Jamel Herring looked across the ring to the opposite corner and immediately realized what was missing from his own.
At the time, in 2017, Herring watched as the trio of trainers led by Brian McIntyre worked together and gave instructions in unison to Terence “Bud” Crawford during a sparring session in Omaha, Nebraska.
When it was time to switch trainers at the beginning of 2018, Herring knew he would call the one who goes by “BoMac.” That move helped turn Herring from a struggling contender into a world champion.
Since he went under McIntyre’s tutelage, Herring (21-2, 10 KOs) has won six straight fights and picked up the WBO junior lightweight belt he will defend on Saturday (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+) against Jonathan Oquendo (31-6, 19 KOs).
Before Herring changed trainers, he lost a couple of fights and lacked confidence. That’s no longer the case.
“I’ve always had the physical traits,” Herring told ESPN. “But the main thing that I’ve learned under [McIntyre and the team] is I have more self-belief, and that’s being honest.”
The tipping point for Herring came before an August 2017 loss to Ladarius Miller. Back then, Cincinnati’s Mike Stafford was training Herring and former welterweight champion Adrien Broner, who was once considered one of boxing’s rising stars. Herring says he didn’t think he received the same attention as Broner.
That became evident when Herring joined Crawford’s camp as a sparring partner for Crawford’s fight against Julius Indongo, which made Crawford the undisputed junior welterweight champion. In BoMac’s eyes, Herring was a B+ fighter with some flaws. But he got along well with the training staff and came in with determination and work ethic.
When Herring left Crawford’s camp and went back to Cincinnati to get ready for Miller, he thought his own preparation was lacking. By the time he stepped into the ring, he already felt defeated.
“It just felt that I was just like a guy going to the gym, but I’m getting ready for a fight,” Herring said. “I’m not getting that same push that I need to prepare for fights of that magnitude.”
For Herring, the defeat was the second in three fights. The loss to Miller felt even more taxing than the first loss of Herring’s career, a TKO defeat to Dennis Shafikov.
Herring did two big things. He shelved Stafford for BoMac, and he switched promotional companies, leaving Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions for Top Rank. The company change meant moving down a weight class to junior welterweight, a shift that has worked well.
Herring’s new training situation is one of the more unique in the sport. While BoMac leads the corner, Red Spikes and Esau Dieguez provide instruction and insight as part of the Omaha brain trust that also includes Crawford, ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
BoMac said Crawford will hang around after a morning session and help other fighters in the gym, acting as a fourth trainer. Crawford has been willing to go above and beyond to help Herring, whether that means driving more than eight hours from Omaha to visit the camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, or stepping in as an emergency sparring partner.
Crawford’s work ethic isn’t lost on those around him.
“He’ll come in just to train,” Herring said. “And that’s what I love seeing and appreciating. That actually pushes me to better myself.”
Herring is no slouch, either. If the group needs to leave the house at 5 a.m. for a swim session at the local YMCA, Herring might be sitting in the car early, BoMac says. When camp shifts to Colorado Springs, BoMac often hears Herring go across the wooden floor of the camp house around 4:15 a.m. to drink his daily spinach and watermelon smoothie.
“He’s pretty much an alarm clock,” BoMac said of the former Marine. “Once you walk across that kitchen floor, it’s pretty much heel-toe, heel-toe — boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. ‘Ah s— , Jamel’s up.'”
This camp has been unique because of COVID-19. There was no swimming and no four-week stint in Colorado. Toward the end of camp, Herring tested positive for the coronavirus and experienced an array of symptoms that stalled his training for a week.
After a few training sessions, Herring appeared good enough to return to fight Oquendo in July. But once he arrived in Las Vegas, he tested positive again, which delayed the fight for a second time this summer.
“This result is a complete surprise,” Herring said in a statement at the time. “I was fully prepared to make my second title defense tomorrow night.”
Herring went back home to Cincinnati for a brief period before rejoining the team in Omaha to start another six-week camp.
The second delay actually turned into a good thing for the champ.
Herring’s trainers didn’t know how his body was going to react after his first bout with COVID-19. In hindsight, he didn’t have enough time to get his body fully ready for Oquendo. He spent the camp working on his lung capacity and his rhythm by boxing extra rounds during sparring.
“When that happened, it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” BoMac said of the second positive test.
If Herring successfully retains his title, he wants a crack at Carl Frampton or Abner Mares later this year on the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder III undercard in Las Vegas.
Should that occur, it could be arguably the biggest moment of his career. No matter what happens, Herring will be ready.
“You just see the difference in me as a fighter from where I was five years ago to who I am now,” he said. “It’s just a completely different fighter.”