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By Arne K. Lang

Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov will finally lock horns this Saturday. Their match in Tulsa with the vacant WBO light heavyweight title at stake is the headline attraction of a Top Rank card salted with a bevy of promising heavyweight prospects. The best of the bunch, by all indications, is Jared Anderson (8-0, 8 KOs). With all due respect to Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz Jr, and Michael Hunter, there’s a school of thought that the precocious 21-year-old Anderson is the best American-born heavyweight out there right now.

The card also includes the well-touted Nigerian heavyweight Efe Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs), Philadelphia’s Sonny Conto (6-0, 5 KOs), and perhaps local fan favorite Trey Lippe Morrison (16-0, 16 KOs) who appears ready to resume his sputtering career. And then there’s Jeremiah Milton, a fighter whose pro career is just getting started. No one is more excited about fighting in Tulsa this Saturday than Milton, a fighter whose name warrants a mention when speculating about the next generation of important heavyweights.

Milton grew up in Tulsa, one of six siblings, all boys, raised in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. His mom succeeded in getting him a waiver that allowed him to attend a better high school than the high school in his district. Getting back and forth to Nathan Hale HS entailed long bus rides which didn’t leave much time for extracurricular activities, but Milton joined the football team in his senior year. He came to football too late to capture the eye of scouts for top-shelf programs, but was invited to try out for the team at Northeast Oklahoma University where he became one of only two of 52 walk-ons to be tendered a scholarship.

“I weighed about 260 back in those days,” recalls Milton who elbowed his way into the starting lineup where he started as a defensive end and an outside linebacker.

Milton, who turns 27 next month, didn’t take up boxing until he was 22 years old. He made quick headway. Within three years he was honing his game at the Olympic training headquarters in Colorado Springs. “That was an eye-opener for me,” says Milton. “I got exposed to the lifestyle of an elite amateur athlete.” By that he doesn’t just mean the coaching and level of competition, but the science of nutrition and recovery.

Milton advanced to the finals in the super heavyweight division of the 2019 Olympic Trials which were held in December in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In the finals, he was out-pointed by six-foot-eight Antonio Mireles. That led to a “sudden death” box-off with the more advanced Richard Torrez Jr who was given a medical waiver that allowed to him skip the Lake Charles tournament. They met on Jan. 5, 2020 at the Olympic Training Center, a quick turnaround for Jeremiah who came up short, effectively ending his Olympic dreams (barring an unusual circumstance). Before the month was over, he turned pro with Victory Sports & Entertainment, a firm best known for its work with Badou Jack.

Milton’s pro career was delayed by the pandemic which rubbed away multiple shows and by the birth of his first child, a son, Julian, who arrived in March. But his management kept him busy as a sparring partner. Jeremiah has sparred with Luis "King Kong" Ortiz, Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois, Charles Martin, and Michael Hunter, among others. He says he wasn't surprised when Joyce upset Dubois. "Considering his long amateur background, I knew that the fight favored him the longer it went. I thought Joe defeated (Tony) Yoka (in the gold medal round of the 2016 Rio Olympics)."

Milton finally had his first pro fight in August, knocking out his opponent in the opening round on a small show in Detroit. In November, he scored a third-round stoppage on a show in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Jeremiah, who trains in Las Vegas, ducked home last month to be there for Julian’s first birthday – the boy and his mother live an hour away from Tulsa in the little town of Salina, Oklahoma – but Saturday marks his first opportunity to display his boxing wares before his friends and family. The show, which will air on various ESPN channels, has been approved for 800 at the Osage Casino and was reportedly a quick sellout.

His opponent for his third pro fight is a 33-year-old boxer from Mississippi who brings a 2-2 record. Although the bout is only a 4-rounder, Milton yet ranks it as one of his biggest moments since taking up the sport. “In everything I do athletically, I represent Tulsa,” he says of the city that hued him and where he worked after college teaching PE at a middle school.

Milton’s long-term goal is to make enough money from boxing to give back to his community. “Many kids today are ambitious, but they lack direction,” he says. “I hope to become a person of influence to where I can put opportunities in place that will uplift them.”

That’s an ambitious goal, perhaps too far-reaching for any of today’s young heavyweight prospects, but it’s a safe bet that boxing fans will be hearing a lot more about Jeremiah Milton in the ensuing years.

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