Face of Defense: Marine Boxer Fights for Olympic Gold
LONDON, July 27, 2012 – After leading the U.S. boxing team in warm-ups yesterday, Marine Corps Sgt. Jamel Herring demonstrated the unique style and speed that may earn him an Olympic medal.
"I'm definitely an underdog here," said Herring, a light welterweight who surprised several opponents at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials with quick footwork and his ability to dodge punches. "It's like a hit and run. It's like a game of tag -- I'm hitting, and I'm gone."
"The minute you get frustrated, I'm right back on you."
Herring will be the first U.S. Marine boxer to climb into an Olympic boxing ring in 20 years. He said coaches sometimes compare him to "Sugar Ray" Leonard, who won Olympic gold at the 1976 games while fighting in the light-welterweight division. He said Leonard danced like Muhammad Ali -- avoiding punches and coming in for the knock-out.
"Speed creates power," Herring said.
Brazil's Everton Lopes, however, is the reigning world champion in the light-welterweight division and England's Thomas Stalker is the division's No. 1-ranked boxer.
"The odds are definitely not with us," said USA head boxing coach retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Basheer Abdullah, who added that all of his athletes have a fighting chance in London.
"You can't bet against this guy," Abdullah said. "There were a lot of people who didn't think he was going to win in the trials and he proved them wrong."
The coach said Herring demonstrates good team leadership and is one of the squad's three team captains.
"You'll see Jamel out front most of the time," Abdullah said. "That's a good NCO."
Yesterday, Herring led the team in warm-up exercises before participating in a number of agility and sparring drills around the mats with trainers such as U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program assistant coach Staff Sgt. Joseph Guzman, who also boxed for Abdullah.
"Jamel's a good mover," Guzman said. "He has good, strong legs. He boxes on the move. At times, he frustrates his opponents with the movement because his opponents never get a chance to set. By the time they want to throw a punch, he's already over here on the other side."
Herring said the Marine Corps has immensely helped him, in terms of discipline.
"I try to bring that Corps’ discipline to the athletes," Herring said. "Some of them are only 18 or 19 years old."
Herring, 26, said the Marine Corps helped him mature and that he has the respect of other boxers on Team USA. He said the Corps instilled him with a determination to "never give up," and that may be what takes him past the hurdles of the coming week.
Whatever happens, it won't be as tough as the fight in Fallujah, said Herring, who served in Iraq during 2005 and again in 2007.
Herring has been boxing for about 11 years, but he realizes that he's still a relative unknown in the ring.
"People don't think I have enough international experience and they don't give me a chance," Herring said. "It actually takes the pressure off me. I'd actually like to just come out of nowhere and win it all."
The day of the Olympic Opening Ceremony in London will mark the third anniversary of the death of Herring's daughter, Ariyanah, who died of SIDS. Her memory, he says, will be his inspiration for the London Games.
The first Olympic light-welterweight bouts are scheduled for July 29.