Heavyweight contender Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller wasn't much of a welcoming host when he met unified world titleholder Anthony Joshua on his turf for the kickoff news conference on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The boxing big men will fight for Joshua's three major belts at the famed arena on June 1 (DAZN), but the fisticuffs almost got off to a premature start three months ahead of schedule, as they immediately dispensed with any pleasantries.
Just before they took their seats at the dais on the floor of the arena, they came face to face, and Miller greeted Joshua with a hard, two-handed shove to the chest before they were separated. They exchanged not-so-nice words and not for the first time.
Last summer at a news conference they both attended in New York for another DAZN event, Miller and Joshua barked at each other as Miller tried to goad him into giving him a shot at the title. While the promoters along with Madison Square Garden and DAZN executives kept it strictly business, the fighters, with an obvious disdain for each other, let the naughty words and threats fly.
"I'm home. I'm ready. You have no idea," an emotional Miller said when it was his turn to speak during the program. "I breathe, eat, sleep Anthony Joshua. I have a screensaver of Anthony Joshua. I wake up and think about Anthony Joshua. I see my mother go through some stuff that none of you would survive. I grew up in a third-world country [Belize]. I see my family starving with no shoes on their feet. This is bigger than a fight with Anthony Joshua. It is bigger than me. It is bigger than money."
Miller continuously interrupted Joshua when it was his turn to speak. He called him a "prom queen," "fake," "phony" and an "Uncle Tom," accused him of having used performance-enhancing drugs and said he shouldn't be seen as a role model. He also launched a stream or "your mama" jokes that didn't go over well with A.J.
"He punches like a fairy. [Tyson] Fury knocked him down seven times [in sparring, which Miller disputes]. He's the softest puncher in the division," Joshua said in response. "Miller's a little b----. I am going to knock him the f---out. He is a drug abuser. He's a [former] kickboxer. I am going to knock him out."
When Miller launched into another joke about Joshua's mother, he replied, "Where's your mother? I am paying her rent with this. She will come here and watch a real champion fight."
Then Joshua, who predicted a fourth-round knockout victory, continued.
"I am going to throw this jab down his throat. For a guy that is 300 pounds, he punches like a fairy," he said. "June 1 this is going to be a show. Come out and watch this one, New York. I am not up here playing the gangster role. I really knock people out. Look at his little hands. This is the first time he will sell out a show, and it's because of me. Of course, he spends all day thinking about me and watching my fights -- he has to -- but it still won't be good enough.
"I just gave him a big paycheck and some cheeseburgers. It was an easy promotion."
England's Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), 29, is a massive star in the United Kingdom, but he will be fighting abroad for the first time when he makes his seventh title defense against the 30-year-old Miler (23-0-1, 20 KOs). Joshua decided to fight across the pond after he thoroughly enjoyed the electric atmosphere at the Garden in December, when he attended the Canelo Alvarez-Rocky Fielding fight. He thought he could generate the kind of excitement that Alvarez did, but this time with a house full of Brits willing to fly to the ends of the earth to see him fight. DAZN bringing tens of millions to the table to lure him to the United States certainly didn't hurt because the streaming service wanted him fighting in the U.S. evening and not on U.K. time, which means a late afternoon start and fewer viewers.
"We were here recently for Canelo-Fielding on DAZN, and A.J. was here, and he looked around this place, and he was like, wow," Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn, Joshua's promoter, said. "This place, it gives you goose bumps when you think about the history and the fights that took place in that center circle. We wanted the undisputed fight [against Deontay Wilder], and once we couldn't get it, it was like, do we keep going to the well in the U.K.? [Joshua has sold] over 350,000 tickets in his last four fights, but this was the opportunity to come to the States for Jarrell Miller, the No. 2-ranked heavyweight in America. He was the perfect guy."
Miller has handily defeated a series of former world title challengers over the past two years to earn his title shot. At about 300 pounds, the 6-foot-4 Miller likely will outweigh the 6-foot-6 Joshua by about 50 pounds.
"We've seen him fight before on DAZN. He talks the talk. He's a big personality," Hearn said. "I like him. I'm glad he's got the shot. I just went to see him [before the news conference began], and he said, 'There he is, A.J.'s pimp!' He goes, 'The contract's signed. Go away.' I was like, 'Mate, we used to be friends."
Not anymore, apparently.
Joshua will be the favorite, however, as he seeks to build his name on the global scene, not just in the U.K. To do that, he knew he had to come to the United States.
"He's exciting. He's got blistering hand speed. He's got power," Hearn said of Joshua, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist. "He's got the looks. He's an athlete. And I believe he's going to be a superstar in America. But he has to get past 'Big Baby' Miller.
"A lot of people are saying this is an easy fight. But he's a big dude who can fight. He has quick hands. He has good feet. Great work rate, great engine. And he's out for this. Joshua is coming to his backyard for this fight. He's fighting a kid from Brooklyn in New York who has a chance to make history. This is a big, big fight."