Boxing is the ‘fun part’ for Jamel Herring

Jamel Herring takes a swing at Yakubu Amidu (L).

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Jamel Herring is making the most out of a relatively late start. Many boxers — like Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather — who become elite enough to compete as amateurs at the Olympics began boxing as virtual infants and started competing as young as five or six years of age.

In contrast, 2012 summer games Team U.S.A. member Herring was well into adolescence by the time he first walked into a boxing gym. "I started boxing when I was about 15 or 16," he told FOX Sports recently, before his PBC fight against Luis Eduardo Flores in Pennsylvania, airing live Tuesday on FS1 and FOX Deportes at 11 p.m. ET.

"Most amateurs start at six or seven but I didn’t get into it until a close friend offered to let me come down to the gym with him. His father was the coach, Austin Hendrickson, and he became my coach. When I walked in, all I knew about boxing were the Rocky films (laughs). So, I wasn’t on-point with that. I just thought it was crazy stuff. But, I thought, ‘you know what, let’s give it a try.’ I tried, and I fell in love with the sport."

It didn’t take long for Herring to develop a passion for the sport, but it wasn’t because he was immediately good at it. In fact, he pin-points the moment that he decided boxing was for him as a particularly rough one.

"Actually, I realized it after my first time sparring," he remembered.

"I actually got beat up pretty bad. That was the thing that made me stay with it. Some of the guys thought I would end up quitting because I got beat up pretty good. I’ve always been the type to prove people wrong. I always keep coming."

And, Jamel did. He went back to the gym, day after day, and improve, clearly. After all, he went on to compete in the Olympics and is currently a 14-0 pro.

As for the guy who gave him a whoopin’ in that first sparring session? Well, they became friends.

And, "I got him back, eventually," Herring laughs.

"His name is Leon Green and he’s a great guy. We still communicate."

Herring took that never-say-die attitude with him when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. And, when he was allowed to focus on boxing, he used that work ethic to make Olympic dreams come true. 

It wasn’t until he beat Mike Reed in the second round of the 2012 Olympic trials that Herring believed that he could take it all the way to London, however. "It was in my second fight, against Mike Reed. After I fought and beat Reed by one point, I started to think that I could do it," he said.

"I was the underdog and nobody had given me a chance. It was my first real national tournament win. I didn’t have multiple national titles, before that. I was fighting these experienced guys, some of whom had eight to 10 titles. When I won that match, I thought, ‘maybe I can take boxing further than I have.’"

That positive self-talk may be the key to Herring’s success so far, in all aspects of his life. He’s skilled, to be sure, but when we asked the fighter what his best attribute is, he pointed a finger towards his head.

"It’s a mental thing," he explained.

"It is mental, more than anything. Being a Marine and doing two tours of duty in Iraq, losing my daughter, going through all that and experiencing so much … I realized that I’m still here. Like a lot of other people, I’ve gone through so much, but I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m so grateful for that. 

"Boxing, for me, is the fun part. If I’m in a tough fight, or when training gets grueling, I remember that it could be worse. I could be back out there, overseas and in harm’s way, only to possibly never come back. Every time I lace up my gloves, I think about my experience as a Marine. It helped me prepare for what I take on, now, and I’m grateful to be here, doing what I love."