Tom's Take #5 // Farmfoods Beef and AJ Unleashed
A loud, brash American Heavyweight will be taking on a popular unbeaten Brit at Madison Square Garden this summer. Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury are currently separated by a negotiation table wider than the English Channel following the signing of Fury’s bumper ESPN deal, so for the foreseeable future it looks like we’ll have to make do with Anthony Joshua taking on Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller.
A fight that was met with a generally underwhelmed reaction by the masses and borderline outrage amongst the rest, has strangely emerged from the wreckage as the sole survivor of the most recent car crash in the Heavyweight division. With fighters and fans alike keen to mock the match-up and pour scorn on the event, all involved in the spectacle have seemed keen to amplify the hype and drown out the critical voices. Whether it be via verbal onslaughts ranging from playground insults to accusations of drug use, or the physical ‘altercation’ at the head to head where Miller used all of his 300-pound frame to push AJ across the stage, it is clear that Big Baby will not be silenced before the real action takes place on 1 June.
Wilder, Fury and Dillian Whyte were the names discussed for AJ’s next opponent, so failing to get any of those fights over the line has left Miller with a responsibility to win over the sceptics and sell a fight with his mouth in a way that Joshua has rarely shown he is either able to do or required to do. Aside from the cynical economic motives, he will also need to get to AJ in any which way he can. Even the most generous supporters would acknowledge that Miller’s chances of victory range from slim to none, so any psychological edge that can be gained will be seen as a method of clawing away at the considerable advantages Joshua holds going into the contest.
On both fronts it seems to have had some early success. Joshua has been more vocal at both press conferences either side of the Atlantic and has been happy to engage in the verbal sparring.he has mostly neglected throughout his career and tongues have been wagging as a result. If acting out of character is a sign that someone is uncomfortable then the amateur psychologists among us will begin to question if AJ is being sucked into Miller’s trap - with declarations that he is Miller’s ‘landlord’, who is ‘paying his mum’s rent’ and even darker suggestions that Miller’s face will be reconstructed, all pointing to an emotional attachment to a fight not seen since Joshua’s own grudge match with Dillian Whyte. Refreshing though it is for many of us to see Joshua call it like he sees it - rather than toe the party line and speak with the humility that sponsors and marketing executives love but fight fans quickly get bored of - this shift in behaviour will raise eyebrows amongst the more easily concerned supporter.
And here we reach the truth - it’s meant to raise eyebrows. In the aftermath of Wilder-Fury, Joshua has faced unprecedented scrutiny and squaring off against Jarrell Miller will do little to quell the growing noise of the critics. Every effort will be needed to build Miller into a monster that could shake up the world and rob Joshua of his titles because on paper he is not an opponent that sells himself. Shorter and slower than Joshua, ‘Big Baby’ has wins over fringe contenders like Gerald Washington, Johann Duhaupas and Mariusz Wach, but nothing spectacularly eye-catching that leads to a logical prediction that he can be the first man to end the Brit’s reign. So far in Joshua’s career his fights have sold themselves - it’s an event that all will flock to be a part of and the identity of the opponent is a fairly unimportant detail. The likes of Carlos Takam and Alexander Povetkin are legitimate contenders but neither would pack out Wembley car park without Joshua on the opposite side of the ring, let alone represent stadium fights.
But in the wake of Joshua’s failure to get either Fury or Wilder in the ring, there is a feeling that this steep upward trajectory of his career is beginning to level out; the momentum is starting to stall. As even Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao found out, there’s only so long you can talk about the biggest fight available before people will get sick of it not coming to fruition. Only so many stories about unanswered emails can be swallowed, only so many times can we be told the purse split cannot be agreed by these multi-millionaires - and in this instance we’ve been scratching our heads over percentages like a troubled GCSE student.
So bear this in mind in the build-up to the fight. On his US debut the AJ show needs selling to the masses like never before and we’ll be fed plenty of budget beef while it does. Say things about anyone’s family or level unfounded accusations at them and there will be a reaction, let alone a Heavyweight boxer, so this isn’t a suggestion that Joshua doesn’t hold some genuine resentment towards Miller. But each time we’re told “these two genuinely don’t like each other” or how angry AJ is, just remember what the end goal is. We’ve got a challenger who’s likely in over his head and isn’t what the audience wanted. Like the Men in Black, anyone linked to the promotion of this event needs us to forget these facts and will ensure every action is taken to distort the image from a one-sided run-of-the-mill title defence to a hate-filled shootout in which anything can happen. Whether it be that AJ is too emotionally invested or Miller’s toughness will drag Joshua into the later rounds and test him, the narratives used will not be ones we are unfamiliar with but will be dressed to the nines for their big night in the States.
By all means enjoy the pantomime - just know your beef is being served with more than a pinch of salt.