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By Arne K. Lang

The World Boxing Association has been holding an annual confab wrapped around the theme of stemming drug abuse. This year’s “KO Drugs Festival” runs Thursday and Friday (June 23 and 24) at the Casino in Buenos Aires. There will be boxing matches each night.

The Thursday card marks the return of Brooklyn's Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. Talk about a weird juxtaposition. Miller was once boxing’s poster boy for illegal substances. He was such a serial offender that wags re-christened him Big Pharma.

As we recall, Miller was set to be Anthony Joshua’s opponent for Joshua’s U.S. debut in June of 2019, but a mandatory pre-fight drug test found evidence of a banned muscle growth hormone, whereupon the New York State Athletic Commission shipwrecked the match by failing to license him.

Miller released a statement contesting the finding: “I have NEVER knowingly taken any banned substance and, when I found out the news, I was totally shocked. My team and I stand for integrity, decency & honesty and together we will stand to fight this with everything we have!”

Miller changed his tune after his “B” sample turned up two other banned substances. “I messed up,” he conceded. It must have pained him deeply when Andy Ruiz, who assumed his role, forged a shocking upset.

This wasn’t the first time that Miller was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and it wouldn’t be the last. In 2014, Miller failed his post-fight urine test after a kickboxing match in Los Angeles. In July of 2020, 13 months after he was taken off the Anthony Joshua fight, he failed yet another drug test, nixing his match with Jerry Forrest.

Miller transitioned to boxing from the sport of kickboxing. As a kickboxer, he was 22-2 with both losses to one-time MMA superstar Mirko Filipovic, aka Mirko Cro Cop. As a pro boxer, he’s undefeated (23-0-1) with 20 knockouts. The draw came early in his career in a 4-rounder with Joey Dawejko.

Miller, who stands six-foot-four, last fought in November of 2017 when he scored a fourth-round stoppage of limited Bogdan Dinu. He carried 315 pounds for that match, 63 pounds more than he weighed for his pro debut in 2009.

A bit more than three-and-a-half years has elapsed since his last ring appearance, but Miller hasn’t been sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He was in Tyson Fury’s camp for Fury’s match with Dillian Whyte. He turns 34 next month, but that isn’t old for a heavyweight. His opponent on Thursday is a local man, Ariel Esteban Bracamonte, who is 11-7 and has been stopped five times. The outcome seems a foregone conclusion but it will be interesting to see what Big Baby brings to the table.

Ivan Dychko

Kazakhstan’s heavyweight hopeful Ivan Dychko is also on the card and, akin to Miller, is thrust against a local man who has scant chance of winning. Dychko’s match with portly Kevin Espindola (7-3) should probably be classified as an exhibition. Standing six-foot-nine, Dychko will have a nine-inch height advantage.

A two-time Olympian, Dychko lost to Anthony Joshua in the semis of the 2012 London Games and lost to Joe Joyce in the semis at Rio in 2016. But what really jumps off the page in so far as his amateur record is concerned is his 4-0 mark vs. the formidable Bakhodir Jalolov, a gold medal winner in the most recent Olympiad.

At the professional level, Dychko, 31, has fought 11 times and scored 11 knockouts. However, his career has been mismanaged and he’s the forgotten man among a strong pod of heavyweights that were well-touted coming out of the amateurs. He was inactive for 24 months beginning in July of 2019. He’s answered the bell for only 18 rounds which looks impressive on paper but his opponents were the usual suspects. Where was the learning curve?

This will be Dychko’s first fight under the Probellum banner. It doesn’t reflect well on Probellum that they are feeding him another softie but Espindola is better than nothing and it’s important to keep him active.

Andy Cruz

Is Andy Cruz the latest Cuban defector? Cuban sports authorities have not officially announced his departure, but various sources are reporting that he has flown the coup. According to one report, he is stealthily worming his way through the Dominican Republic bound for Florida and eventually Las Vegas where the great boxing coach Ismael Salas awaits. At the moment, however, this is all speculation.

A three-time world amateur champion and 2020/21 Olympic gold medalist in the lightweight division, Cruz was 140-9 in the amateurs per boxrec. He was 4-0 against Keyshawn Davis, the best boxer on the U.S. team in Tokyo. (Note: three of those wins were by split decision.)

Six Cuban boxers, including four Olympic medalists, made their pro debut on May 20 in Aguacalientes, Mexico. This was a historic event. Six decades had passed without a Cuban fighter appearing on a professional boxing show with the blessing of his government.

Andy Cruz was not among them, fueling speculation that he had or was about to defect. According to journalist Miguel Hernandez, Cruz would be the seventh Cuban Olympic boxing champion to defect from the national team since Joel Casamayor bolted from the squad in Mexico as it was preparing for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The most recent leave-taker is two-time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez who disappeared in Mexico in 2018 during preparation for the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Ramirez, who has won 10 straight since suffering a shock defeat in his pro debut, looked super-sharp in his last outing, knocking out previously undefeated Abraham Nova in the chief supporting bout to Beterbiev-Smith.