Not everything has to mean something. A fight can sometimes just be a fight. The meaning it holds can be personal, not universal. And it can be a shared experience that makes it so.
Saturday night, a day before the Marine Corps’ 244th birthday, and two days before Veterans Day, at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, Calif., junior lightweight titlist Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KO) defended his alphabet strap with a unanimous decision victory over Lamont Roach Jr. (19-1-1, 7 KO) in a bout televised on ESPN+. It was Herring’s first defense of the belt he won over Memorial Day weekend this year.
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are but the backdrops to performances. They are places in time. For now, let us focus on the performance so that we may return to the man.
Herring’s performance was technically sound and controlled throughout. It seemed like a day at the office. There were hiccups here and there, and occasional moments of drama, but for the most part, Herring executed his game plan dispassionately and successfully — a skilled professional going about his day.
In the 2nd round, the right-handed Roach and left-handed Herring got their front feet tied up and Herring fell down. The referee rightly ruled it a slip and Herring got up, and went back to popping Roach with jabs, crosses, and body punches in close. Like a metronome, the rhythm repeated itself. Roach would hunt for counters, but never seek to create the opportunities. Herring pot shotted and stayed out of range, unless he felt like laying in a few body punches to make a point.
The pattern continued into the middle rounds, Herring’s punch output dipped with time, but with a minute to go in the 8th, he fired a straight left that froze Roach in his tracks. Roach was temporarily stunned, but Herring didn’t follow up. He was in control and in no rush. In the 9th, Roach threw a lead uppercut from distance that threw him off balance and Herring cuffed him with a right hook at the same time. The ref ruled a slip, which was incorrect, no matter what ESPN commentator Andre Ward says.
With 10 seconds remaining in the 11th round, Roach landed a right hook just behind Herring’s left ear. Herring’s legs momentarily spasmed and Roach pounced on him, only to smother his own punches and fall into a clinch. The moment passed, and between rounds, Herring recovered. Roach pressed for the bulk of the 12th round, but it was largely ineffective.
Herring was awarded a unanimous decision victory by scores of 115-113 and 117-111 twice. It wasn’t an especially exciting fight, and neither performance was outstanding. It was a high-level boxing match between skilled professionals.
Jamel Herring and I are both US Marine Sergeants. Both of us served in Iraq. Both of us struggled with issues related to our service after that service ended. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t rob you of your future. It steals your present. It requires you to spend the bulk of your mental and emotional energy steering yourself away from the present, because it is not your past. It is your present. Painful memories are not recalled, they are relived. And no matter how hard you try to escape it, you remain unmoored.
Boxing doesn’t care about your past or your future. It only demands your presence. A lapse in concentration will lead to a lapse in consciousness, so every moment must be spent fully processing what’s in front of you. Herring has said that he considers boxing therapeutic. What an escape that is, if only for three minutes at a time.
For veterans who have struggled with PTSD, and who have engaged in treatment to their benefit, often there is a wistfulness for all those times we should have been present, but we were unable. I have felt that way many times, but Saturday night as Herring went about his job thinking about nothing but the fight in front of him, I sat in my recliner dutifully taking notes, thinking about nothing but the fight in front me.
Semper Fi, Sgt. Herring.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)