going to try and push the fight,” Herring said. "I have to go out there and be me, I can’t focus on what he’s going to do. My main thing now is showing the world: Hey, this is a guy who had COVID-19 and look how good he is. He’s able to perform at a high level.”