By Cliff Rold
At heavyweight, the 20th century was the American century. Johnson, Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Ali, Tyson, Holyfield…the list ran deep. There were occasional foreign intrusions, but the consistency of dominance was more so than any other nation in any other division.
Nearly two decades into the 21st century, the story has been much different. Since the UK’s Lennox Lewis seized control in the late 1990s, non-American heavyweights including he and the Ukrainian Klitschko brothers have been the most dominant forces, the real top of the fistic food chain. The number of top American heavyweights dwindled.
As of this writing, the TBRB and Ring Magazine top tens at heavyweight feature only three US heavyweights. Deontay Wilder is the most prominent, his stock at an all time high after defending the WBC heavyweight title last weekend in a single explosive round against Bermane Stiverne.
Andy Ruiz earned judos for a competitive loss to Joseph Parker last year in a fight for the vacant WBO belt. Nearly a year later, he has yet to step back in the ring.
This Saturday on an HBO undercard (10 PM EST), the other American gets his biggest platform and most notable opponent to date.
29-year old Jarrell Miller (19-0-1, 17 KO) is hard to miss. If his size doesn’t capture attention, his mouth will. The Brooklyn native is a sound bite with fists. In his last outing, he stopped Gerald Washington fresh off Washington giving Wilder some tough early rounds. He didn’t stop Washington as early as Wilder, but it was a nice progression win.
Still, it’s hard to figure out just yet how serious to take Miller. There is talent there. He comes to fight, can be a good combination puncher, has quick hands, and the personality is a plus. His size is a huge, pun intended, question mark.
Miller turned pro in 2009 at around 250 lbs. and was as light as 255 in 2015.
For his win over Washington, and the fight right before, Miller scaled just shy of 300 lbs.
There’s a word for carrying around that sort of weight. It rhymes with cat.
Big talking super sized heavyweights have had their place over the years. “Two Ton” Tony Galento was the sort of character only boxing could produce. He dropped Joe Louis is a shot at the title before he was beaten to a pulp. After the fight, he made great copy.
George Foreman marketed himself as a slice of jolly, cheeseburger scarfing, middle aged and crazy during his comeback. It paid off in endorsement deals and hid the fact that, once he whipped himself back into shape, he wasn’t really all that heavy for his age or size. Still, it was part of the charm.
Chris Arreola got a couple title shots and stayed in the money race with a fan friendly style and memorable interviews. His battle with the bulge became part of a career narrative. For Miller, that same thing is already starting.
In a landscape still reshaping in the post Klitschko era, the rainmaker of the moment is Anthony Joshua. He’s the guy everybody else is lining up to fight because that’s where the money is. Miller says he wants in that race.
If Joshua-Wilder happens in 2018, and it says here assume that fight comes to fruition, there are two possibilities. Miller could find himself chasing Wilder, setting up a trash talk extravaganza between two American heavyweights the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time; a sort of nostalgia trip for the heavyweight division.
A heavyweight Stranger Things.
If Joshua meets and defeats Wilder, Miller could be there as the next American heavyweight. Joshua will want to have foes that can bring in money from across the pond if his reign extends. Can Miller avoid a hiccup along the way?
This weekend should be a good gauge of what his chances are. Poland’s Mariusz Wach (33-2, 17 KO) is not a particularly good fighter. At almost 6’8 and typically between 250-60 lbs., he’s a big man and he’s tough. Wach takes a tremendous beating. He’s faced two truly notable heavyweights: Alexander Povetkin and Wladimir Klitschko for the title in 2012.
Outside of a big shot landed against Klitschko, he didn’t win many minutes much less rounds against either. Povetkin stopped him in the twelfth round of a one-sided affair. The rest of Wach’s resume is littered with also rans.
He’s not there to win this weekend. It doesn’t mean he won’t; it’s just the less likely outcome.
How Miller performs against him could be meaningful though. This isn’t just about getting a win as it is about looking for style points too. If Miller doesn’t perform well, and shows up again tilting the scales to new heights, it will leave room for doubt at a time when he needs to be building towards something more.
If Miller wants to be the other American heavyweight, with a chance to be the world heavyweight champion someday, a big night against Wach is a must.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]