The formal announcement came Wednesday that unified heavyweight world titleholder Anthony Joshua will make his stateside debut at Madison Square Garden June 1 against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.
This is a solid matchup given that Joshua is ranked No. 1 by ESPN.com in the heavyweight division, while the bombastic Miller is ranked seventh. You can’t complain too much about a pairing of two legitimate top-10 big men. It’s a quality fight by today’s standards.
Miller is, in many ways, the perfect foil for Joshua: not only is he a credible opponent, but he is an engaging character. His personality is as big as his body. He’s loud and brash. The mouthy Brooklynite was chosen for this assignment not just for his ability, but also for his marketability as the B-side, as Joshua begins to expand his horizons beyond England.
And if he can get inside Joshua’s reach early on, Miller’s steady work rate on the inside will trouble him. Yeah, this is a real fight — one that could be entertaining and provide some memorable moments.
But it’s not the heavyweight bout that boxing fans, both domestically and abroad, are yearning for.
That would be a showdown between Joshua (who has the WBA, IBF and WBO belts) and the WBC belt-holder, Deontay Wilder (who is rated No. 2 in the division by ESPN). Joshua and Wilder are considered the two best fighters in the game’s glamour division, and beyond that, they have already developed a rivalry of sorts, despite not having actually faced each other inside the ring.
There aren’t many fights nowadays that would transcend the sport — but Joshua-Wilder would be one of them.
Both are big, both can punch and they bring sizable fan bases and followings from two different continents.
Unfortunately, for the time being, the business of boxing is getting in the way of the actual sport of boxing. Which is why these two hard-punching behemoths continue to circle each other in what has a very public negotiation between the two sides. So far, the only jabs that have been thrown are through the media, as both sides have continued to posture and place blame on the other to explain why Joshua-Wilder has not come to fruition.
To be fair, given the nature of the controversial draw that took place back in December between Wilder and Tyson Fury, it was only natural that they run that one back again. The Wilder-Fury rematch figures to be another intriguing contest and one that will do increased pay-per-view numbers (which is important as Wilder looks to improve his bargaining power versus the box-office titan that is Joshua in the UK).
But make no doubt about it, both Joshua and Wilder are playing a dangerous, high-risk game of chicken here.
The allure of Joshua-Wilder is that both have not suffered losses in their careers thus far, and the consensus is that they are the two most lethal heavyweights on the planet. Fury nearly disrupted all the best laid plans by befuddling Wilder for much of their bout at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Wilder’s team breathed a huge sigh of relief as Wilder was able to salvage a draw and retain his title.
The winner of this rematch — which might take place May 18 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn– will clearly be the No. 1 contender for Joshua’s throne, and there will be loud clamoring for Joshua to face the winner next, should he get past Miller.
But nothing is ever truly guaranteed in this sport, especially when dealing with two heavyweights who are a bit chinny and vulnerable when it comes to punch resistance. Anyone recall Tommy Morrison getting shocked in the first round by Michael Bentt in 1993, as he had a multi-million-dollar payday versus Lennox Lewis awaiting him?
There’s an old saying that “fights make fights,” and if either Miller and/or Fury wins these upcoming bouts, they will be the ones in position to shake things up and become the shot-callers at heavyweight. But though there are various permutations of heavyweight matchups that could be made, we all know the one that matters most at this moment.
Joshua and Wilder could be performing just weeks apart in separate boroughs in New York. If they both come out victorious, will they come any closer to each other in 2019?