Boxing politics means Joshua has to settle for Miller in New York

Fight with Wilder would have been the choice but instead it’s a compromise defence

Anthony Joshua celebrates his win against Alexander Povetkin. Joshua will fight  Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller in New York in June. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Anthony Joshua celebrates his win against Alexander Povetkin. Joshua will fight Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller in New York in June. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

 

Lennox Lewis famously called the backroom shenanigans of professional boxing, “poli-tricks”. In the 20 years since Britain’s finest heavyweight had to split a dubious decision with his great adversary, Evander Holyfield, at Madison Square Garden, nothing has changed and the only compatriot in sight of challenging Lewis’s pre-eminence, Anthony Joshua, heads to the same venue not for any date with destiny but, as he admitted on Wednesday, a compromise defence of his titles.

Joshua is not fighting unbeaten New York giant Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller in New York on June 1st because fans are crying out for it; Miller – who is more dangerous than his nom de guerre would suggest – is the easiest available opponent to do business with given the breakdown of talks with Deontay Wilder, who owns the fourth quarter of the heavyweight championship that Joshua needs to match Lewis’s achievement of becoming the undisputed champion.

For the time being, at least, Wilder sees more financial sense in a rematch with Tyson Fury. So, not for the first or last time, fans have had to settle for second best – as Joshua conceded in a frank announcement on social media.

“You know the current state of boxing right now is full of politics,” he said, “but I’ve just got to roll with the punches. I would have loved to have fought at Wembley stadium and brought you guys the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world but … I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

No doubt. But everyone in the business knows Joshua’s seventh defence of the title, while a legitimate contest with no guaranteed outcome, is second or even third choice. Wilder at Wembley on April 13th was the champion’s preferred option; a fight with Fury would have been equally as compelling, and a fallback rematch against Dillian Whyte, given the Londoner’s excellent form, also would have stood up to critical scrutiny.

Miller in New York? Joshua’s promoters, Matchroom, now have to go to work selling it on both sides of the Atlantic – and there is plenty of time, a commodity Eddie Hearn had run out of in his negotiations with Wilder’s connections, who, it is understood, did not like the terms of a compulsory rematch if he beat Joshua.

Jarrell Miller celebrates after defeating Tomasz Adamek, of Poland, in October 2018. The Anthony Joshua roadshow is finally heading to the United States. Not to fight the only other heavyweight champion, though. The four-title champion will make his American boxing debut when he defends his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts against Miller at Madison Square Garden on June 1st. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photo
Jarrell Miller celebrates after defeating Tomasz Adamek, of Poland, in October 2018. The Anthony Joshua roadshow is finally heading to the United States. Not to fight the only other heavyweight champion, though. The four-title champion will make his American boxing debut when he defends his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts against Miller at Madison Square Garden on June 1st. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photo

Joshua added: “*I am looking forward to taking on another challenge with a good boxer and a brilliant talker. It will be an exciting fight. I will leave nothing to chance and plan on dismantling Miller in style to make my mark.”

Miller’s quote also was straight from the pre-fight playbook: “AJ is making a huge mistake coming over here to fight me in my own backyard all he’s doing is delivering me those belts by hand. It’s dog eat dog in the ring, and this dog has got a bigger bite. He’ll be leaving New York empty-handed.

That punk AJ is standing in the way of my dreams and on 1 June he’s getting run the hell over.”

Hearn said: “When you look at the heavyweight greats that have graced the renowned ‘Mecca of Boxing’, the names of Ali, Frazier, Marciano and Tyson stand firm, and 1 June will be a moment when the world will witness AJ’s turn.”

Great fighters need more than big wins and pay cheques in famous venues to secure a place in boxing’s pantheon. They need defining rivalries and epic performances – as Lewis knew, and proved. Joshua might get a great fight out of Miller, but he could have started making history with Wilder. – Guardian service

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