Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller – The romance of boxing has always been inseparable from the allure of heavyweights who can punch.
Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (pictured landing a right hand on Donovan Dennis) can punch. Ranked in the top ten by the IBF, WBA, and WBO, he has compiled a 17-0-1 (15 KOs) ring record and is on the verge of becoming a viable heavyweight contender. On August 19, he’ll face journeyman Fred Kassi in a bout that will be televised on ShoBox.
Miller has lived most of his life in Brooklyn with stops in Belize (Central America) and Queens (one of New York’s five boroughs) along the way. He graduated from Thomas Edison High School and attended Borough of Manhattan Community College for two semesters before deciding to concentrate on boxing. His most significant business interest apart from the sweet science is an ownership stake in the Purehart Training Center in Queens. He and his girlfriend have a 5-year-old son named Achilles.
Dmitry Salita met Miller in 2004 when Salita was training with Harry Keitt. Jarrell was sixteen years old at the time. Dmitry is now Miller’s promoter and recently entered into a co-promotional agreement with Greg Cohen.
Steve Nelson and Michael Mihalitsas have co-managed Miller since October 2015. Nelson has experience in the heavyweight ranks, having previously co-managed Hasim Rahman, Monte Barrett, and Lawrence Clay-Bey.
I wanted to write about Miller and reached out to set up an interview. Salita and Nelson each telephoned me on August 1 to say that Jarrell would be at the Mendez Gym in Manhattan at 10:30 the following morning and would be expecting me.
“Call Jarrell to confirm it,” Dmitry suggested.
So I called Jarrell.
“Looking forward to it,” he said.
At 10:30 on Tuesday morning, I was at the Mendez Gym. So was trainer Harry Keitt.
“Jarrell and ten-thirty aren’t good friends,” Harry told me.
Keitt is one of hundreds of amateur and professional boxers who got their start in New York under the tutelage of trainer George Washington. Harry and I chatted for a while.
“Jarrell was sixteen years old when I started working with him,” Keitt reminisced. “He was kick-boxing at the time. I told him, ‘Kickboxing and boxing don’t go together. You got to do one or the other.’ So for a while, he put his energy into kickboxing. He did one and then the other. Jarrell has his own mindset. He does his own thing and says what he wants to say.”
At eleven o’clock, Harry called Jarrell. He was at home in Queens, giving serious thought to leaving for the gym, which meant he might arrive around noon. I had other things to do. It’s one thing to wait an hour-and-a-half for LeBron James. But Jarrell Miller isn’t LeBron James.
I went home. Thereafter, we rescheduled for 3:00 PM on August 11. This time, Jarrell arrived as promised.
Miller is personable and outgoing. He likes to talk and is a good self-promoter. His confidence is genuine. He means it when he says, “I’m the best out there. It’s just a matter of time for the whole world to see it.”
How does Miller define himself?
“I’m Jarrell. I’m a big kid at heart. I love to fight. Family means the world to me.”
“What makes you happy?”
“Why are you boxing?”
“I haven’t seen big money yet. But it’s a money thing. And an ego thing. That’s what motivates me.”
Miller has an opinion about everything. The historical figures that he admires run the gamut from Jack Johnson to Gandhi to Albert Einstein to Malcolm X with James Brown thrown in.
He’s also passionate about politics.
“Look at the election campaign now,” Jarrell told me. “It’s making a mockery of the whole country. Ignorance and stupidity make me angry, and we’re seeing a lot of ignorance and stupidity these days. Trump is racist. He’s disrespectful of other people. Obama didn’t solve all the country’s problems. No one can. But he tried and he’s done a lot. We need to keep going forward now, not go backward. Racial justice, religious tolerance, income inequality, global warming, education. People got to get on the same page.”
That brings us to Miller as a fighter.
Jarrell was born on July 15, 1988 (eighteen days after Mike Tyson obliterated Michael Spinks). “Mike Tyson was what got me interested in boxing,” he says. “When Tyson fought, everything else stopped. Everyone in the neighborhood was watching it on television. When he knocked guys down, everyone went crazy. I was like “WOW! I want to have that same impact on people.”
Miller began combat sports training in Muay Thai at age 14. He took up boxing at 16. Then he focused on kickboxing, establishing a 23-and-2 record as a professional kickboxer. His first professional boxing match was a one-round knockout victory on July 18, 2009. Twenty-two months passed before he committed fully to the sweet science and entered the ring with only his hands as weapons for the second time.
Is there a danger that Jarrell will have a brain blip someday and kick an opponent?
“I don’t think so,” he answers. “I programmed myself a long time ago. No boxing shoes; kick. Boxing shoes; no kick.”
Miller was brought in for one fight as a sparring partner for Vitali Klitschko toward the end of Vitali’s career. He was in Wladimir Klitschko’s camp as a sparring partner on multiple occasions.
“The first few times with Wladimir were tough,” Jarrell recalls. “There’s constant pressure because he’s got a stiff jab and cuts off the ring well. When you’re taking four steps, he’s taking two. He’s a hard hitter. He can crack. And when you get inside, he lays on you, wears you down, tires you out. Those were hard sessions for me. I wasn’t as experienced then as I am now. I still have a lot to learn, but I had more to learn then. It took a while. But I finally learned how to land an overhand right on him. Then they stopped inviting me to camp.”
The right hand is Jarrell’s money punch. Talk with people in boxing about him and it always comes down to the same thing.
Matchmaker Ron Katz: “He’s a big guy. He’s improving. And he can punch.”
Ring announcer David Diamante: “He’s fun to watch. So far, he’s passed every test they’ve put in front of him. And he can punch.”
Promoter Lou DiBella: “Jarrell has a big personality. He’s getting better as a fighter. And he hits like a motherf—-r.”
That said; there’s a school of thought that Miller could, and should, shed some pounds. In his last fight (a May 27, 2016, knockout of Nick Guivas), he weighed in at 283.
“A lot of Jarrell’s weight is in his thighs,” Harry Keitt says. “His legs are like tree trunks and that’s okay. But I’d like to see him at 250. He’d be more flexible and get a little less tired as a fight goes on. Jarrell has the ability. He has gifts. The heavyweight division is wide open now. If Jarrell stays in the gym and works like he should, he could be the guy. But he has to do what it takes.”
“Jarrell dances to his own music,” adds Dmitry Salita. “There are times when he’s like a big kid. One of the questions he has to answer is, as he gets bigger in boxing, will he do what he has to do in training or hang out and be a celebrity.”
It’s hard to not think of Chris Arreola, another heavyweight with a big personality and the punch to match, whose lack of discipline caused him to fall short of his potential.
Miller’s next opponent, 36-year-old Fred Kassi (18-5-1, 10 KOs) is a measuring stick. Kassi was born in Cameroon, lives in New Orleans, and is winless in his last four outings (a draw against Arreola and losses to Amir Mansour, Dominic Breazeale, and Hughie Fury).
Kassi is durable. In his 24-bout pro career, only Mansour has knocked him out. If Miller can stop him, it would be a good sign for Jarrell. But keep in mind; Kassi has gone ten rounds three times. Miller has gone six rounds twice and seven rounds once. Miller-Kassi is scheduled for ten.
“If a knockout comes, that’s fine,” Keitt says. “But I just look for the W. The W is what it’s all about.”
“KO 7,” Jarrell says when asked about the Kassi fight. “I love people. All people are created equal. I really believe that. But not all fighters are equal.”
What will happen when Miller faces a world-class heavyweight? That’s the multi-million-dollar question. The fighter most often mentioned in conjunction with Jarrell is Deontay Wilder. At present, they’re the two hardest-punching American heavyweights, and maybe the two best.
“If Jarrell keeps improving,” Salita posits, “it won’t be long before he’s better than Wilder. So let me ask you something. Deontay Wilder is from Alabama. Jarrell Miller is from Brooklyn. Which one should be fighting at Barclays Center and be the face of Brooklyn boxing?”
“I’d love to fight Wilder,” Jarrell says. “I know the things he does right, but I also see the things he does wrong. Certain situations put you in a spot where you put up or shut up. That’s when you find out what’s inside you. Sure, there are times when I think about the worst that can happen in a fight. All fighters do. Then I’m like. ‘F— it. Do what you gotta do.’”
And he can punch.
Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller / Interested in more boxing news and videos? Checkout The Boxing Channel.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.