As a U.S. Marine, a U.S. Olympian and a dedicated husband and father, Jamel Herring has proven himself to be an American role model.
The 135-pound southpaw began boxing while attending high school in his hometown of Coram, New York, and enlisted in the Marines upon graduation in 2003. He served two tours of duty in Iraq as a field electrician, deploying to Fallujah in 2005 and to Al Taqaddum in 2007, while also continuing to box.
His first foray into the Marine boxing program was interrupted by his second deployment, but he rejoined the team at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, upon his return to the U.S. in 2008.
As he began to make strides in his amateur career, Herring and his wife, Jennifer, were hit with personal tragedy when their daughter Ariyanah died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) on July 27, 2009.
Herring pushed forward, though, and won a silver medal at the 2010 World Military Games before earning gold at the 2011 and 2012 Armed Forces Championships. The sergeant then proceeded to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, becoming the first active-duty Marine to make the U.S. Olympic boxing team since Sergio Reyes in 1992, but lost in the first round to Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov, who won the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games.
Herring left the Marines after nine years of service and made his professional boxing debut in December 2012. He won his first 15 fights before Russian three-time world title challenger and fellow southpaw Denis Shafikov knocked him down in Round 2 and earned a 10th-round TKO in July 2016.
After rebounding with a third-round stoppage of Art Hovhannisyan in February, Jamel Herring (16-1, 9 KOs) looks to take his next step forward in the 135-pound division Tuesday night when he faces Ladarius Miller (13-1, 4 KOs) in a 10-round co-main event at Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas (FS1, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Before Herring steps back into the ring, the 31-year-old fighter known as “Semper Fi” took some time to share his thoughts about his family, the Marines, training with world champion Terence Crawford and his continued pursuit of a world title shot.
How much does your family factor into your overall mindset?
My wife, Jennifer, and I think about my daughter Ariyanah every day. Her name is on all my boxing attire. We just had a newborn daughter, Justice, on February 25.
My oldest daughter, Kamren, turns 13 this month, and my son Stephen is 10. Jamel Jr. just turned 7 in April, and Jazmyne is 4. I miss them during training, but I’m fighting for them.
Are you where you hoped you would be at this point in your boxing career?
I'm not exactly where I want to be in my career, but I'm not that far from my goal. Shafikov was a bump in the road, but I'm back on track. A victory in my next fight could position me for a world title shot.
People thought I was done, but I showed my character by knocking out Hovhannisyan, a guy who had never been stopped before. Shafikov was a strong opponent with power in both hands who came at you nonstop.
After being through that, I’m ready for a victory that will get me right back into the mix. Against Ladarius Miller, I’ll come back better than ever.
You’ve been sparring with unified 140-pound world champion Terence Crawford in Colorado Springs, Colorado, leading up to your fight, which is taking place in Las Vegas four days before the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor showdown. What are your thoughts on the position you’re in right now?
I’m honored to be in Las Vegas again and during a Floyd Mayweather fight week. It's great publicity and exposure. I’m calm, cool and focused on making a statement to open the doors for a world title fight.
I’ve been in Colorado Springs for the past five or six weeks at altitude improving my conditioning alongside Crawford, who is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
I’m one of Terence’s main sparring partners. We’ve gone plenty of rounds. Terence has given me a psychological edge when it comes to this fight. He’s an old-school fighter who has given me a lot of tools and taught me a lot of tricks.
We fed off each other’s energy. Even when you get the best of him, he’s very patient and maintains that poker face. We’ve had some wars in there a few times, and I didn’t want to show any signs of weakness. He acknowledged that I got the best of him one day. Hanging with one of the best pound-for-pound fighters has improved my skills and confidence.
What lessons learned in the Marines have stuck with you throughout your boxing career and your other life endeavors?
Lessons from the Corps revolve around self-discipline. When I cut weight, I have to dig deep and tell myself I'm doing this for a good reason. That’s motivation to get the job done.
“ Being in the Marine Corps, you have to work with a diversity of guys of all nationalities, religions and backgrounds. I loved doing my job. Boxing was the reason I ended my career as an active-duty Marine. ” 135-pound prospect Jamel Herring, who served nine years in the Marines
Can you tell us a little bit about your deployments to Iraq with the Marines?
My deployments helped me to mature as a man considering I was only 19 years old during my first deployment. At times, things got rough and took a toll, but the men and women around me helped me get through a lot and we all formed as a family at the end of the day because we were all we had.
How were you able to maintain your amateur boxing career while also serving in the Marines, and what were some of the difficulties you faced in doing so?
It was pretty hard to maintain a military career and be a boxer, which is why I missed out on a chance to qualify for the 2008 Olympic team.
After my first deployment, I spent maybe a year on the All-Marine Boxing Team, then I was sent back to Iraq for a second time. After that deployment, I re-enlisted and was transferred to a non-deployable. That’s what allowed me to return to the team in 2007 and helped me focus solely on boxing.
What is most memorable to you about your Olympic experience?
The most memorable moment of the Olympic Games was the opening ceremony because that same day was the third-year anniversary of my daughter’s death. I just remembered looking up to the sky and saying, “Baby girl, I made it. This one is for you.”
What are your thoughts on 2012 Olympic teammates Errol Spence Jr. already having won a world title and Rau’shee Warren now seeking a championship in a second weight division?
It’s good to see Rau'shee and Errol—two southpaws—doing great things on the professional level, especially for the fact that our Olympic team didn’t medal.
I’m looking forward to seeing Errol make a run toward dominating his division. Errol and I talk a lot, back-and-forth, and me and Rau’shee always talk about my improvements.
Errol gave me some words of advice, which meant a lot. I'm proud of each and every one of them. A lot of good things are still to come from our Olympic team.
How do you rank the top fighters in the lightweight division?
Mikey Garcia is a good champion who will probably go down as one of the greats before his career is over. Then you have my brother, Robert Easter Jr., who is up-and-coming and [just defended his world title against] Shafikov.
I’ve been eying guys like Terry Flanagan of the United Kingdom, and Felix Verdejo of Puerto Rico. Jorge Linares is still a good champion and one of the more experienced on the list. You also have to put Shafikov in the top 10 because he’s fought elite guys.
Ray Beltran has been big, but I feel like once I get past this fight, you can at least put me in the top 15. I’m pretty hard on myself, but I believe I’m not too far away. This fight will tell a lot about me. I want to prove I can take a tough loss and bounce back.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… still on active duty as a Marine. I was a sergeant. Being in the Marine Corps, you have to work with a diversity of guys of all nationalities, religions and backgrounds. I loved doing my job. Boxing was the reason I ended my career as an active-duty Marine.
Helping my fellow veterans is always something I’m very interested in doing, particularly in my off time. I went to visit some of them a while back, but I want to become more involved when I have more time.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
One would be Muhammad Ali. I would love to pick his brain on his life, not so much what he did in the ring that makes him loved, but what he did outside of the ring that I really admire.
Another would be Denzel Washington. I’ve always been interested in the acting route. I’d like to speak with him about his field of work.
Michael Jordan is another. I’ve read a lot about his story. He was cut from his high school team and experienced ups and downs. I’m a LeBron James fan, but in his prime, Michael Jordan was and remains the man everyone's compared to.
I met Barack Obama when he was president, but I would like to sit down with his wife, Michelle, because she’s a strong woman. I'd like to pick her brain to see how she has withstood criticism and remained positive in the spotlight. She’s a great individual.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would definitely like to change the issues of race. I’ve always been accessible and had people reach out to me, whether black, white, Hispanic or whatever. Being from New York, I’ve been around a lot of different races.
Boxing is a great way to reach a variety of nationalities. There are good people out there who can institute change. I like to motivate people of all races. I’m not just a black boxer, but an American boxer. I will never give up on humanity.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: undefeated 160-pound contender Sergiy Derevyanchenko.