As most boxing observers know, WBA-IBF-WBO heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua, 22-0 (21), of the United Kingdom will make his debut in America on June 1 at Madison Square Garden. His opponent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, 23-0-1 (20), is from Brooklyn and is quite a character and talker.
“A. J. is making a huge mistake coming over to fight me in my own backyard,” Miller said. “He wants to announce himself on the American stage, but all he’s doing is delivering me those belts by hand. Its dog-eat-dog in the ring, and this dog has got a bigger bite. He’ll be leaving New York empty-handed.”
And the fight is still more than three full months away and what’s been said already is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what’s to come from Miller, who stands six foot four and usually weighs over three hundred pounds for his bouts. He’s also a roughly 6-1 underdog to Joshua, and for good reason: Joshua does everything better than Miller except talk. Miller’s less-than-svelte physique shouldn’t be scoffed at, however, because, like an older version of George Foreman, he’s physically strong and, like Foreman, he hasn’t even been bothered by anything his opponents have caught him with—let alone hurt. The difference is that even in his forties Foreman was still a genuine life-taker, while Miller is at best a decent puncher.
Miller’s chin and durability more than his punching power will determine how long this fight will last and whether Miller has even a remote chance of winning.
Basically, Joshua versus Miller breaks down to a boxer-puncher (Joshua) meeting an attacker (Miller). And like nearly all attackers, Miller can only be effective going forward. And when attackers move to their opponent, they often falter against a fighter who it’s near-suicide to take the fight directly to. Think Frazier versus Foreman and Duran versus Hearns. Frazier and Duran could only be effective against Foreman and Hearns by bringing the fight to them. Only they were nailed too hard from outside and were stopped before they had a chance to get anything going.
During the gloved era there have been a few heavyweights against whom it meant certain defeat if their opponents took the fight to them, but Joe Louis and George Foreman stand out in that regard. Louis, mainly because he was such a deadly combination puncher with one-shot power. The last thing you’d ever want to do is give him a target he didn’t have to seek out. As for Foreman, he couldn’t deliver his power as compactly as Louis, but he had such a reserve of power all he needed was to graze his opponents on the way in and they were in trouble. And moving to Foreman meant his opponents would be hit that much harder than if he had to go after them and was forced to reach or lunge to catch them.
When looking at Miller’s options fighting Joshua tactically, they’re limited both strategically and physically. In essence, Miller, because of his physical stature, shorter reach, and style, can’t compete with Joshua fighting on his back foot and moving away. He’d be at the mercy of Joshua’s jab. And even if Miller made him miss with it he could never counter effectively enough to win rounds—nor could he get enough on his shots as he stepped back to prevent Joshua from becoming more emboldened than he was from the beginning of the fight.
So if Miller can’t be a factor moving away letting Joshua lead, what are the alternatives?
There are few because he isn’t capable of moving in a circular fashion like Muhammad Ali or, to a lesser degree, Larry Holmes. The only fighter to go the distance with Joshua was Joseph Parker who used lateral movement and forced Joshua to keep turning—but that isn’t who Miller is as a fighter. Which means that the only way for Miller possibly to unnerve Joshua is to fight him on the inside and perhaps force him to retreat and look to counter. The question then becomes does Miller have the chin, hand speed, and tools to get in on Joshua before he gets hurt or knocked out?
As mentioned earlier, Louis and Foreman were two of the most dangerous heavyweights to push the action against. Anthony Joshua isn’t in their league yet, and may never be. But he’s a well-schooled fighter who throws mostly quick, straight punches with big power—and walking into his power could be disastrous for any opponent who chooses to come forward. And although Joshua isn’t considered the puncher Deontay Wilder is, there’s a strong case to be made that he’s actually a bigger one-shot banger. Wilder has caught many of his opponents with big right hands that they walked through before being hurt by one of them. Whenever Joshua lands a clean right hand, however, his opponents seldom fight back and are unwilling to stand in the danger zone as many have with Wilder. When Joshua gets through with something clean, if the opponent isn’t hurt or shook and immediately in trouble, they usually look to clinch or get away from him and want don’t want to engage with him.
When Miller confronts Joshua in June, he’ll be left with two choices: fighting to survive, or daring to go after Joshua and force the action inside at close range. I don’t see the first scenario happening, and believe Miller is going to try to bully Joshua and be the alpha dog. And with that comes huge risk—because Miller is upright, basically moves straight in, and will be in the direct line of fire of Joshua’s straight lefts and rights. And there’s a good chance that, as that unfolds, Joshua may catch Miller with some of his best stuff on the way in. The way Miller reacts after being nailed by someone who punches like Joshua will determine how brave he is and, in turn, his strategy.
Miller is undoubtedly a stout and tough guy. He’s been kicked in the head by some of the strongest kickboxers in the sport and never crumbled. So being drilled by a powerful punch shouldn’t come as a shock to him nor should it be something he’s undone by. However, the kicks he took were more or less roundhouse and landed as a hook would in boxing, and those type shots are easier to defend against and ride out because you don’t have to see them to defend and block them.
Joshua’s lefts and rights come out straight, and you either slip them and they miss or you’re stung by them. Making things worse, Joshua sometimes disguises his right hand as it trails his jab and Miller, pushing the fight, would never be able to both see it and react to it before it lands. Whether or not Miller is hurt or deterred by Joshua’s right hand remains to be seen. But if he’s not, and that’s hard to fathom, it will be and action-packed fight. Because if Miller gains confidence as the fight progresses he’ll become more active and will no doubt look to break Joshua mentally. And if he makes Joshua second-guess his power (about whether he can indeed hurt Miller) it’ll be interesting to see how Joshua reacts to that predicament since he’s never been faced with a scenario close to that yet in his twenty-two pro bouts.
On the other hand, if Miller realizes taking the fight aggressively to Joshua is too risky and dangerous, he’ll try to fight in a subtle retreat without conveying to Joshua that he is concerned about being hurt by him. But Joshua will see through the bluff most likely and he’ll draw from it and start taking more liberties with Miller. In this fight Joshua shouldn’t have as much trouble finding Miller as he did Parker, and therefore he should be the one pitching while only having to fend off throwaway shots thrown at him with the sole purpose of giving him something to think about (so he doesn’t totally walk Miller down). The problem for Miller is, he’s not a terribly big puncher and it’ll take some effort for him to garner Joshua’s respect—if he even can. And if there comes a time when Joshua has no respect for what’s coming back at him, Miller has nothing to fall back on and will take punishment.
The way this fight may break down, then, is that if Miller has a great chin, he’ll have a chance to get to Joshua and perhaps he can get something going if Joshua tires down the stretch. But the more realistic scenario is that Miller stands up to Joshua’s best here and there but chooses the better part of valor and waits for Joshua to tire badly or make a big mistake—only it’s doubtful Miller is good enough to put him in that position.
Either way, as long as Miller isn’t thrown psychologically once Joshua touches him, it should be a good fight while it lasts. The fight is unlikely to go the distance and Miller may not even touch the canvas—but when it ends it could look like the sixth and final meeting between middleweight champ Jake LaMotta and welterweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson, with Miller on his feet getting shellacked while being totally defenseless.
Miller’s only chance is to be aggressive—and doing that could be exactly what Joshua wants.