Anthony Joshua’s long-awaited US debut has been thrown into disarray this week, with the news that Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller has had his New York boxing license suspended due to a failed drug test.
Early last week, Miller tested positive for GW1516, following two more failed drugs test he took to social media to offer a grovelling apology to his fans,
This marks the second time in six months that Joshua has had a scheduled bout rearranged. He was originally expected to defend his IBF, WBO and IBO titles at Wembley Stadium on April 13th. At the start of the year the date was scrapped in favour of the Madison Square Garden bout, yet four months into the year we now find ourselves in a similar position.
Rumours have been circulating since the announcement, ranging from expected opponents such as Luis Ortiz and Michael Hunter, to the more absurd in Joe Joyce and Manuel Charr.
AJ’s promoter, Matchroom Boxing director Eddie Hearn, spoke to ESPN.com earlier today [23rd April]. Below, we give a run-down of the six men in the running for the coveted opponent position:
ANDY RUIZ JR (32-1, 21 KO)
Mexican-American Ruiz Jr has certainly been the most vocal about the potential for a clash against Joshua. Hot off the heels of a commanding fifth-round TKO last weekend [April 19th] against German former IBF International Heavyweight Alexander Dimitrenko (41-5, 26 KO), Ruiz Jr is in a comfortable position for a World Title shot. On Instagram earlier this week, Ruiz Jr wasn’t forthcoming in letting Hearn know he was available,
“I’m here I’m ready. Sign your portion. It’s been a long time coming. We ‘shoulda’ met few years ago when I fought for the WBO belt.
“Styles make fights, I know my style is one that you haven’t met before. That WBO belt is actually mine because the whole world knows I beat Parker for it in New Zealand.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to get these straps from you. You can hold them for me until June 1.
“To anybody counting me out already get in line I’ve been counted out since I first started fighting. Nothing is stopping me now.”
Ruiz’s only shot at a World Title (for the vacant WBO Heavyweight Title) came up short ending in defeat via majority decision loss at the hands of former AJ opponent, New Zealand based Joseph Parker.
Despite three wins on the bounce, it’s clear that he may not look in the best shape. For his fight against Dimitrenko he weighed in at 262lb which is 16lb more than AJ was against Povetkin and putting him at the heavier end of the heavyweight scale
LUIS ORTIS (31-1, 26 KO)
The 40-year-old is favourite with most of the boxing world. Ortis’s only loss came to WBC Heavyweight title holder Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KO), in a thrilling heavyweight clash last March. Ortis may prove a worthy challenge for AJ, he managed to use his power to outbox Wilder for the early rounds of the fight, and despite hitting the canvas in the fifth, he came back stronger until Wilder dropped him with a brutal blow in the tenth round.
Ortis has fought back since then, defeating both Travis Kauffman (32-2, 23 KO) and Christian Hammer (24-6, 14 KO) to place his name firmly in frame. Interestingly speaking to iFLTV last week Eddie Hearn confessed that Ortis was his first pick for AJ’s US debut from the man himself,
“I’d love that fight [against Ortis]. That is a big fight. My feeling from their team is he won’t be ready
“[Ortis] was the first name he gave me last night. I called him and just said, ‘mate, I’ve got terrible news, Miller’s failed a drug test’. He didn’t even sound that surprised. He said, ‘Okay who’s next?’ ‘I asked who he wanted, and he said absolutely anyone, no problem”
Hearn may want to be careful before jumping into bed with Ortis, in similar fashion to Jarrell Miller in 2014 the Cuban-born heavyweight was banned by the WBA for eight months after testing positive for steroid nandrolone, and more recently Ortis again, failed a drug test for the banned substances diuretics chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide resulting in a $25,000 fine and forfeiting the chance of a mandatory challenge against Joshua.
UPDATE: Since writing this article, Ortis appears to have ruled himself out with an explosive Instagram post directed at Matchroom Boxing,
[Instagram post from Luis Ortis on 23/04/2019]
MICHAEL HUNTER (16-1, 11 KO)
Hunter is the new kid on the block. On paper this is the easiest fight to make, as the 30-year-old American has recently signed an exclusive deal with Matchroom and DAZN. When the news first broke of Miller’s drugs scandal, Hunter was quick to tweet “Call me Eddie” in anticipation of joining the negotiation table. Speaking to the media on Monday, Hunter said:
“I like the sound of [the AJ fight]. It’s heavyweight boxing so any time you get to that weight class. Everybody has dynamite in their hands,”
“I’ve been training all my life for fights like this so I would not miss the chance to fight Anthony Joshua.
“He’s a great fighter and he has accomplished a lot of things. The things that people do say about him is that he is a little green in certain areas and he is still learning.
“There are a handful of guys who should all be competing with each other and can make great fights happen. But I don’t think he stands out as the top one.”
Although Hunter’s professional record is rather light, his only loss at the hands of extremely talented former unified cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk (16-0, 12 KO), he boasts a wealth of amateur experience, winning the National Championships in 2007 and 2009, and qualifying for the US in the 2012 Olympics.
Complications may arise as Hunter is due to fight on May 25th, yet it may come as an advantage the fact that he is already deep into training camp. Of all the contenders Hunter is without doubt an underdog, and if he makes it to MSG it may be a case of ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ on such a global scale.
MANUEL CHARR (31-4, 17 KO)
Charr’s CV reads as a ‘who’s who’ of the Heavyweight division. Bouts against Mairis Briedis (L), Alexander Povetkin (L), Kevin Johnson (W) and Vitali Klitschko (L) on the surface show that the 35-year-old is a game fighter, and despite the dominance of his opponents Charr is not one to shy away of a big occasion.
He is the current WBA World title holder, which is the organisation’s secondary belt (Joshua is the current WBA ‘super world’ titleholder). Charr has claimed he’s been in training since January and can prove that he’s clean if given the opportunity. His manager Gotzev has spoken out regarding the rumours,
“As soon as the rumours started flying about Miller’s positive test, we were on the phone with Mahmoud [Manuel] and Christian and by the time I hung up, I was booking my flight to London
“Mahmoud is the natural choice to replace Miller. He is the current WBA Champion, a man that has literally been shot and risen from the dead, a man that went against all odds, only months after having undergone a double hip replacement, to win a world title.
“Let’s go Joshua! Madison Square Garden and the world are waiting”
TREVOR BRYAN (20-0, 14 KO)
Bryan enters the fray as the current Interim WBA World Heavyweight champion. The 29-year-old New York native won the title from former WBC World Cruiserweight champion BJ Flores, with a convincing fourth round TKO against a Flores who one could argue was well past his best.
Bryan has kept relatively quiet on the rumours, yet being the mandatory challenger and America would surely put him at an advantage over the others
AGIT KABAYEL (19-0, 13 KO)
German-born Agit Kabayel is an undefeated champion, having held the EBU European Heavyweight title since defeating Herve Hubeaux in 2017. Since then he’s gone on to defend the belt against Derek Chisora (MD), Miljan Rovcanin (TKO R3) and Andriy Rudenko (UD).
A fight against Joshua would prove a huge step up for Kabayel, there is an argument that he may not be able to live up to the jump from European to World level.
Regardless of the outcome, the next 72-hours will be crucial in AJ regaining his credibility. A European challenger on a World stage may offer little to appease the oft-fickle US audience, and with a rumoured 3,000 tickets still left to sell, it will be interesting to see how Hearn works his magic.
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