NOT unlike sitting through a therapy session run by your own abuser, the inclusion of American heavyweight Jarrell Miller on the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) ‘KO Drugs Festival’ in Argentina this week appeared to be insensitive at best and negligent at worst.
This was, don’t forget, the first fight for Miller since his career imploded due to a number of failed performance-enhancing drug tests, the most damaging of which arrived before what would have been a life-changing (financially speaking, with a $4.875 million purse) fight against Anthony Joshua in 2019. For that, the WBA, funnily enough, banned Miller for six months – yes, just six – and removed him from their heavyweight rankings. Their belt was then later won by Andy Ruiz Jnr, who capitalised on Miller’s mistake to stop Joshua in seven rounds at Madison Square Garden, New York.
Left to rue getting caught, Miller, following his suspension, was all set to make his ring return against Jerry Forrest on July 9, 2020. However, to his apparent shock, on June 27, news started to filter through that ‘Big Baby’, lo and behold, had failed yet another pre-fight drug test for the prohibited substance GW501516. This led to a second suspension, this time from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which had many suspecting we had seen the last of the Brooklyn heavyweight.
But, alas, those people were wrong. At 33, Miller, still relatively young in heavyweight terms, has now served his backdated two-year suspension and is active again, with the Nevada State Athletic Commission voting to re-licence him as of June 17, so long as he continues to return clean tests.
By all accounts reformed (and forgiven), today (June 23) in Buenos Aires Miller took the first step towards trading in his infamy for a money-spinning shot at a world heavyweight title by beating Ariel Esteban Bracamonte, 11-8 (6), via 10-round decision (scores: 97-2, 97-92, 97-92). Weighing a whopping 341 pounds, which in itself is perhaps a pro-drugs message, the win did little for Miller’s career other than jumpstart it. Yet, having at least done that, the big question now is this: How long will it take for Miller, 24-0-1 (20), to climb back up the rankings and position himself for a title shot, thus giving a champion and their promoter licence to say, “Well, what can we do? He’s earned it.”
That day is coming, and probably not as far away as you think. Any such fight will likely be a big one, too. It will carry with it all the drama of a Depp and Heard court case and it will be spoken about for all the wrong reasons but spoken about nonetheless. It will, more importantly, make money, both for the champion and the promoter, and also Miller, this bad boy in exactly the right sport.
Because we know now that nobody forgives quite like boxing, this battered partner of the sporting world. Indeed, so low is its self-esteem, and so great is its need to be liked, pretty much anybody can commit a crime in boxing and not only get away with it but use the proceeds to enhance their own status, earning potential, and ability to secure future opportunities. In a school with no teachers, bans, we realise, no longer work – if indeed they ever have. Nor, for that matter, does the besmirching of a reputation work, for all most boxers really care about is money, and all fans in the end really care about is that they are getting to see a good fight between well-matched boxers. They, much like the sanctioning bodies and promoters, couldn’t care less who has taken what or who is taking what so long as they see what they want to see on fight night.
We are at a stage now, in fact, where it’s much harder to single out with certainty the ones that haven’t taken something than identifying the ones who have. So far behind have we and the testers fallen, in terms of our knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes, we are left with no option now but to accept the word of boxers; athletes for whom delusion and dishonesty are often traits that help them get to the ring and succeed in the first place. They tell us something and we believe it. We believe it, ultimately, because we want to believe it.
Even the old-fashioned eye test, a more accurate guide when looking at boxers from yesteryear, isn’t quite so reliable these days, with the signs much tougher to spot than before. We’re down to subtle signs, ones spotted only by those who know what they’re looking for, and grotesque, misshapen anomalies have become harder and harder to detect than in previous generations – back when, you guessed it, testing was even less prevalent.
Which is why, when an example like Jarrell Miller comes along, you must jump on it – the sport, I mean – and make of him exactly that: an example. For, after all, not only did Miller three years ago happen to tick every PED box going, and exhibit every tell-tale sign of something underhand, he was eventually caught in the kind of drug raid – of his body, that is – that amounted to not just a few bags of weed stuffed down the side of a sofa but one sufficient to indict a Colombian cartel. There were, found inside him, traces of GW501516. There was EPO. There was HGH. In other words, he was ours, we had him, right there in our grasp, caught red-handed. We then, however, let him go, free of charge.
Worse than that, we offered him a lift home, returned to him his stash, and allowed him to pick up where he left off. Worse even that, we this week gave him an anti-drug platform on which to rise, a considerable slap in the face to all who ever boxed Miller in an ‘enhanced’ state and all who box without the aid of drugs; men and women who, throughout training camp, find themselves worried not just about the tactics their opponent might employ on fight night but also what their opponent might decide to take in the weeks beforehand.
Rest assured, this decision by the WBA had nothing to do with rehabilitation or reform or the bizarre notion, in a sport like boxing, that everybody deserves a second (or third, or fourth) chance. Instead, by letting Jarrell Miller return to the sport he brought into disrepute, and not even having the decency to slip him in via the backdoor, the WBA, through the illusion of an anti-drugs stance, promoted just one thing: acceptance. Only this was not the kind of acceptance to embrace, celebrate or be proud of. Rather, this was the acceptance – or, better yet, acquiescence – of an inept parent unable to control their delinquent child.
Their ‘Big Baby’, if you will.