Thursday night was supposed to be something at least a little special for the Top Rank Summer Series of boxing shows on ESPN.
The main event was supposed to feature the return of Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, a would-be contender with a big personality and bigger outside the ring issues. Miller, of course, was meant to face Anthony Joshua in AJ’s U.S. debut in 2019, but failed a trio of drug tests for three different PEDs in total, and wound up famously replaced by Andy Ruiz Jr, who shocked the world before falling back down to Earth six months later.
Top Rank ignored Miller’s issue — and the fact that he’d failed a drug test during his pro kickboxing career, too — and signed the big heavyweight up earlier this year. You may not have liked the decision then, but it adds up as far as business goes. Miller (23-0-1, 20 KO) is a big, American heavyweight with charisma. If he could shake the drug test failures and put together a couple wins, Top Rank has a viable heavyweight contender on hand to potentially face Tyson Fury or Kubrat Pulev. Nobody is passing on good heavyweights anymore.
And then on June 27, it was announced that Miller had once again failed a drug test, coming up positive for GW1516, one of the drugs he’d tested dirty for in 2019.
Miller claims that there is big proof that will clear him, but that was one of his several stories in 2019, too. Nothing came of it then, and people are understandably skeptical now.
ESPN commentator Timothy Bradley, among many others, has argued Miller should be banned for life, period and end of story. Promoter Lou DiBella, whose fighter Jerry Forrest was to face Miller on Thursday evening, won’t go that far, but agrees that punishment has to be harsh, and that boxing needs to finally get some sort of handle on PED usage and start enforcing real penalties.
We didn’t see that in 2019, of course. One sanctioning body gave Miller a whopping six-month suspension, and he had his license application denied by New York (but Nevada gave him one right back this year), but that was it. Basically nothing else was done, nothing enforced.
So Miller’s out. There’s question as to whether or not Top Rank will even go forward doing business with him. There is some thought that they are going to simply move on from a failed experiment unless there is some big proof on Miller’s behalf that will clear him of wrongdoing. The ESPN commentary team talked about the situation on the air last week, and they were hard on Miller. It is what it is, but the ESPN commentary team don’t normally say anything that Top Rank don’t want them to say. Ask Teddy Atlas. If they’re speaking freely and harshly, it’s reason to suspect they’re prepared to wash their hands of Miller.
Top Rank moved quickly and swiftly to save the heavyweight main event, and they also showed Jerry Forrest, who isn’t their fighter, a lot of respect by doing so, saving his spot in the July 9 fight and calling up Joe DeGuardia and Star Boxing, who promote veteran and former title challenger Carlos Takam along with Top Rank.
Takam was quick to accept the fight, and so he’s in against Forrest tomorrow night.
It’s not a great fight. It’s not an elite level heavyweight clash. The winner likely isn’t going to challenge for a title, LINEAL!!!!! or otherwise, any time soon. But while the Summer Series has had bumps in the road, I would argue Top Rank have done a good job overall going with the flow and doing their best with short-notice replacement fighters. Leonardo Baez and Kendo Castaneda didn’t fare so well as underdogs, but Takam will come in the favorite.
Takam (38-5-1, 28 KO) is a 39-year-old born in Cameroon, fought out of France for years, and is now based in Nevada. Most of his career has been spent in France, but he’s not been afraid to travel, either, fighting in Belgium, Canada, Russia, Italy, New Zealand, Macau, the United Kingdom, and the United States in his last two bouts, finally making his U.S. debut in Sept. 2019, and fighting again in February of this year.
He’s also faced a fair amount of contenders and notable players at heavyweight. He fought Cuban Mike Perez to a draw in Montreal back in 2014, back when Perez was still thought to be a promising prospect. He followed that up with a win in France over Tony Thompson, who was coming off of a win over Odlanier Solis (remember him?), and then went to Moscow and was stopped in 10 by Alexander Povetkin.
His 2014 fight in New Zealand with a then-unbeaten Joseph Parker was an odd one, as Takam started well but arguably gave the fight away overall, going inactive for stretches of time and allowing Parker to nick a close but earned decision win.
In 2017, Takam was called in on short notice to replace Kubrat Pulev in a WBA/IBF title fight against Anthony Joshua in Cardiff, Wales. Takam took Joshua into the 10th round before a stoppage loss, and that was followed up nine months later in London by a TKO loss to Derek Chisora. Takam was in control of the fight before being dropped twice and stopped in that one.
The TL;DR version of all that is that Takam is a solid fighter who has always been a bit short of that top level. He’s never quite been a super strong pick for the division’s top 10, but he’s also not been terribly far out of the top 10 for a long time, either.
He’s credible, Takam is, and that means that 32-year-old Virginian Jerry Forrest has a shot to make a little noise on Thursday.
The biggest opportunity of Forrest’s career to date came in July 2019, when he landed a ShoBox main event against hyped prospect Jermaine Franklin.
Forrest (26-3, 20 KO) was arguably robbed that night against a favored fighter, one who has a little backing and a little bit of a push. Even just this week, Franklin’s received a profile piece at a major outlet, despite his results not matching the supposed promise. The push is still on, and that’s fine for Franklin, but what about the southpaw “Slugger” who arguably got jobbed about a year ago in Tacoma?
Forrest had a pair of losses early in his career coming into the Franklin bout, and little was really expected of him. He had the record of a club fighter in an area that isn’t well known for big time boxing.
But he worked behind his jab, landed a lot of the better shots in the fight, and then the split decision came back with two 97-93 scores for Franklin, which was tough to figure, and one going Forrest’s way, 96-94.
Personally, I did feel Forrest won that fight, but even if he’d gotten the nod it’s not any guarantee he’d be in any better a spot right now. An ESPN main event with Takam — even in a weird period for the sport — is probably the best level he could have hoped for, other than maybe a ShoBox rematch with Franklin by the end of last year.
Truth be told, though, we still know little of Forrest’s actual quality. Takam is a proven commodity, “is what he is” and all that, and we know his level and what he brings to the table. Forrest has really had just the one notable fight. Did he look good, or did Franklin look bad again? Forrest fought like a competent pro on ShoBox, but will the same approach be viable against Takam?
To me, that’s the story for tomorrow night. Who is Jerry Forrest, really? Is he a potential hidden talent, a heavyweight who may bloom a bit late but bloom all the same? Or will he find himself overmatched against a capable if not outstanding world stage performer?