“AJ. Boxing’s Staying Home.” That’s what the Matchroom announcement read last year when unified heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua confirmed his next two fights would be at the historic Wembley Stadium.
We got the first. A seventh-round KO of Russian Alexander Povetkin on a stormy September night paved the way for the slow build towards the second date on April 13; we waited with bated breath at the possible announcement of a heavyweight undisputed contest under the Wembley arch.
Deontay Wilder was the choice. The hard-hitting WBC champion would come to England with his green and gold strap and put his undefeated record on the line against the fellow unblemished Briton.
If only boxing was that straight forward.
Contractual, monetary, egotistical disputes left this fight an impossibility for the April 13 date, with months of back-and-forths between Eddie Hearn and Shelly Finkel climaxing in a fight: a fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. Oh...
So next it was Dillian Whyte. The Bodysnatcher was lined up by Matchroom as an easy sell off the back of their British title fight in 2015. There’s always going to be bad blood between these two, with Whyte becoming one of the only fighters to noticeably pierce the skin of the media-savvy AJ.
Whyte’s win over Dereck Chisora on December 22 played into the hands of Eddie Hearn who could make this fight at the flick of a switch; how wrong we were. Whyte saw his worth way above what Matchroom (and Joshua) were willing to pay him. Rumours of a £5 million deal were turned down by Whyte in relation to clauses in the rematch; the Bodysnatcher instead has decided to go down the WBC mandatory route in a “number one contender” fight with Dominic Breazeale (still to be confirmed).
It’s a huge gamble by Whyte, however, he knows that when mandatories are called his hand is a lot stronger than as a voluntary challenger. It’s smart from Whyte unless he runs into ‘Trouble’ on an expected date of April 20.
So who was left? Kubrat Pulev is still Joshua’s IBF mandatory. After a mind-numbing 12-round win over Hughie Fury, maybe the Bulgarian was worthy of his shot again after having to postpone through injury in 2017. Dereck Chisora maybe? Despite losing to Dillian Whyte for the second time in December, ‘War’ Chisora has certainly made progress in the twilight of his career. A huge deal to get Wladimir Klitschko back? Chucking Oleksandr Usyk into deep waters? Hmm... Adam Kownacki?
You get the picture. The barrel needed scraping to land Joshua a notable fight in 2019 to keep the ‘brand AJ’ momentum flowing. There weren’t many options left in the land of the giants.
The scraping of the barrel turned into the choosing of the Jarrell. Jarrell Miller and all 315-pounds of the cheeseburger-eating New Yorker. All things considered, this isn’t the worst road for Joshua to go down. Sure, as boxing fans we want the action to come thick and fast, we are impatient in our quest to see the best fighting the best, but this is a big step into the unknown for the IBF, WBA and WBO champ.
We knew that Eddie Hearn and Joshua wanted to “crack America” before not too long. We envisaged this fight a little further along the line, but with Tyson Fury and Wilder beginning to make huge waves over the Atlantic, AJ needs to gate-crash the party.
Miller is a perfect opponent. The loud, brash, confrontational New Yorker will test Joshua’s resolve in the lead up to the fight, with Big Baby already rattling the champion’s cage at the DAZN-Matchroom launch deal last year. The lead up to the fight will be worth watching, even if the main event disappoints.
How Matchroom temper the expectations of this fight will be interesting to observe. Joshua’s fanbase is huge, but a casual one. There won’t be thousands of Ricky Hatton-esque fans making the trip on June 1 solely to support Joshua; the ticket prices have been pitched high, with Miller expected to incite American sales.
So all in all, Miller is arguably the best of a bad bunch. With Fury, Wilder and Whyte all now tied up, the planned trip to the States has been forced to queue jump.
The tears over Big Baby will soon dry up as we begin a string of fights that will slowly start to piece together the fragmented heavyweight puzzle.
All I ask is for no more excuses. I don’t care about the order, but the winners of Joshua-Miller, Wilder-Fury and Whyte-Breazeale all have to meet in the next 18 months.
Fool me once, heavyweights.