In Jarrell Miller, Anthony Joshua finds perfect foil for US invasion
NEW YORK — Jarrell Miller was tensed up, rocking back and forth slightly as he awaited Anthony Joshua’s arrival on stage. The fact that most boxing press conferences end with a face-off instead of begin with one was not lost on the seasoned reporters in the pit, so it was hardly shocking when Miller welcomed the British champion to America with a stiff shove. As old hat as a press con shoving match may seem, the classics never go out of style. Media engagements, for both fighters and writers, can become perfunctory and compulsory, and the change of pace was met with giddiness by many in attendance.
Joshua, the Briton rated no. 1 by The Ring at heavyweight and the holder of the IBF, WBO and WBA belts, leaned in against bodyguards, who were conveniently in place to prevent full scale fisticuffs. At one point Joshua leaped down from the stage to confront a Miller supporter before climbing back up the stairs to sit at the dais.
Promoter Eddie Hearn wore a mischievous smile, even as he offered faint admonitions for profanity, threats and insults. What makes heavyweight boxing so attractive is that these are big men capable of violence greater than that seen in the lower weights. And as big as Las Vegas has been for boxing over the past 40 years, New York has always been a heavyweight city, and Madison Square Garden the proving ground for the sport’s largest competitors.
Jarrell Miller SHOVES Anthony Joshua at the face-off and it’s ON! @BIGBABYMILLER @anthonyfjoshua #JoshuaMiller pic.twitter.com/xJLb9VoXQC
— Ryan Songalia (@ryansongalia) February 19, 2019
If you’re going to enter the New York market, it’s go big or go home.
“I think there’s a bit of negativity and a bit of positivity, but that’s how you’ve gotta ride the wave,” said Joshua (22-0, 21 knockouts), a native of Watford just outside of London, when asked how the decision to campaign in the United States was greeted back home. “My view on the whole situation of my career is they’ll appreciate you when you’re done. So right now I’m just going with where the best opportunities are and making the right decisions for the long term.
Joshua follows the likes of Prince Naseem Hamed, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe among British fighters who established themselves back home before making their moves towards the United States. And Miller (23-0-1, 20 KOs) of nearby Brooklyn, N.Y. would appear the perfect opponent to launch Joshua into the market when they face off on June 1 at The Garden.
“Big Baby”, rated no. 9 by Ring, is a big talker, a local fighter who is familiar to DAZN viewers, and brings a high volume, pressure style that makes for action-packed fights. The quick-witted Miller more than held up his end of the trash talk game, even if it did at times devolve into low-brow “yo momma” jokes and schoolyard insults.
“He’s slow, he’s not a puncher, like a ‘gorilla back’, ex-kickboxer, probably be better off in the NFL, substance abuse, got caught on PEDs, I can’t really respect that,” said Joshua, when asked to describe Miller at the pre-event roundtables.
“If you cut Jarrell in half he’s just a negative person, a foul person who doesn’t have much good to say about anyone or anything. If you ask Jarrell Miller about anything, he’s probably gonna talk shit, that’s just how he is.
“If you cut Jarrell Miller, he’s just a disease, there’s nothing positive about him.”
Miller had tested positive for a banned substance before a 2014 kickboxing match, and says this fight will have pre-fight testing conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. He expects it to begin when they sign their contracts next week, and says he’ll set up training in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he found out a couple years ago he has siblings he didn’t previously know about from his father’s side.
Though Joshua, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, has become a massive star back home, drawing a reported 80,000 spectators to Wembley Arena for his last fight against Alexander Povetkin in September. Chasing recognition is an empty task, Joshua figures, but he still wonders how he’d have been perceived if he was an American fighter with the same accomplishments.
“Maybe I would have been more recognized as such because America is a big Mecca for entertainment in itself. But we built it from the ground up in the UK and I’m happy and we’re crossing over to embrace this culture as well,” said Joshua, who is a year younger at 29.
America, he says, could become a second home for him. He had grown up being influenced more by American heavyweights like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman and Riddick Bowe, plus cruiserweight Dwight Muhammad Qawi and another Olympic golden boy and current DAZN commentator Sugar Ray Leonard. He says Lennox Lewis, himself a former heavyweight champ from England and a critic of Joshua’s, had no influence on him.
“What do they say this place is, home of the free, land of the brave? So it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are, if you embrace it and work hard, you’re accepted as one of their own,” said Joshua.
Competing in the U.S. also brings him closer to the fight he clearly wants most, which is a showdown with WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder. The two have traded blame over why their fight to bring all the belts together has yet to happen, and Joshua rejected the notion that Wilder’s entertaining draw against Tyson Fury played any role in Joshua-Miller being so well received by audiences.
But he says he does see a double standard over calls for him to ply his craft in the States.
“OK, you ask Wilder that, why haven’t you fought in the UK? What’s there? Biggest audience, biggest payday, four of the major world titles (Joshua also holds the minor IBO belt), one of the leading current world champions, there’s a question for you as well,” said Joshua.
“Now it gives me the opportunity to say well I’m fighting in the States as well, so if the UK isn’t good enough for you, I’ll show you what I can do in the US as well and you can be part of this as well. We can find a common ground. There’s no invitation anymore, we’ve invaded to a certain degree.”
Joshua says he’ll do at least part of his training camp for this fight in America, and joked that he’d train at Gleason’s Gym, right in Miller’s home borough of Brooklyn. Details for where camp will be held, and when it will start, were still being determined by trainer Robert McCracken, Joshua said.
Asked whether he felt a deal could be reached between Joshua, who is now in a long-term “partnership” with DAZN for U.S. broadcasts, and Fury, who recently signed a co-promotional deal with the ESPN-aligned Top Rank, and the Premier Boxing Champions-represented Wilder, Hearn pointed to Joshua’s 2017 fight against Wladimir Klitschko which was carried by both Showtime and HBO.
“It’s about being creative, it’s about money, but first is June 1 at MSG,” said Hearn.
Miller stormed off the stage before the press conference wrapped up, but Joshua stayed on stage to take questions even as Hearn tried several times to wrap up the event. They’ll meet once more for the U.K. press tour stop, but it’s clear after just one day together they’re getting on each other’s nerves.
“I thought he’d be smarter than that, but he showed he’s just a stupid, ignorant…,” Joshua said before regaining restraint. “I don’t even want to use the word I was gonna use, but that’s what he is.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at [email protected].