Boxing’s heavyweight division is wide open. Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder – two exciting but flawed fighters – are at the top. After that, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Twenty-nine-year-old Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (now 20-0-1, 18 KOs) wants the ball.
Miller has a massive torso, huge arms, and thighs that conjure up images of giant oak trees. Fast twitch muscle fiber isn’t his thing. Think clubbing heavy-handed blows.
Miller projects BIG. Big personality, big mouth, 6-feet-4-inches, close to 300 pounds of big. Two years ago, he was fighting at 255 pounds. On July 29 of this year, he weighed in at 299 to fight Gerald Washington (KO 8).
Jarrell’s frame hasn’t filled out as much as it’s overflowing. He’s built more like an NFL offensive lineman than what we’re accustomed to seeing in an elite fighter. But viewers don’t walk away from the TV screen and go to the kitchen to make a sandwich when Miller is fighting. He has charisma. He hits and gets hit. He’s making noise in boxing, not just with his mouth but with his fists.
On November 11, Miller fought Mariusz Wach (33-2, 17 KOs) in the middle bout of an HBO tripleheader at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua and has built Matchroom Boxing into the most powerful promotional company in the United Kingdom, was the man in charge. Hearn is planning to open an office in New York with a dozen employees in 2018. This was a trial run of sorts.
Danny Jacobs (32-2, 29 KOs) vs. Luis Arias (18-0, 9 KOs) was styled as the main event. At the start of this year, Jacobs was defined by two fights in the ring and one out of it. The larger battle was a successful struggle in 2011 against osteosarcoma, a life-threatening form of bone cancer that had wrapped a tumor around his spine. The in-ring battles were a July 31, 2010, knockout defeat at the hands of Dmitry Pirog and a first-round KO of Peter Quillin on December 5, 2015.
Then, at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2017, Jacobs came out on the short end of a razor-thin decision in a middleweight championship bout against Gennady Golovkin. One should be wary of over-evaluating fighters based on a loss. But in losing to Golovkin, Jacobs forced a reevaluation of his skills and chin, which had been questioned since the loss to Pirog.
Arias, an 8-to-1 underdog, worked hard in the pre-fight promotion to raise his profile above that of a fungible opponent.
“I’m the young kid from Wisconsin that nobody knows,” Arias told the media. “Everyone thinks I’m coming in to lose. But if you look at his record, there’s nobody there that he beat. You can build a fighter up and make him look a lot better than he really is. You keep him away from punchers. You keep him away from boxers. You keep him away from legitimate threats. The tough fights that I see, he lost. This is a mixture of me being underrated and him being overrated. Daniel Jacobs is going to be in a dogfight, a very hard fight. I’m going to rough him up and be in his face all night. I want a war.”
“It’s kind of hard to listen to him,” Jacobs said in response. “He can talk a good one. But at the end of the day, it’s about what you do inside the ring. People aren’t praising me for going twelve rounds with Gennady Golovkin. Let’s not get that confused. If they’re praising me, they’re praising me for the fact that they believe that I won the fight. Talk outside the ring is good for promotion. But then the fight starts and there are levels to this game. I’m on a much higher level than Arias.”
Meanwhile, Miller-Wach shaped up as the most intriguing fight of the night.
Miller has lived most of his life in Brooklyn, which has led him to proclaim, “Brooklyn has a pedigree, the homestead for some of the world’s greatest heavyweight boxers. You’ve seen Riddick Bowe. You’ve seen Mike Tyson. You’ve seen Shannon Briggs. I’m next in line.”
Jarrell also advised the media, “I’m the Big Baby, but I’m going to give Wach the pacifier and put him in the crib. There is nothing like Big Baby. No one throws as many punches, and I knock people out. Trust me, I’m not worried about him. I’ll make it easy on him and get him out quick. Wach is going to be just another guy that I crush.”
That said, Wach was a good measuring stick for Miller. Mariusz’s only losses were a decision defeat at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko in 2012 and a stoppage on cuts against Alexander Povetkin in 2015. He’s not a big puncher, but he’s big (268 pounds), tall (6-feet-7-inches), and durable.
“This is a big night in Jarrell Miller’s career,” Eddie Hearn said two days before the fight. “If he beats Wach, he can be a world-class heavyweight. If he destroys Wach, he can be an elite heavyweight. We’ll see what’s real and not real on Saturday night.”
Dressed in black, Jarrell Miller entered his dressing room at Nassau Coliseum on fight night at 7:50 pm.
The room was small and irregularly shaped, fifteen feet wide and a bit longer. It looked more like a renovated studio apartment than a fighter’s dressing room.
Four cushioned folding metal chairs were lined up on a finely-sanded hardwood floor. Two formica-topped credenzas would serve as seats for Jarrell and most of his team in the hours ahead. There was a small sink, a refrigerator, faux fireplace, and large TV monitor. Several framed lithographs graced the light-gray walls. A large mirror was mounted above a faux marble vanity table at the far end of the room.
Jarrell posed for smartphone photos with several team members, sat on top of one of the credenzas, and opened a bottle of Muscle Milk protein shake.
Then he began texting.
The HBO telecast was scheduled to start at ten o’clock with Cletus Seldin vs. Roberto Ortiz in the opening bout. Miller had been told to be ready to walk by 10:15 in the event of a quick knockout.
A New York State Athletic Commission inspector led Jarrell from the dressing room to a medical tent for his final pre-fight physical. While the fighter was gone, rap artist Leonard Grant (better known as Uncle Murda) entered and took a seat. Later, he would lead Jarrell to the ring.
Jarrell returned, sat on the credenza, and resumed texting.
Trainer Harry Keitt left to watch Wach’s hands being wrapped.
There was quiet conversation. Music played intermittently depending on Jarrell’s mood of the moment. Occasionally, he sipped from a bottle of water. Just before nine o’clock, he lay down on the credenza using his leather groin protector as a pillow and closed his eyes.
Jarrell rose from the credenza and sat on one of the folding chairs. Assistant trainer Aureliano Sosa began taping his hands, right hand first. Ten minutes later, the task was done. Jarrell lay down on the credenza again, alternately texting and relaxing with his eyes closed.
David Fields, who would referee Miller-Wach, came in to give Jarrell his pre-fight instructions.
Eddie Hearn and Dmitriy Salita (Miller’s co-promoter) paid their respects.
At 9:40, Jarrell rose from the credenza like a man getting out of bed, took off his black track suit, and put on his boxing shoes.
Curtis Jackson (a/k/a 50 Cent) entered. Jarrell jumped to his feet and embraced the rap impressario. Then, as long as he was on his feet, he shadow-boxed for thirty seconds before sitting down on the credenza again. Shortly before ten o’clock, he stretched briefly on the floor with the aid of a team member before putting on his groin protector and trunks.
Harry Keitt gloved him up.
Jarrell hit the pads briefly with Aureliano Sosa, shouting as he punched.
“Nobody beats me!”
“No chance!” the chorus responded.
“Nobody beats me!”
“What time is it?” Keitt demanded.
“What time is it?”
Seldin-Ortiz ended on a third-round stoppage.
Jarrell’s friend and publicist Alvina Alston led the group in prayer.
Miller put on his robe, walked the length of the room, and examined his image in the mirror above the vanity table.
It was time.
The fight itself was a disappointment for Miller’s partisans. Jarrell had weighed in at 283.4 pounds, which led them to believe that he was in better shape than he’d been for his knockout victory over Gerald Washington fifteen weeks earlier. But he didn’t look like an elite heavyweight.
Wach gave away his advantage in reach and height, allowing Miller to fight at close quarters for most of the bout. Jarrell went to the body throughout, which is a commitment he usually makes. But Mariusz takes a good punch. And Jarrell has clubbing power, not one-punch knockout power, which enabled Wach to stay on his feet.
As in past fights, Miller’s defense was flawed. But he showed a good chin. And when Wach landed, Mariusz didn’t have the power to exploit Jarrell’s defensive liabilities.
Midway through the bout, Wach injured his right hand. From round seven on, he was a one-handed fighter. One minute into round nine, NYSAC chief medical officer Nitin Sethi appropriately intervened to stop the fight. Miller outlanded Wach in every round en route to a 204-to-95 CompuBox advantage.
After the bout, much of the attention in Jarrell’s dressing room was focused on the TV monitor that showed Danny Jacobs doing battle against Luis Arias. On paper, Arias hadn’t posed much of a threat to Jacobs. He didn’t in the ring either. Jacobs cruised to a unanimous-decision triumph.
“I expected more from Jarrell tonight,” Harry Keitt said. “But he did what he had to do.”
Miller’s self-evaluation was similar.
“Nobody looks good against Wach,” Jarrell offered. “And I didn’t either. I was a little sloppy in there; I know that. I never really found my rhythm. And I hurt my elbow in training camp so it was hard for me to snap my jab. It is what it is. A win is a win.”
As for what comes next; Miller-Wach was part of a two-fight HBO deal for Jarrell with the network having a right of first negotiation and last refusal on a third bout. It’s expected that Miller and Jacobs will fight next on another HBO card in March or April 2018, most likely at Barclays Center. After that, who knows?
Prior to the final pre-fight press conference for the November 11 fight card, Eddie Hearn was besieged with questions from reporters, none of whom asked about Miller or Jacobs. All of the inquiries were about the possibility of a showdown between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.
Joshua may or may not want to fight Wilder. And even if he does, Deontay’s team might price themselves out of the negotiations. WBO belt-holder Joseph Parker could too.
“Parker wants crazy money,” Hearn noted. “For that fight to be made, we have to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. Parker has virtually no value outside of New Zealand and Australia, but the belt does. You have to overpay because he has a belt. The question is, by how much?”
Also, depending on how the chips fall in the next six months, there’s easy money for Joshua to make by fighting Tyson Fury or David Haye in the United Kingdom.
Within that framework, Miller’s most likely route to facing Joshua would be a spring 2018 fight against Dillian Whyte (also promoted by Eddie Hearn).
How will Jarrell do when he steps up in class? There are things he has to improve upon, and it’s no secret what they are.
Jarrell is slow. There’s not much he can do about that. He can be outslicked. As he moves up in class, his success will depend to a great degree on his ability to take punches. Big ones and the accumulation of small blows. But he has to do a better job of protecting his chin.
Deontay Wilder might not have a good chin. But he protects it better than Miller does.
Also, Jarrell doesn’t get maximum leverage on his punches or put his weight into them as effectively as he might. And while he’s a huge strong guy, he’s not physical enough on the inside. When Miller gets inside, he should be leaning on opponents, shaking them, tugging at them, wearing them down.
Some boxing insiders have compared Jarrell to Riddick Bowe, which would be a compliment were it not followed by, “He’s the laziest fighter with talent I’ve seen since Bowe.”
Miller weighed in fifteen pounds lighter for Wach than he had for his previous fight. And he made a point of telling the media, “I haven’t had a cheeseburger in two months.” But that didn’t mean he was in better shape.
There’s a level of preparation that involves sophisticated nutritional monitoring and grueling, carefully-calibrated physical conditioning that can transform a fighter’s body into a more effective delivery system for the skills he has. Jarrell has to take himself there.
In that regard, it wasn’t reassuring that, in the dressing room after the Wach fight, Miller declared, “I felt I was stronger and performed better when I was heavier.”
There’s a line that separates confidence from complacency and foolishness.
And finally, there’s a nagging issue that dates back to 2014 when Miller was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission after testing positive for methylhexaneamine following a Glory 17 kickboxing event. More recently, he was removed from the WBC rankings because of his refusal to participate in the WBC’s VADA-supervised Clean Boxing Program. The WBA now appears poised to institute its own drug-testing program with VADA, which could endanger Jarrell’s top-ten ranking with that organization.
At the kick-off press conference for Miller-Wach, Jarrell told the assembled media, “If you know anything about the streets and boxing, you know it takes a long time to get to where I’m at.”
It would be foolish for Jarrell to blow things now by giving less than his best effort when he’s so close to success.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was just 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.
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