By Jake Donovan
Even while up against a ticking clock to preserve plans for his planned stateside debut, it remains a game of hurry up and wait for Anthony Joshua and his team.
The unbeaten, unified heavyweight titlist remains on course to headline a June 1 show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, to stream live on DAZN. Whom he will face on that night remains up in the air in light of his currently scheduled opponent, Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller having tested positive for a banned substance through Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA)-conducted random drug testing.
A process in place to determine whether Miller is still eligible to fight, beginning with the option to have his “B” sample tested to verify the result produced from the March 20 test. The steps to be taken from there limit Joshua’s team from doing more than taking a proactive approach in securing a potential replacement opponent in the event Miller is no longer permitted to compete.
At the very least, it gives the defending titlist and his handlers time to sift through numerous offers made from aspiring heavyweights claiming to be ready to fill the void.
“Obviously we got a lot of phone calls from heavyweights who smell (opportunity),” Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter acknowledged in a recent interview with IFL TV. “We’ve got to go through the ones who are genuine and the ones we think are credible, then go from there.”
Miller’s current drug dilemma is the subject of an active investigation and review being conducted by the New York State Athletic Commission, whom declined comment when contacted by BoxingScene.com.
England’s Joshua (22-0, 21KOs) is due to fight in the United States for the first time as a pro after having spent the entirety of his young career in the United Kingdom. The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist has soared to superstardom in the pro ranks, beginning with his 2nd round knockout of then-unbeaten Charles Martin to win his first major title in April ’16.
Six defenses have followed, along with his having collected three more major belts along the way. His planned U.S. debut versus Miller has been met with favorable reaction by the buying public, with more than 17,000 tickets sold for the event, including an enormous number of fans traveling from the UK for the event.
The show will also include the undisputed lightweight championship between unbeaten, unified lightweight queen Katie Taylor—a two-time Olympian for Ireland and 2012 Gold medal winner—and Belgium’s Delfine Persoon, who holds the last remaining relevant title at the weight.
Simply put, the show will go on.
“There’s not anything else,” Hearn insisted, dismissing any suggestion of moving off of the current June 1 date. “We haven’t talked about a new date. We’ve sold over 17,000 tickets, we’ve got 10,000 Brits flying in.”
Several replacement candidates are already being considered, including current Top 10 heavyweights Luis Ortiz and Adam Kownacki—the latter whom also lives in Brooklyn and is friends with Miller—as well as recent Matchroom Boxing USA signee Michael Hunter.
For now, Joshua’s opponent remains Miller (23-0-1, 20KOs), however bleak that status appears to hold true in the near future. The brash Brooklynite previously tested positive for methylhexaneamine in June ‘14 during his time as a kickboxer, for which he was issued a $2,500 fine and a nine-month suspension by the California State Athletic Commission.
The suspension proved moot, as the event—a rematch with Mirko ‘Cro-Cop’ Filipovic—was his last as a kickboxer, nor did it even cause him to break stride in his boxing career.
A second failed drug test in his combat sports career, however, likely won’t be viewed upon as kindly by any athletic commission. At stake is not only Miller’s first shot at the heavyweight crown, but the hefty seven figure payday that is due to come with it.
In line with drug testing protocol upon a positive result produced from the “A” sample, the offending party holds the right to have the “B” sample tested in hopes of it providing a clean result. Barring a change—which rarely happens—the findings are then reported to the associated athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies, who will then rule on the matter.
VADA’s involvement does not include disciplinary action.
Given that, all that Joshua and Hearn can do at this point is secure a properly contingency plan and hope that Tuesday’s breaking news is the only surprise endured in the promotion.
Even if they can’t yet execute such a plan, such process has already taken place.
“When I told AJ the news, he didn’t even sound that surprised,” Hearn said in noting Joshua’s resolve throughout the process. “He said, ‘Well who’s next?’ I asked him, ‘Who do you want?” He told me, ‘Absolutely anyone.’
“Last night, I had 16 fighters (contact) me for this fight. Now, we get to find out who’s real and who’s not.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox