The plan for Anthony Joshua was set in place: begin the process of conquering America, starting on June 1. Simple. By delivering an impressive display against Brooklyn motormouth Jarrell Miller, the British boxing icon would put the most lucrative sporting market on high alert. That was before the shocking news broke that Miller, a 300-pound heavyweight who manages to work at a prodigious pace for 12 rounds, had been busy indulging in a cocktail of substances as he prepared to slay the champion.
Miller had been popped back in his kickboxing days for methylhexaneamine usage (insert shocked face emoji here).
There’s a big question (or big headache if you’re promoter Eddie Hearn) for the boxing brains to now ponder. Who can they find for “AJ” to fight? Who will maintain the hype, justify the costs, and keep the all-powerful sponsors and networks on the side?
Initially, Michael Hunter appeared to be a solid pick to stand in. The former cruiserweight has enjoyed some fruitful nights at his new weight; first taking Martin Bakole’s undefeated slate and then beating limited yet dependable Russian Alexander Ustinov. Throw in the fact that Hunter had pushed Oleksandr Usyk close in 2017, and recently penned a promotional deal with Matchroom, and it looked a safe bet.
News moves at a rapid pace these days. Andy Ruiz Jr has since emerged as a surprise front runner for the position. After a stop-start few years, with the tubby pugilist struggling to gather any sufficient momentum, Ruiz returned to the ring on April 20 to defeat Alexander Dimitrenko in California. Ruiz narrowly lost out to Joseph Parker in 2016 when the pair contested the vacant WBO belt. Parker won on that occasion but lost his belt to Joshua in a 2018 unification clash.
As the opponent train rolled on, Luis Ortiz’s name was floated about for a while, before the inevitable rejection. Hearn has often been accused of initially signing Ortiz to a deal to merely keep him away from Joshua, back when the Cuban was perceived to be at his most dangerous. Now that Ortiz has lost (knocked out by Deontay Wilder), looked old and vulnerable, and celebrated his 40th birthday again, the veteran southpaw has become a viable option.
Only he isn’t a viable option. Putting the “short notice” angle to one side why would Al Haymon allow one of his premier heavyweight attractions to hop over to the other side of the street and add credibility to a rival promoter and network? Haymon is in charge of the PBC. FOX Sports and Showtime hold him accountable. He has no incentive or obligation to provide DAZN with a short notice “get out of jail free” card.
If Joshua were to defeat Ortiz as expected, by KO as well, what would Haymon be able to do with the scraps of a 40-something heavyweight with an even further tainted reputation? Not very much at all. Blaming the faceless Haymon for everything is cool. We never hear from him. He doesn’t bite back.
Other names mentioned as possible Joshua foes include Dillian Whyte (unlikely to be a sensible option in America) and Adam Kownacki. The latter -a Pole based in Brooklyn- is very much in the Andy Ruiz mould, bringing fast hands and reasonable ability to the table, but a blubbery physique.
The unbeaten 30-year-old was last seen knocking out Gerald Washington. Kownacki would bring a sizeable fan base. Whoever eventually receives the nod, Eddie Hearn needs a top heavyweight name to please DAZN and save face on his Madison Square Garden spectacular.
As for the man himself, Joshua took to social media to offer little solace to Miller, who had clearly irked the Englishman in the build-up with a series of crass, confrontational, effective jibes. “What goes around, comes around” smirked the former Olympic gold medallist, in response to Miller’s claims that the champion was a drug’s cheat waiting to be caught. Even in the forgiving sport of boxing, where cash is king and drug abuse is not treated as strictly as you’d expect, such an opportunity for Miller will not be coming around again.
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