‘Fighting Words’ — Jamel Herring opens three doors, slams Frampton’s shut
The ending was the result of more than one punch. The ending and then the aftermath, those were the products of where the fighters had been before they met and what they had done once the bell rang.
And yet that one punch was everything.
That one uppercut took Carl Frampton off his feet and took Jamel Herring up a level. It opened doors for Herring — three of them to be precise — and slammed Frampton’s shut.
And it gave both men what they wanted.
Such a conclusion seems counterintuitive. Herring and Frampton each fought to win, with a world title on the line Saturday night in Dubai, and so much else in the balance down the line for whoever came out victorious.
For Herring, he’d won a world title and defended it twice. The next step, in his eyes, was fighting against big names and his fellow world titleholders. Frampton would be the first big name he had ever faced, and hopefully not the last.
“A win over Frampton would definitely be a career-defining milestone,” Herring said days before the fight. “This is my moment. This is what I’ve worked for. This is what I’ve been asking for. This is a big fight for me now. I know a win will obviously push my career further up.”
Frampton had won world titles in two weight classes. He’d reigned at junior featherweight from 2014 into 2016, defeating Scott Quigg in his third and final defense at 122. Frampton then moved up to the featherweight division later that year and dethroned Leo Santa Cruz, earning the Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve done in my career so far, but the chance to go down as the only ever three-weight world champion from the whole island of Ireland — one of the only British fighters to ever do it as well — you join an absolute elite bunch of global fighters to do that,” Frampton said days before the bout. “I want to do that. I’m so determined to make sure that that happens.”
But the 34-year-old from Belfast was also open about hanging up his gloves if that didn’t happen.
“I will retire if I lose this fight, because I want to be involved in big fights,” he said before the bout. “If I lose to Jamel Herring, I don’t want to go around the houses [waste his time] to get in a position to fight another champion again and be in this game for three years waiting on fights.”
This was not a surprising mindset. He had spoken for years, after his best moments and his worst, about his family. Fighters spend so much time apart from their loved ones. Once Frampton’s best years in the ring were behind him, he didn’t want to sacrifice his best years at home.
“I have a young family. I have two young kids and a wife at home,” he said in the post-fight press conference immediately after his win over Santa Cruz in July 2016. “I want to be financially rewarded, because this is a short career. I’m 29. I have a few years left in me. I want to live a comfortable life after boxing.”
And he thought of Christine and their kids, Carla and Rossa, after losing a tough battle with Josh Warrington in December 2018. This was his second loss; the first had come in a rematch with Santa Cruz in early 2017.
His only defeats had come against current or recent world titleholders. Yet Frampton had to consider whether he could still compete against the best in his division. At 5-foot-5, he’d often given up height and reach but been able to compensate with his other attributes. If those attributes were beginning to diminish, then other fighters could outwork him or outbox him, could take his shots better and hurt him worse.
Frampton talked to his team and to his family. He believed he could still win another world title. Frampton triumphed in his junior lightweight debut in November 2019. There was talk that he could challenge Herring next.
Circumstances got in the way, as had happened before, repeatedly and bizarrely. Back in 2017, his fight with Anders Gutierrez was canceled barely 24 hours before it was to take place after Gutierrez fell in the shower. Earlier in 2019, Frampton was sitting in a hotel lobby when a heavy ornament fell and broke his hand, just days before his fight with Emmanuel Dominguez.
Then the novel coronavirus put the sport of boxing on pause for several months. Frampton returned last August, Herring in September, neither looking their best while winning. But at least they won. Herring vs. Frampton was still on, though it was delayed again due to a minor hand injury Frampton suffered in training camp.
Frampton posited that the loser of their fight would most likely retire. Herring responded that the thought of retirement hadn’t crossed his mind.
Frampton did not welcome the idea of defeat so much as embrace its meaning, for what he would gain. That wasn’t how Herring felt.
One fighter was looking forward to what he could do outside of the ring. One fighter still had so much more he wanted to do within it.
Herring also came in with two losses on his record. He’d turned pro following the 2012 Olympics, where he lost in his first and only fight. Herring’s run in the paid ranks began with 15 straight victories over the course of four years. Then came his first professional defeat, a 10th-round technical knockout at the hands of contender Denis Shafikov. Herring’s next disappointment came 13 months later when he dropped a decision to Ladarius Miller.
While Frampton had lost two fights after winning world titles in two weight classes, Herring had a pair of setbacks before he’d even established himself as a contender.
For many fighters, this can signify that they’ve hit their limit. Herring, however, made two significant changes in 2018. He dropped down one weight class, going from lightweight to junior lightweight. And he changed teams, switching from Al Haymon to Top Rank, parting ways with trainer Mike Stafford and linking up with Brian “Bomac” McIntyre, whose team was renowned for their work with Terence Crawford.
“I just felt like I had to hit the reset button overall,” Herring said, speaking with Hans Themistode of Boxing Insider a couple of years later.
Herring had already fought through so much. Nine years in the Marines. Two combat tours in Iraq. The sudden, tragic death of his infant daughter Ariyanah in 2009. Now his career was on the line. As thankful as Herring was for what his former adviser and trainer had done for him, the changes proved to be the right choice.
Herring grew and thrived, winning three fights in 2018 and then defeating titleholder Masayuki Ito in 2019. He defended his belt six months later with a decision over Lamont Roach Jr.
Then came 10 months out of the ring, thanks to the pandemic and a pair of positive tests for COVID. Herring said he was asymptomatic and appeared to be physically fine in the ring with Jonathan Oquendo last September. However, the two fighters frequently clashed heads and a bad cut opened up over Herring’s right eye. Herring struggled afterward but had done well enough, early enough, that he was comfortably ahead when the fight was stopped following Round 8. Herring would have won a technical decision. The referee disqualified Oquendo instead.
At last, Herring could move forward with the fight he wanted against Frampton. But there was plenty of danger in that proposition. He was ripe for a letdown. Even at this stage in his career, Frampton was a step up compared to Herring’s previous opponents. Some sportsbooks had the 35-year-old American as the underdog or set the outcome with even odds.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster just to get here,” Herring said after the Frampton fight. “My last outing wasn’t my best. People doubted me.”
Instead, Herring dominated nearly every moment of the six rounds of action, from the five rounds before the uppercut, to the fight-changing shot itself, to the onslaught that finished Frampton.
The ending was the result of more than one punch.
It was Herring using his height and reach advantage capably, standing 5-foot-10 and keeping his shorter opponent at a distance.
It was the lessons he’d learned from his trainers and stablemates, including Crawford, widely considered one of the best boxers in the world.
“He is like another trainer to me,” Herring said of Crawford before the fight, according to Ron Lewis of BoxingScene.com. “He is there to really push me.”
Herring, a southpaw, jabbed to establish distance. Frampton tried to attack but continued to run into Herring’s counter right hooks.
“I really struggled to get inside on him,” Frampton said afterward. “He was sharpshooting from a distance. A perfect game plan.”
Getting in close range on Herring’s length was, well, a tall order. But Frampton at last got there for a sustained section of Round 4, opening up a cut over Herring’s right eye. The wound was in the vicinity of the one Herring had suffered against Oquendo. Herring could have flashed back to his struggles in September, could have wilted due to the combination of the injury and Frampton’s pressure.
Instead, Herring dug down and dug into Frampton’s body. When Frampton backed away, it seemed an acknowledgement that Herring was winning the inside battle as well.
That might have provided Frampton with a momentary respite, but it did him even greater harm. It was like a video game player who had failed against the final boss and had to run the gauntlet to get there again. Or like a football team that had finally made its way downfield and then turned the ball over.
In Round 5, Frampton again tried to work his way into range, jumping forward with a jab. He launched himself directly into Herring’s counter left cross and was deposited on the canvas.
Frampton rose into a new reality. Herring could beat him from the outside and on the inside. Herring could hurt him. And Frampton didn’t appear to have a solution.
Frampton didn’t stop trying, true to his reputation. His consistent pressure helped close the distance. Herring adjusted. He’d dodge Frampton’s shots, pepper Frampton with jabs and chopping lefts as his opponent ducked and weaved, and would take a step or two away. That created breathing room — and it helped walk Frampton into traps.
About a minute into Round 6, Herring measured his jab out, gave Frampton a light push, and took a step backward himself. Frampton feinted with a jab and moved nearer, then threw a left hook. Herring ducked underneath it and rose back up. Frampton tried to land a right. Herring blocked it and took half a step back. Frampton then jabbed, and Herring countered with a jab to the chest, a distraction from the big left uppercut that followed.
Frampton fell straight backward, then sat up and rolled over onto all fours, then one knee, then both knees, listening as the referee counted. He looked at the referee, clear-eyed, aware of his surroundings, all too aware of his situation. He recognized his fate, even if he wasn’t resigned to it.
Meanwhile, Herring had swaggered to a neutral corner, then watched intently while Frampton took the count. As Frampton ambled to the blue corner, Herring inched forward. His destination was in sight, and he was ready to arrive.
Herring deployed his landing gear: two hooks to the body, two left uppercuts, a left cross that pushed Frampton back a couple of steps. Herring threw six shots, dodged four from Frampton and came up with another big left uppercut. Another barrage had Frampton reeling. Frampton’s corner stopped the fight.
Frampton knew this moment could come. That didn’t make it any less emotional for him as he recognized that it was truly time for one chapter to end and the next to begin, for that comfortable life with his family that he’d been thinking of, and talking about, for close to five years.
“They’ve made so much sacrifice,” Frampton said. “I’ve been away so long. I’ve missed them growing up, my own kids. I just want to dedicate my life to my family now. Boxing’s been good to me. It’s also been bad to me. I just want to go home to my beautiful wife and kids, that’s it, and dedicate my life to them.”
This chapter had come to a close, and the post-fight interviewer understandably directed his first questions to the defeated fighter. But Frampton recognized that his story wasn’t the only one that needed to be told.
“I feel like you should be interviewing the champion,” Frampton said. “I lost the fight. He’s the champion.”
And so the attention then turned to Herring, to the biggest victory of his career so far, and what it means for what comes next.
There are those three doors that have opened. And like an episode of “Let’s Make a Deal,” there are potential prizes behind two of the doors and one guaranteed disappointment behind the third.
Herring spoke of Oscar Valdez, the former featherweight titleholder who captured a belt at 130 earlier this year with a highlight-reel knockout of Miguel Berchelt. Herring didn’t mention his mandatory challenger, Shakur Stevenson, the Olympic silver medalist who has excelled since turning pro four years ago, winning a belt at 126, moving up to junior lightweight, and looking more daunting with each performance.
Herring could vacate his belt and his obligation to Stevenson, picking Valdez instead. Or he could move up to 135, returning to that division with more experience and more confidence than the last time he fought at lightweight.
This is a much different fighter than the prospect who lost to Shafikov and Miller. Herring didn’t just open doors on Saturday. He made a grand entrance. And now he needs to confront whatever awaits him on the other side.
The 10 Count
1 – This upcoming weekend will be a packed one for fans of combat sports.
There’s a UFC event airing on Saturday afternoon on ABC. There’s WrestleMania, taking place over the course of both Saturday and Sunday. (WWE’s NXT brand will be putting on a two-night event on Thursday and Friday.)
And then there are three major boxing broadcasts:
On ESPN, Joe Smith will fight Maxim Vlasov for a vacant light heavyweight title in the main event. The undercard includes unbeaten heavyweight prospects Efe Ajagba and Jared Anderson in separate bouts.
On Showtime, we’ll get to see a highly touted welterweight prospect in his toughest test yet, when Jaron “Boots” Ennis meets former 140-pound titleholder Sergey Lipinets in the main event. The undercard includes a 147-pound elimination bout between Eimantas Stanionis and Thomas Dulorme, plus a junior bantamweight title fight featuring Jerwin Ancajas defending against Jonathan Rodriguez.
And on DAZN, welterweight prospect Conor Benn will face a potential test from divisional measuring stick Samuel Vargas. The undercard includes Savannah Marshall — a potential future opponent for Claressa Shields — defending her middleweight title against Femke Hermans (a former Shields victim), plus Shannon Courtenay vs. Ebanie Bridges for a vacant bantamweight title.
We’re past the midway point of a wonderfully extended, 13-week run of notable boxing matches broadcast on prominent television and streaming outlets, or on pay-per-view.
Here are the other main events we still have to look forward to:
- April 17: Demetrius Andrade vs. Liam Williams (DAZN), Tony Harrison vs. Bryant Perrella (Fox), and Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren (paired on a pay-per-view with Regis Prograis vs. Ivan Redkach)
- April 24: Emanuel Navarrete vs. Christopher Diaz (ESPN, with Edgar Berlanga vs. Demond Nicholson in the co-feature), Jaime Munguia vs. Maciej Sulecki (DAZN)
- May 1: Andy Ruiz vs. Chris Arreola (pay-per-view), Joseph Parker vs. Dereck Chisora (DAZN)
- May 8: Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders (DAZN and pay-per-view)
Then, after a week with limited action, we’ll return to four more notable cards over the course of five weeks:
- May 22: Jose Ramirez vs. Josh Taylor (ESPN)
- May 29: Nordine Oubaali vs. Nonito Donaire (Showtime), Devin Haney vs. Jorge Linares (DAZN)
- June 12: Shakur Stevenson vs. Jeremiah Nakathila (ESPN)
- June 19: Naoya Inoue vs. Michael Dasmarinas (ESPN+)
2 – The return of Donnie Nietes, aired on the undercard of Herring-Frampton this past Saturday, wasn’t overly inspiring. Nietes won a 10-round unanimous decision over Pablo Carrillo as he shook off a bunch of rust.
It will take some work to convince people — primarily those who aren’t familiar with the former four-division titleholder — that Nietes deserves to share a ring with one of the top 115-pounders. Given the fantastic performances that we’ve seen in recent years from the likes of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Kazuto Ioka and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, it’s understandable if the cynics and the less-informed don’t immediately warm to Nietes.
Of course, it’s hard to look good after so much time off. Nietes hadn’t fought since December 31, 2018. The fact that he’s approaching his 39th birthday, an ancient age for these lightest weight classes, means that time is most definitely not on his side.
Nietes did begin to display more of his talent and veteran savvy as the fight went on. He should try to get back in the ring as soon as possible, both to stay active and to make a better case for a big fight.
It’s a shame that time is running out for Nietes to get the widespread respect he’s long deserved, respect that eluded him due to the limited attention that smaller fighters receive. Also, most of his matches took place in his native Philippines, and unfortunately most people don’t pay enough attention to overseas fighters until they fight in more prominent locales and broadcasts. Even after four fights in the United States, Nietes remains a hardcore favorite.
Nietes is 43-1-5 with 23 KOs. That lone loss deserves an asterisk. It was way back in 2004, when Nietes had been pro for less than a year and a half. He traveled to hostile territory to face Angky Angkotta in Indonesia. Angkotta was six pounds overweight, and Nietes still only lost by split decision.
He’s gone 32-0-4 since. And in that time, he became one of only four fighters ever to win world titles in all four of the lightest weight classes (105, 108, 112, 115). The other three are Gonzalez, Estrada, and Leo Gamez, according to boxing writer and historian Cliff Rold of BoxingScene.com.
Nietes won a vacant world title at 105 pounds in 2007 and made four successful defenses, with three of them taking place in Mexico. His reign at 108 pounds began in 2011 and included nine defenses (eight wins and a draw). Nietes picked up a vacant flyweight title in 2017 and made one defense, then moved up to 115.
Nietes fought for a vacant title against Aston Palicte in September 2018, only to be held to a draw in a fight that many observers felt he won. He met Ioka months later to gain the still-vacant WBO belt, then cast it away rather than face Palicte again.
3 – Herring vs. Frampton and Nietes vs. Carrillo were two of the fights broadcast on Saturday from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Those of us in the United States were able to watch on ESPN+.
Earlier in the day, DAZN broadcast live action from Uzbekistan, including a main event featuring Murodjon Akhmadaliev defending his two world titles with a fifth-round technical knockout of Ryosuke Iwasa.
Days before, Tim Tszyu’s fifth-round TKO of Dennis Hogan in Australia was shown on ESPN+.
You’ll forgive me for a moment if I just marvel at that and, like an old man (I’m a few days and 41 victories shy of Gennadiy Golovkin), think back to how tough we once had things.
Ten to 15 years ago, I was lucky to find a major title fight from overseas in certain online corners within a few days after it took place. And don’t ask me how long it took to download it. These days, almost everything of note is shown live either on a domestic outlet or a foreign service. Even some of the most esoteric of action is watched by hardcore fans — and bless them for their combination of dedication and addiction — and uploaded onto social media.
I am so grateful for how this global sport is more accessible than ever.
4 – That accessibility is a blessing and a curse. I spent a chunk of Saturday in anger because of the terrible stoppage in Akhmadaliev vs. Iwasa. You can watch the highlights and lowlights here.
Akhmadaliev was winning the fight as Round 5 began. And then he began that round with a good barrage. Fighting from a southpaw stance, Akhmadaliev paired a lead left uppercut with a follow-up right hook, then repeated the combination again and again. Iwasa was backed around the ring, taking shots but never appearing badly hurt. When Akhmadaliev stopped throwing for a bit, Iwasa threw several punches of his own. None of them made a dent.
Akhmadaliev soon landed a counter left uppercut that turned the tide, and then he turned his offense back on, throwing and landing with an extended outburst. Referee Yury Koptsev began to watch closely. Iwasa smiled and retreated, still eating more shots. But as Iwasa dodged two punches, Koptsev jumped in and stopped the fight.
It was incredibly premature. Akhmadaliev wasn’t defenseless. He wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t in danger. While I’d rather a referee stop a fight a little too soon rather than too late, this wasn’t “a little too soon.”
Afterward, I saw some people tweet that Akhmadaliev was going to win the fight anyway. They weren’t necessarily justifying the stoppage, but rather trying to feel better about whether it was unjust.
It shouldn’t matter. A bad stoppage is a bad stoppage. Bad refereeing that goes uncriticized and unpunished does nothing to prevent more bad refereeing. What Koptsev did shows either bad training or bad judgment.
The WBA suspended judge Carlos Sucre over a bad scorecard. I don’t expect them to do anything about Koptsev. This wasn’t a prominent fighter like Roman Gonzalez getting the ugly end of a horrible scorecard in a highly-anticipated match.
But we shouldn’t only pay attention when bad judging or bad refereeing happens to someone we care about. That’s exactly how we end up with bad judges and bad referees working prominent fights. They mess up in less notable matches. No one gives a shit. And then they fail upward.
5 – Graziano’s, a landmark restaurant and hotel near the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, has been torn down.
Its namesake owner, Tony Graziano, was a World War II veteran who opened the restaurant soon after the war and also went on to work in boxing as a trainer, manager and promoter. Two of his fighters were Canastota’s hometown heroes, Carmen Basilio and Billy Backus.
Basilio, of course, is the former welterweight and middleweight king who once bested Sugar Ray Robinson. Backus was Basilio’s nephew and briefly held the 147-pound crown for six months in the early 1970s, scoring an upset stoppage of Jose Napoles thanks to a bad cut.
I met Graziano on a trip to Canastota in 2007. He was 85 at the time and walked me around his restaurant as I looked at the hundreds of photos on its walls. They were of various legends who had either visited Canastota or been part of Graziano’s life. The quote I will always remember is him saying this to me:
“Here’s my buddy, Rocky Marciano.”
Graziano continued to run his businesses, even after he sold the property in 2018, according to Syracuse.com. The buyers, the Oneida Indian Nation, wanted Graziano to leave “on his own timeline.” Graziano retired earlier this year, right around his 99th birthday.
6 – In last week’s Fighting Words, I marveled at the fact that the same Bolivian athletic commission that let Saul Farah build up his ridiculous record finally showed some standards. The commission didn’t allow Farah to fight some dude named Pedro Guanichaba, an opponent with so little experience that he isn’t listed on BoxRec. (Click here and scroll down to Item 7 in The 10 Count.)
I take back my praise.
This past weekend, Farah (72-26-3) met some dude named Ruben Vargas Diaz, a 33-year-old whose nickname is “El Bombardero de San Julian” and who BoxRec has listed as 3-10-1 with 3 KOs.
Vargas Diaz hasn’t won a fight since 2012. His only wins have come against guys making their debuts. Two of those guys never fought again. The other only fought once more.
Every one of Vargas Diaz’s losses have been by knockout. Two of those losses have come against Esteban Hillman Tababary — who himself has lost to Farah five times.
Vargas Diaz began his career at lightweight and junior lightweight and is now out of shape, compounding his many other limitations. Farah has spent his entire career as a rotund heavyweight or cruiserweight (and now, apparently, a bridgerweight).
So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Farah stopped Vargas Diaz in Round 1. Here’s the video, via TimBoxeo.
👑King stays King👑! Saul “El Fénix Asesino” Farah (73-26-3, 64 KO’s) with 4 knockdowns in the 1st on his way to a TKO-1 victory over Ruben "El Bombardero de San Julián” Vargas (3-11-1) in their Bolivian Bridgerweight title fight in Santa Cruz de La Sierra pic.twitter.com/OgGsICKf1m
— Tim – Boxeo 拳闘 Boxen бокс มวย Boks 拳击 Box (@TimBoxeo) April 4, 2021
7 – Sideshow Rundown, Part 1: We can’t get the best boxers of today to face each other. And meanwhile some of the best boxers of yesteryear continue to return — thankfully, mostly for exhibitions.
There are Miguel Cotto (40 years old) and Juan Manuel Marquez (47), meeting in an exhibition on June 12.
There is Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. (58), who has been a regular on the exhibition circuit, including three incredibly fun sessions with Jorge Arce (41). For his next act, Chavez Sr. will meet Hector Camacho Jr. (42) on June 19.
The day before Cotto-Marquez, there will be an exhibition between Marco Antonio Barrera (47) and Jesus Soto-Karass (38) on June 11. There’s talk that Barrera and former rival Erik Morales could share a ring once again later on.
8 – Sideshow Rundown, Part 2: And then there are the boxing matches pitting faded boxers against faded mixed martial artists.
This month brings former cruiserweight titleholder Steve Cunningham (44 years old) replacing Antonio Tarver (52) in a bout against former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir (41).
That will be on the undercard of the April 17 pay-per-view headlined by YouTube personality Jake Paul (24 years old, 2-0 in the ring) against Ben Askren (36), a 170-pounder who was a champ in Bellator and a contender in the UFC.
Anderson Silva, who turns 46 next week, has longed for years to face Roy Jones Jr. Alas, his foray into the sweet science will be a significant step down: the UFC’s former 185-pound champion will meet Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (35) in a sanctioned boxing match on the undercard of the aforementioned Chavez Sr.-Camacho Jr. exhibition on June 19.
And then there’s Oscar De La Hoya (48), who has been itching for a comeback for some time. His return is scheduled for July 3 and will be promoted by Triller, the same company that put on Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones last year and is doing Paul vs. Askren this month. According to ESPN’s Marc Raimondi, De La Hoya could face a major name from the UFC on July 3.
We’ll see. If De La Hoya is going to keep on fighting, and I wish he wouldn’t, I’d rather he just keep knocking out Ricardo Mayorga (47) into perpetuity.
9 – Boxing’s had its share of brutal injuries. But, to my memory, it’s never had what happened in an MMA bout this past weekend between Khetag Pliev and Devin Goodale.
The fight was stopped after Pliev lost his left ring finger.
“They checked under the cage,” tweeted MMA writer Timothy Wheaton, and don’t click this link if you don’t want to see the wound. “They asked the audience to help search for the missing finger.”
The finger was later found inside of Pliev’s glove.
How much additional pay does Pliev deserve for enduring that kind of injury? I hope they could afford an extra digit…
10 – This really spotlights the difference between boxing and mixed martial arts.
Boxing gives its fans the finger.
MMA gives fans… a finger.
Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.