‘I’m my own boss’: Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller is making moves

Undefeated heavyweight contender Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller unloads a huge left hand upstairs on Donovan Dennis on January 22, 2016, at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Esther Lin/Showtime

 

Even Manny Pacquiao, one of his generation’s most iconic boxers and a senator in his homeland of the Philippines, tends to yield to the higher-ups. Ask him whom he wants to fight next and he will almost always say, “I need to talk to my promoter Bob Arum,” first. Though undefeated heavyweight contender Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller may be as many weight classes as he is millions of dollars apart from Pacquiao, it says something about the heavyweight that he would never think to defer to his handlers on any matter related to the ring.

 

“I’m my own boss,” Miller told UCNLive.com in a phone interview in October. “Nobody gonna tell me nothin’ unless I feel comfortable with it.”

 

Part of it is a matter of temperament. Miller’s brash and cocksure attitude, influenced perhaps by growing up in the tough (if now gentrifying) straits of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, precludes him from staying mum on virtually any issue. Part of it stems from an unwavering belief that the person taking the punches deserves the last word. Then there’s also the fact that the Brooklynite has no else whom to yield. Miller, literally, is his own promoter; the buck stops with him.

 

“Big Baby Promotions, baby,” said Miller, 19-0-1 (17). “We’re gonna do big things.”

 

“My job is to make (Miller) know what’s available and let him know my opinion. That’s it,” Dmitriy Salita, Miller’s longtime promoter said. “But Jarrell has got to make his own decisions and, you know, that’s the way it is. He’s the guy that gets in the ring.”

 

Since a public row with Salita last year, Miller, perhaps the most talented heavyweight today not named Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua, has begun taking matters into his own hands. Tonight, the 29-year-old Miller will face off against Polish contender Mariusz Wach, 33-2 (17), at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, on the undercard of Daniel Jacobs-Luis Arias. Most significantly, the show is put together by the U.K. promotional company Matchroom Boxing, led by Eddie Hearn, and will be televised on HBO.

 

In other words, aside from forming his own promotional company, Miller, who still has co-promotional deals with Salita and Greg Cohen, has now added another name to the team in Hearn. He insists, however, that, among this dizzying hierarchy, there is only one person calling the shots. “I’m definitely promoting myself,” Miller said, describing his camp’s current lineup. “Dmitriy’s doing his part, as well as Eddie Hearn. Too many cooks in the pot can spoil the recipe but we got a decent group of guys.”

 

The new partnership between Hearn and HBO has caused more than a few ripples in an industry rife with longstanding territorial divides. For HBO, the decision to team up with Hearn is another one of a numerous late-season moves to position itself for the future, especially in light of Top Rank moving its vast stable – which includes top-tier talents in WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko and former two-division champion Terence Crawford – to ESPN. For Hearn, who promotes the biggest prize in boxing, the IBF/WBA heavyweight champion in Anthony Joshua, the move illustrates a true desire to parlay his achievements at home into the U.S. market. The foundation of the new partnership is Daniel Jacobs, who signed with Hearn to fight exclusively on HBO airwaves. While no such deal has been announced for Miller, his presence on the card is a testament to his maverick ways. Not long ago, Miller, a longtime participant on “ShoBox,” fought off-TV on the undercard of Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner, a Showtime broadcast. The thinking was that Miller would soon graduate to a feature slot on “Showtime Championship Boxing,” and perhaps earn a fight with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. Now Miller is on the other side of the street.

 

Regarding his leaving Showtime, Miller said he was simply unhappy that the best offer he got was to fight a childhood friend, fellow Brooklyn heavyweight Adam Kownacki. He made that point when he turned up noticeably flustered at the HBO press conference for Jacobs-Arias in September. “I was so angry a couple of weeks ago with what happened with the other promoter and network…They wanted me to fight my best friend.” Reflecting back on that episode, Miller said that “the whole situation was more of a Lou DiBella thing. Adam’s one of his guys.” He maintains that there are “no hard feelings.”

 

“I get it. It’s business. (The promoter and network) don’t care about the fighters. They care about their agenda. It is what it is. I hope to work with Showtime again, God willing, but (fighting Kownacki) is not something I wanted to do.”

 

“Right now, I’m my own promoter; I’m my own boss and I’m learning a lot more this way,” Miller said.

 

In a phone call with UCNLive.com, Stephen Espinoza, vice president of Showtime Sports, clarified that Miller’s situation was simply a case of timing and not fitting the criteria for what makes a worthy fight for their airwaves. “We really couldn’t find an opponent (for Miller) that would satisfy our requirements in order to be of a quality necessary to get on Showtime Championship Boxing.” It also did not help, Espinoza added, that, since Luis Ortiz failed a drug test, Wilder needed a new opponent “so we were scrambling around” and eventually “the card had to move on without Miller.” While noting that things worked out for Miller in the end – “He found another opportunity in the Wach fight, which I think is a good fight for him” – Espinoza believes the door is not shut on Miller to return to Showtime. “I like Jarrell as a fighter; I like Jarrell as a person and I look forward to the opportunity to work with him again.”

 

Miller similarly downplayed the move to switch networks as an irrevocable decision, insisting that he is just following the money, ”It don’t matter where you go, at this point. If the money is right and I’m able to perform and they got to cut a check. It’s nothing personal. Everybody loves a winner; that’s it.”

 

Of course, there have been more serious business-related scuffles for Miller recently. In 2016, after he whipped Fred Kassi on a ShoBox telecast, Miller felt he was getting the short end from Salita. So Miller contacted his attorney Leon Margules and, shortly thereafter, a memo was sent to Salita’s office, informing the Brooklyn-based promoter that his contract with Miller would be terminated due to “breaches” and “wrongdoings” and that Miller is now “free to seek other opportunities in furtherance of his career.” According to the scuttlebutt, Al Haymon was trying to poach Miller to join one of his affiliates AB Promotions (the promotional label headed by Adrien Broner) or Warriors Boxing, the outfit run by Margules himself.

 

“I was getting phone calls from everyone,” Miller said. “Not just Al but different promoters. Bob (Arum of Top Rank) and a bunch of other great promoters out there. But the numbers weren’t right for me.”

 

In the end, Miller did not become a client of Al Haymon or Bob Arum. He remained with Salita, though not without a little arm-wringing from the promoter. A source with knowledge of the proceedings said that Salita Promotions filed a lawsuit against Miller. That help shut matters up pretty quickly. Instead, Miller formed his own promotional unit and then met Hearn, who he says was “telling me things I liked to hear.”

 

Of the legal issues that existed between him and Miller, Salita would not elaborate beyond saying that “they don’t matter anymore. The right thing that had to happen happened. Jarrell and I are now working again together.” Miller himself conceded as much at the Jacobs-Arias press conference in September. “Dmitriy Salita (is) a pain in my butt,” he exclaimed from the podium, grinning. “But I’ve known him since I was 16 years old and he’s a pretty good guy when he wants to be. He’s still my boy. Shalom.” (Salita is an Orthodox Jew.)

 

“No matter what, we’re going to be buddies,” Miller reiterated more recently. “Business and friendship we got to keep totally different and that’s the way it’s always going to be. If you’re a shitty business partner, you’re a shitty business partner. You’re still gonna be my boy.

 

“Sometimes when something is fixed, it is stronger than it was before. All that stuff is behind us, doesn’t matter,” Salita said, waving off rumors that their ties have suffered. “Our relationship goes beyond the perceived boxing relationship.”

 

As a former fighter who retired with a respectable 35-2-1 (18) record, Salita understands that squabbles between management and fighter are part of the nature of the business, which is why he took it in stride when the competition made attempts to poach his fighter. Salita believes Miller, with his skillset and personality, “has the ability to cross over into the regular sports fan world,” and that makes him a highly-sought commodity in the industry, especially with a potential cash-in fight with a name opponent like Joshua down the line. But all of the potential splendors – the riches and renown – that only the heavyweight crown can bring will depend on the decisions that one man makes. That much is for sure.

 

“There’s no fight; there’s no TV. Nobody makes any money if a fighter doesn’t get in a ring or if he’s unhappy,” Salita stressed. “The fighter is always in control of his career.”

 

 

Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.

 

 

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