Anthony Joshua v Jarrell Miller: A New York bout without Wilder or Fury and questions for a champion

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Hearn, Joshua, Miller and Wilder have all formed part of a chaotic period of negotiation in the heavyweight division
Promoter Eddie Hearn, Anthony Joshua, Jarrell Miller and Deontay Wilder have all formed part of a chaotic period of negotiation in the heavyweight division

The people voted, but it turns out their ballot papers were incomplete.

Back in September, Anthony Joshua's request for Twitter users to choose his next opponent made no room for Jarrell 'Big Baby' Miller.

Britain's WBA, IBF and WBO champion looked imperious at the top of boxing's heavyweight division and one of Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury or Dillian Whyte were expected to pose his next, eye-catching challenge.

Instead, 29-year-old Joshua will take on unfancied American Miller in Madison Square Garden in New York on 1 June.

It is a match-up with a story behind it. A story of conspiracy claims, frustration and damaged momentum that leaves boxing's most recognisable fighter distanced from true sporting greatness, at least for now.

It was not so long ago when, sat in the Principality Stadium media room with his belts before him after victory over Joseph Parker in March 2018, Joshua appeared set for a unique date with destiny.

WBC champion Wilder - holding the only other major world heavyweight belt - seemed to be a nailed-on target.

The media wanted it, fans craved it and both fighters proclaimed they did too. History beckoned - no fighter has ever held the four major prizes at once.

What more motivation was needed?

Negotiations grew tiresome. Wilder's camp claimed Joshua turned down $50m (£38.8m), Joshua's team doubted such money even existed. Sources at US networks say it did. We may never know for sure.

By the time he sat down with BBC Sport at a media day in September, to talk about his fight against Alexander Povetkin later that month, an animated tone hid an inner frustration.

Like never before, fans were leaving questions at his door and he had not set foot in the ring since out-pointing Parker. His claim that the criticism did not bother him felt flimsy.

Joshua v Wilder was still a possibility, and promoter Eddie Hearn appeared to have time on his side.

But then Wilder and Fury served up a draw for the ages in December, shifting public demand in 36 enthralling minutes that changed everything.

Suddenly, American Wilder and Briton Fury, formerly the WBA , IBF and WBO champion, had the chance to use each other as cash cows again. Joshua and the millions attached to him were no longer a necessary move.

Perhaps unsurprising, then, that team Wilder "went missing", according to Hearn.

"The last three or four months have been very frustrating in a sick kind of way," he tells BBC Sport.

"But it's been quite exciting because there are some people doubting Anthony, in my opinion wrongfully. You've gone from 100% back-patters to 80%.

"Let people doubt him. Look at his resume, it's on another level. I think this little sway of opinion will just keep the edge in him to say 'I'm going to prove you all wrong'.

"We've seen a heavyweight division explode beneath us with him still top of the tree."

While the voices blaming one another for failed super-bouts are plentiful, the shared, dominant issue is unsurprisingly money. Talk of percentage splits fills the glamour division.

Joshua, unbeaten in 22 professional bouts, will earn a reported £19m for facing 30-year-old Miller, who will pocket around a quarter of that sum for taking a fight which represents a huge step-up in class.

The numbers are big, yet Whyte, Fury and Wilder all turned down offers from Joshua's camp. All three have spoken poorly of the packages which they were offered.

"Not everybody can be wrong in saying the terms are not good enough," said Fury's trainer Ben Davison.

"Joshua's due a great match-up and the public are demanding it and not being so forgiving."

Those close to Joshua say he accepted a relatively humble purse to face Charles Martin in 2016 in order to challenge for his first world title, while the American was well rewarded.

He saw the value and future bargaining power a belt would give him. It is perhaps all the more frustrating and confusing, therefore, that neither he nor his rivals are prepared to concede percentage points in order to shoot for true sporting greatness.

What kind of legacy will be created if one man can hold four heavyweight belts for the first time? Would the consequent future earning power make up for the concession of a few percent now?

"We feel like we have already done that in offering more," says Hearn. "We are at a point in negotiations now where Joshua never really wanted to be.

"And the argument about accepting less, no one flip reverses it to the other guys. No one says to Tyson Fury 'do you believe you can beat Joshua?'

"So why not take 40% and be the biggest star in world boxing? How many offers have come our way? Zero. It's us picking up the phone.

"You can say to Anthony, 'go on, just give him the money', so why not ask the other guys?"

Amid the fruitless negotiations for Joshua to land what would be a landmark bout, something, somewhere, went wrong.

Hearn signed a lucrative deal to take his successful Matchroom Boxing operation to the United States in May, a commitment which led to the creation of a US office, placing added demands on his team to deliver shows and satisfy broadcasters on both sides of the Atlantic.

The new deal calls for 16 UK fight nights and 16 in the US. He says his staff has multiplied six fold and deals have been done to also broadcast fight nights in Italy, Germany and Spain.

So Hearn has his work cut out. There is a tireless work ethic at Matchroom but could it be that their expansion has taken a fraction of the focus off securing Joshua's desired move?

"I am spread incredibly thin," Hearn says. "When you talk about legacy, I want to create my own, selfishly, in a promotional company that is unrivalled and has never been delivered before.

"The hardest thing for us has been the global expansion. I have never had to manage that before. We are a business out of Romford, not New York."

Over the months spanning the Joshua-Wilder saga, Hearn's demeanour in interviews switched from jovial, to inquisitive, to at times angry.

There is now even talk of a "conspiracy". Hearn says he has conducted Joshua negotiations with one promoter, only to be surprised in meetings hours later when another promoter seems to hold the exact details of the terms he has offered.

"There has been an element of us and them," he adds. "It seems like the industry wants Joshua to fail.

"I know promoters and networks are talking to one another to try and stop fights from happening. This is the politics of boxing, it's not new."

Joshua continues to devote a large portion of time to an army of sponsors. An air of dominance and invincibility does no harm to his appeal.

There are some who argue the champion is protected from risk as a consequence.

He must find the sweet spot in managing his corporate responsibilities, picking the right fights and remaining invincible in the ring.

This time it has unquestionably gone wrong.

Aides speak of his natural business instinct and a clarity in decision making. Only trainer Rob McCracken is likely to have a telling influence when picking an opponent, so the chances of Joshua's management team dodging big names is highly unlikely. Any talk of him running scared is also nonsense.

The contest with Miller would never have entered the thought process on UK soil, given the American's almost non-existent profile on these shores. But expect Joshua's team to pounce on their chance to leave a mark in the US.

While New Yorker Miller is dangerous and brings brash personality, he will have to make do with forming part of a broader narrative as Joshua fights at a venue which has housed Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis and Sugar Ray Robinson to name just a few.

'Brand Joshua' is going Stateside and the fight will be sold as a landmark in his career timeline. This will be presented as geographical progress in his story, rather than the fight the vote omitted.

As Hearn put it: "Legacy is about creating ionic moments and Joshua in New York is an iconic moment.

"Knowing how he looks, behaves and fights, he will be a superstar in America."

Miller, who weighed more than 315lbs for his most recent contest - that's around five stone more than Joshua - will comfortably be the heaviest man with whom the champion has shared a ring. That presents yet another new challenge to break down.

The former kick-boxer has provoked face-to-face confrontation with Joshua in the past at news conferences. Should he do so again with Joshua in fight mode, we may see an angry side of the champion in the build-up, though one wonders how that will align with his corporate image on his US bow.

Ultimately, with Joshua priced at 1-10 with some bookmakers, Miller will need to spring a shock which would go down in heavyweight folklore.

Until the bell sounds at least, his personality will go far in ensuring he looks like he should be there.

But he is not what was voted for and the subsequent negative reaction leads to a final question.

Should the public and a restless media show Joshua more patience?

In his 22 fights, he has stopped 21 men inside the distance, sold out stadiums, won a world title, and added two more at the expense of Wladimir Klitschko and Joseph Parker. He has breathed new life into the sport.

Joshua brings new fans to stadiums. Watching him has become a tick on the general sport fan's bucket list.

In this age of instant gratification, he is perhaps a victim of his own quick ascent, as we plead for yet more and more success.

"I do see something that is turning into an anti-Joshua brigade," says BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello. "He has some work to do once again to enhance his reputation.

"If Fury and Wilder fight and decide to fight again to complete a trilogy then that perception of him not taking them on will only continue."

Joshua is facing a new fight. Miller provides 19 million reasons not to care for a loss of public adoration but he almost certainly will.

It has been a bizarre, soap-opera-like period in an incredible career.

If Wilder or Fury's name are not alongside Joshua's on a fight poster sometime soon, Great Britain's 2012 Olympic champion risks further wrath.

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