The grim example of Jarrell Miller

Jarrell Miller
Jarrell Miller’s scheduled return reminds the sport of an all too familiar bad taste, writes Matt Christie

WHEN the world was plunged into lockdown the sport of boxing had a golden opportunity to clean the slate. We hoped that drug cheats would not be at the front of the queue for a payday when the sport found its feet because, well, there are a multitude of more deserving fighters than those who have no respect for boxing or their opponents. But anyone hoping for some semblance of fairness and justice really should have known better. And now, barely a fortnight into boxing’s return, it’s back to the old routine.

Though there are countless heavyweights besides Jarrell Miller who should be in action, the nature of the American’s crimes – which caused a worldwide storm when he was forced out of a shot at champion Anthony Joshua last year – saw his status elevated to such an extent that he’s remained a hot ticket ever since. The cocktail of performance enhancing drugs found in his system as he failed three separate tests and his subsequent promises of putting Joshua in a ‘casket’ are evidently just the kind of storyline the world’s most powerful promoter enjoys.

Miller will return on July 9 on a televised behind closed doors show, taking up one of Top Rank’s valuable headline slots inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Think about it. In the same way that fellow heavyweights Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz saw their opportunities increase – thanks largely to promoter Eddie Hearn – after returning from meagre drug bans, Miller is now not only substantially more famous than he was after knocking out Bogdan Dinu in his most recent ring appearance 18 months ago he’s more in demand. Don’t be fooled by the shot at Joshua he blew, he was employed as a mere co-star for that one. Now he’s the A-side.

Does that tell any young fighter to stay away from drugs?

Perhaps the most galling thing in all of this is the level of Miller’s guilt. Boxing has been crying out for a fighter to come along who could be made an example of. Canelo Alvarez wriggled out of any responsibility because, the fact is, a genuine case could be made for his innocence. Likewise plenty of others. But Miller was caught red-handed. That blood should not have just been put under the tap and washed away.

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, Miller would already have returned and likely now be clamouring for a title shot. In January, Bob Arum announced his all-conquering promotional outfit would promote the drug cheat.

“Jarrell Miller is serious about coming back, doing things the right way and becoming heavyweight champion of the world,” Arum said at the start of the year.

“He is one of boxing’s most unique and exciting characters, but most importantly, he can fight.”

No, the most important thing to Arum is he’s marketable, irrespective of why. Until the most important thing is that rules have been broken in the worst way that rules can be broken, the sport will never rid itself of cheats. It really is as simple as that.

If promoters refused to promote drug cheats they would disappear. They’re the ones with the chequebooks and the contracts with broadcasters. Furthermore, they’re the ones who are capable of handing out the biggest deterrent of all: You fail a test then you won’t get an opportunity again.

“Hang on,” Hearn recently said when he was asked why he offers second and third chances to cheats. “It’s not my job to say if a fighter can fight or not. If they’re cleared to fight then they can fight.”

That is valid. But in America in particular, where one commission says one thing and another says the opposite, it’s a frankly impossible system. If a promoter didn’t sign them in the first place then those commissions – in this case the Nevada State Athletic Commission – wouldn’t even bother to review the cheat’s case while under pressure from that promoter; without a date and a payday and a fight on the table, the cheat would have nowhere to go.

That is not to absolve the commissions from blame. Very few governing bodies in the world stand in the way of an influential/rich promoter. They should.

It’s far too late to expect Bob Arum to do the right thing. For all the great things he’s accomplished, doing the right thing has not always been one of them. At 88 years old, he’s not going to change now. He really doesn’t care about stuff like this.

Say it loud: The biggest promoters in the world do not care about drug cheats in boxing. And that’s the extent of the battle those of us who do care are facing.

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