TO borrow from The Smiths, who suggested that some girls are bigger than others and that some girls’ mothers are bigger than other girls’ mothers, we must start to accept that, in boxing, some drug cheats are bigger than others and that some drug cheats’ path to redemption will, whether they like it or not, be longer than others.
In the case of Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, for instance, you are looking at a heavyweight who has taken the brunt of the fans’ collective anger in recent years, thus becoming a sort of sacrifice who has spared many others guilty of a similar crime. This has happened, perhaps, because Miller was not at the time of his failed performance-drug test a massive, money-making name in the sport, therefore not someone anyone felt the need to protect. Or it may have happened because Miller, in being caught with GW501516, EPO, and HGH in his system, presented the image of a drug cheat most fans wanted to see; one without the ambiguity of others. In essence, he was, in the eyes of the world, a man guilty beyond dispute. He, unlike the rest, had not a leg to stand on, nor any excuse to offer. He was a guilty man and a dirty fighter and that was all there was to it.
Which is why in the end it became easy for everyone to denigrate him and take to their phones and express the extent of their outrage. That this outrage was seemingly reserved just for Miller, and not some of the other bigger-name heavyweights who have in recent years tested positive, said as much about Miller’s market value in the eyes of the industry as it did his misdemeanour. For in a fair and equal world, the indignation shown around the time of Miller’s failed test in 2019 would be shared around and it would be witnessed, too, when other fighters fall foul of the drug-testers and get on their hands and knees to look behind the sofa for possible excuses.
That’s not to say Miller deserved leniency or even sympathy, of course. But sadly, if you have been around enough boxers and gyms and know roughly what you are looking at, you will understand that Miller’s biggest crimes were greed and stupidity; greed in terms of getting too carried away with whatever it was he was trying to build and stupidity for simply getting caught at a time when so many are able to beat the testers. Look past those transgressions and he really is no different from a lot of the others. Just a little greedier and a little less conscientious, that’s all.
And yet, whereas others in his situation are allowed to pass go and thrive, with many fans quick to forget, Miller’s remains a comeback and indeed career with an asterisk (rightly so, no question). Three fights into it now, he is still undefeated (in 27 pro fights, with one No Contest) and still very much on the hunt for either a title shot of some description or an otherwise lucrative opportunity. Only recently, in fact, the New Yorker emerged as an unlikely opponent for former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, which, given it was the Joshua fight that got cancelled following Miller’s failed test in 2019, would really represent “Big Baby” coming full circle.
“I think that fight is always huge,” Miller’s promoter, Dmitriy Salita, told Boxing News. “I think there is a genuine rivalry there. What happened in June 2019 is something Jarrell is carrying with him for the rest of his life – certainly for the rest of his career. But he would love the opportunity to make that fight happen.
“Since the news broke that Jarrell wanted to step in and fight Joshua, there’s not one boxing fan or reporter who doesn’t ask me about that when I speak to them. It just goes to show that Jarrell’s personality still interests people and it tells you how big that fight would be. Jarrell versus Tyson Fury would also be big. But I think that the fight between Jarrell and Joshua has to happen at some point – not as an exhibition but as an actual fight.”
Although the idea of an August 12 bout between Joshua and Miller was bandied about a few weeks back, it was just as soon quashed by Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, who in the end paired Joshua with Dillian Whyte instead. Evidently, it is easier to look past the frayed edges and tainted pages of some fights than others.
“It’s interesting,” said Salita, who co-promotes Miller with Greg Cohen, “because Jarrell is very marketable and fans will tune in to watch him fight. But he is still paying the price for what he did and it seems to be that some of the people in position to give him opportunities are not willing to do so. My opinion, though, is this: if you do the crime, you do the time. He did the time and it was a significant portion of his career. It’s been more than four years now since that (the failed test) happened, so that’s a lot of time. He wants to make it up to his family and he wants to realise his talent. I feel like once someone fails a test he should be suspended. But then once he is free, he has to be allowed to pursue every possible opportunity. If Anthony Joshua’s team says, ‘Oh no, he’s a former drug cheat, we’re not going to fight him,’ that doesn’t make any sense right now.”
As hard as it is to hear, and maybe stomach, Salita is absolutely right. If boxing, as a sport, is going to dish out temporary bans for failed drug tests, however tough or lenient, we must learn to later accept tarnished boxers back into the fold once these bans have been served. Whether at that point we are capable of forgiving them or supporting them again is another matter, but surely, if cleared to fight, you must also be allowed to fight. It is then up to the boxer to secure his own redemption and forgiveness, perhaps even from those closest to them.
“I’ve known Jarrell since he was 16 years old,” said Salita. “He used to go to training camp with me. When Jarrell fought his second professional fight, I looked at him and said, ‘Jarrell, you’re going to be heavyweight champion of the world. One day you’re going to fight at Madison Square Garden.’
“This fight I’m talking about happened at the Roseland Ballroom, which is also in Manhattan, and when we had the press conference for Joshua vs. Jarrell in 2019, I said to Jarrell, ‘Five blocks down the street is where I told you eight years ago that you would be here. It’s pretty awesome.’ He said, ‘Yeah, man, it is. Thank you for believing in me.’
“Then obviously what happened happened. But Jarrell is very talented and I’ve put in a lot of work for him to be in this position. I’m his promoter. Whatever happens in his boxing career, I’ve invested and paid my dues in every way to be a part of his success.
“Based on what he tells me, and from what I’ve seen, he feels very remorseful about what happened. We all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them and it never happens again. That’s our collective goal here.”