SOMETIMES, even fights perhaps not promising a lot, in terms of a style matchup, are elevated by the personalities at play, and never is this truer than in the case of Saturday’s (October 23) all-southpaw super-featherweight clash between Americans Jamel Herring and Shakur Stevenson.
On paper, given their respective styles, few will be touting Herring-Stevenson as a potential Fight of the Year contender. However, because of their personalities and the friction that exists between them, the fight is nevertheless an intriguing one and comes at the right time for both of them.
For Stevenson, the 24-year-old upstart and former Olympic silver medallist, this is the kind of test he has needed for a while now and is likely the test he requires to bring out the best in him. In Herring, he has an opponent who will force him to fight, and who will test him, and who will not allow Stevenson to cruise or take the safe route to victory, as he has done more than once so far in his 16-fight pro career.
For Herring, meanwhile, this could be a potential star-making fight for him. At 35, having paid his dues in the sport, the former US Marine will be looking to follow up his impressive stoppage of Carl Frampton in April with an even greater scalp this weekend. Unbeaten since 2017, this would be the most eye-catching victory of the eight Herring has accumulated in that period of time and, should he become the first man to tarnish Stevenson’s undefeated record, he can expect to receive not only hero status among the faction who dislike Stevenson’s character and style but also bigger fights down the line.
Both, then, have it all to play for on Saturday night in Atlanta. Herring, the elder statesman with life experience Stevenson can only imagine, sees the fight as just another fight and has promised to do his talking in the ring, whereas Stevenson, the one keener to make noise, has at numerous points goaded Herring and accused him of being forced to take a fight he would rather avoid.
“Jamel had to fight me or he would’ve been stripped of his [WBO] title’,” said Stevenson, 16-0 (8). “I boxed him into a corner and I am going to take his title in devastating fashion on October 24.
“I can’t wait to fight in front of the amazing fans in Atlanta. Trust me, you are going to see a show.”
“The year 2021 has been good to me so far,” Herring, 23-2 (11), said. “I started the year with a big fight and a major win over Frampton and I look forward to finishing out the year the same way I started it, not only with another huge victory, but as a [WBO] champion. I have nothing else to say.”
Whenever watching these two share the same space, the differences in their mindsets and attitudes become immediately apparent. Where Stevenson is all youthful energy and spite, Herring, 11 years his senior, is all-knowing and calm, almost to the point of dullness. Yet it is Herring, of course, who has shown more energy and spite in the ring of late, especially during his sixth-round stoppage of Frampton, a fight in which Herring took control from the outset and pummelled the smaller man throughout. That was a breakout performance from Jamel, one sullied only by the fact it took place in Dubai and was therefore mostly ignored.
Stevenson, on the other hand, is somebody who, though given the big build-up upon turning pro in 2017, has so far flattered to deceive. He has won each of his 16 fights – winning has never been a problem – but has been securing these victories via methods that have turned off a lot of people originally excited to watch him and follow his progress. Often risk-averse, never eager to exchange, Stevenson has led his 16 opponents a merry dance but has rarely managed to get the people watching off their seat. That could be a problem if he can’t raise his game as he moves up the levels. It could be a problem on Saturday, too.
Herring’s long levers and height, 5ft 10ins, make him a difficult proposition for any super-featherweight. He can certainly fight, too. Calm and composed, he wastes little and boxes well, on the inside and out. Stevenson, fast and flashy but as yet unproven, simply hasn’t met anyone like him in the professional ranks.
For if previously Stevenson, ranked seventh in the world at super-feather, has merely been punching down and going through the motions against subpar opposition, on Saturday that all changes. In the shape of Herring, the number two, he finds someone at the peak of his powers; someone who has momentum in abundance and something to defend. He will find, with Herring, either the man to expose the limitations of the style he has so far adopted as a pro or the man to enable that very same style to make sense and flourish.
The hunch, based on the various cameos we’ve seen so far, is that the latter scenario will unfold on Saturday, with a unanimous decision the younger man’s reward for having quicker hands and feet, as well as no problem winning ‘ugly’.
On the Herring-Stevenson undercard, welterweight prospect Xander Zayas, 10-0 (7), has his fifth outing of the year against Dan Karpency, 9-3-1 (4). Zayas shut out James Martin over six rounds in February, destroyed Demarcus Layton in 56 seconds in April, broke apart Larry Fryers in three rounds in June, and dominated Jose Luis Sanchez over six rounds last month in Tucson, Arizona. Karpency, meanwhile, has yet to be stopped in an eight-year pro career.
There are appearances in Atlanta, too, for the grandson of Muhammad Ali, Nico Ali Walsh, 1-0 (1), and the son of Evander Holyfield, Evan Holyfield, 7-0 (5). They take on James Westley, 1-0, and Charles Stanford, 6-3 (3), respectively.
The Verdict Intriguing, yes, but it could be a lousy fight.