February 13, 2019
February 13, 2019
jarrell miller

Rosie Cohe/Showtime

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SO, the secret’s out. Well, not out, because it’s been out for a long time, but it’s official. After what feels like a lifetime’s worth of i-dotting and t-crossing, Jarrell Miller – AKA The Big Baby – has been confirmed as Anthony Joshua’s next challenger.

What does Boxing News think about this? Well, firstly, Miller is not Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury. Secondly, he’s not Dillian Whyte. Nor is he Kubrat Pulev. Or Oleksandr Usyk. Or even a comebacking Wladimir Klitschko. Or Luis Ortiz. Even Joe Joyce would be given a better chance of winning. Dereck Chisora, anyone?

Okay, okay… But the problem with Jarrell Miller is he hasn’t really done anything to merit a shot at the title bar confronting Joshua when the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion made a trip to the US purely for publicity purposes.

He got in Joshua’s face, he shouted a lot and – kerching – world heavyweight title fight in the bag. It’s not the way things should be done but, and this is what we must accept as long-suffering boxing fans, boxing has frequently been done like this since boxing began.

Bigmouth Strikes Again… If you can sell a fight well enough for the public to buy it then you’re halfway there. And by the time Miller is in full-on villain mode and going berserk whenever a camera is close, plenty will be converted, perhaps even you. That Miller – who has ballooned approximately 30lbs (from 283 to 315) in the space of one year – has scored the odd eye-catching knockout, and is American, just about edged him over the line in what had become a one-man race for Joshua.

The length of time it took to roll him over it, though, suggests even those who are making this contest were far from convinced it was a good idea.

Because let’s not lose sight of who Miller has been knocking out. Pick one from Gerald Washington, Mariusz Wach or Johan Duhaupas as his most noteworthy victim. Each of them walloped into submission before; none comparable to the threat from Joshua in any way shape or form. While we shouldn’t completely dismiss that old heavyweight adage – ‘This is heavyweight boxing, so anything can happen’ – it’s hard to see the real appeal here beyond it’s about time Joshua fought in America.

To make the story worse, this follows the long and winding failure to get someone better in the ring with ‘AJ’. Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury were invited along but they have unfinished business – business that began purely because of failed Joshua-Wilder negotiations, don’t forget – and Dillian Whyte felt he was being undervalued when he was offered the chance last month. That was Whyte’s decision to make of course but, right now, it’s easy to wish he’d gone the other way. Because here we are, left holding the Big Baby.

While it’s been widely reported that DAZN are willing to throw mind-boggling amounts of money at Joshua-Miller, the streaming service’s involvement in the Briton’s development doesn’t appear to have made things easy for Eddie Hearn to map out the best route for his heavyweight superstar. Since defeating Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, it has all been slightly anti-climatic. The stage was well and truly set on that unforgettable Wembley night and, though the WBO title-winning victory over Joseph Parker and beatdown of Alexander Povetkin were arguably more credible, it’s Wilder and Fury who shared the most noteworthy heavyweight contest since. The same Fury, by the way, who was fat and inactive the night Joshua outlasted Klitschko.

But all is not lost. Joshua is still only 29 and, if you examine what he’s achieved in 22 fights, he’s made impressive progress overall. His purse here is enormous, he’s worked tirelessly to be in such a position, and no one should begrudge him his reward. This is not the first world heavyweight title ‘gimme’ in history and it won’t be the last. In fact, if you look at some of the challengers fighting for ‘world’ titles in other divisions, Miller is far from the worst.

And though the anti-Eddie Hearn brigade will blame everything on Eddie Hearn, the promoter’s desire to bag the biggest fights for Joshua in the future should not be doubted. He is not stupid nor blind to criticism, and he will be aware there are only so many fights like this the public will stand for.

And when one considers that Joshua has beaten Whyte, Klitschko, Dominic Breazeale, Povetkin, Carlos Takam and Parker since 2015, it’s easy to wonder if we’re being too harsh on the latest developments. Above all, Joshua’s desire to achieve all he can in boxing should not be questioned. The heavyweight landscape is certainly in the best shape it’s been in a while – he was the leading architect – and all it needs now is an undisputed leader to take control.

And Joshua, by virtue of his three belts, is the closest the division has to such. In the end, if he keeps his titles, bigger and better names than Miller will need to go through him.

Yet, all things considered, it’s still hard to shake the feeling that Joshua is going down the wrong path, at least in the short term. While Wilder and Fury look set for at least one more fight which could lead to a third or a first with Whyte, who looks likely to go the WBC route after being offered a – groan – Interim title fight with Breazeale, Joshua might only be left with Pulev as his IBF mandatory when the dust clears.

By then, we’ll be into 2020, Joshua will be 30 years old, and this showpiece with Miller might feel like it was all a waste of precious time.