A look at Shannon Briggs


A look at Shannon Briggs

Edited Press Release: For the record, the six-foot-four-inch Briggs is 34 years old and has won 11 consecutive fights going into this weekend’s challenge against WBO heavyweight titlist Sergei Lyakhovich. “It’s funny,” he said, “because when everyone thinks of me, they think I am old because I fought George Foreman and Lennox Lewis, and other guys.   But those fights were when I was very young. When I tell people my age, they’re like, ‘Naw, you can’t be.’ A lot of guys in my division are in their prime at 34. They think I am an ancient warrior. But I feel I am just hitting my prime. I have plenty of fight left in me. I feel invigorated.” The heavy-hitting Briggs has bulked up. He weighed 273 pounds when he scored a third-round TKO in his last start over Chris Koval on May 24, 2006, in New York. Two months earlier, Briggs was 269 pounds when he knocked out Dick Ryan in the fourth round on March 18 in Fort Smith, Ark. Scales have been banned in Briggs’ home, and he declines to step on one at the gym. “I hate scales,” he said. “I do not weigh myself anymore. I am trying to perfect the art of the one-punch KO. I have never been touted as having great stamina,’’ Briggs said. “I am training hard, but I am training for a knockout. This is going to be a great fight.’’

For all his special moments inside of the ring, Briggs has experienced much strife outside of it. He had managerial woes, nasty splits with trainers, lost fights he should have won easily, lost his will to compete and split his energies chasing an acting career and fighting for a world title. “My career has had ups and downs,’’ Briggs said. “I had a nice climb to the top. This is not my last run.” That Briggs still is running is a credit to his perseverance. He never knew his dad. His stepfather died in jail.

Briggs, who was born on Dec. 4, 1971, moved in with an aunt in the same tough Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn that nurtured former heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe. “Tyson, Bowe and I lived within a mile or two of each other,” Briggs said. “I was an only child, but pretty much a homeless kid. My mom became sick. I was, like, in the streets. I would stay with relatives sometimes, friends, sometimes a train station. I would go from place to place, but I always made a way. I am a survivor.” Despite the environment, Briggs avoided major trouble long enough to get a shot at the 1992 Olympic Games. A hand injury ended the dream, but he was able to reunite with his mom and put up money for her rehabilitation.

Briggs went to a boxing gym for the first time in his mid-teens. “We used to slap fight a lot in the street,” he said. “One day, a friend of my dad purchased some boxing gloves for us. He said, ‘why don’t you guys put on the gloves instead of beating each other up?’ “My friends always said I should go to the gym. So I took the bus there one afternoon. First time I sparred, I got beat up. I thought I would never go back. But, I fell in love. It was like a disease. Once I got it, I could not get rid of it. I always found myself on that bus going back. I had talent. I would go to the gym to just hang around. I would sweep up sometimes. I was cleaning up and hanging around, so I was able to watch. Sometimes, I would sleep in the gym.

Briggs credits boxing with saving his life. “Boxing got me off the streets,” Briggs said. “It gave me a place to go. It was not my home, but it was a safe place and a place where I found some type of structure. I was around people and not just running the streets getting myself in trouble. Tough times came about, too, but I was fortunate.”

Briggs began boxing as an amateur at age 18. “I only had 30 amateur fights,’’ he said, “but I had been in the gym for a while and was a boxing fan. I studied boxing. I was a huge fan of the guys in the 1980s like Matthew Saad Muhammad and Dwight Qawi. “I also was a really big Muhammad Ali fan. I would mimic him and try to do everything he did, like talk like him. For a long time, people called me Ali. Nobody even knew my name. I guess Shannon is an unfamiliar name, especially in the ghetto.

“At the time, I was on the USA Team and that helped a lot. I traveled, stayed in different hotels. At one point as an amateur, I was picked up by Lou Duva and Shelly Finkel when I did not have a place to stay. I stayed with them in Virginia Beach for quite a while. I learned a lot.’’

Possessing a brutal left jab and thumping left hook, the 1992 U.S. National amateur champion at 201 pounds turned professional at age 20 on July 24, 1992. He won his first 25 fights, 20 by knockout, 18 inside of three rounds, and did not lose a single round.

Briggs suffered his first loss when he was stopped in the third round by New Jersey prospect Darroll Wilson (15-0-2) on March 15, 1996, in Atlantic City. Briggs started aggressively and won the initial two sessions, but was cut over his left eye. Wilson scored a spectacular one-punch knockdown with a left hook in the third and Briggs was counted out at 2:17. Briggs rebounded to win his next four starts by knockout to get his shot at Foreman on Nov. 22, 1997, in Atlantic City. In his greatest sports moment, Briggs won the linear heavyweight championship with a controversial 12-round majority decision (117-113, 116-112 and 114 apiece). Foreman landed the hardest punches, but Briggs maintained a fast pace, boxed effectively and landed nearly 50 more power shots to win. Foreman announced his retirement following the bout, even though most thought Foreman was the rightful winner. “It was a great experience for me especially since I was just a young kid,” Briggs said. “I was brought in to be knocked out. But, I did not play my part. It was a very, very close decision. I felt unbelievable, but I could not really enjoy it. The media ripped me apart, writing the fight was fixed. My best moment became my worst moment, so it was a bittersweet type of thing. The victory over Foreman put me on the world stage and let me fight Lennox Lewis next.’’

On March 28, 1998, Briggs met Lewis in Atlantic City and nearly won the WBC title in dramatic fashion. In the bout’s opening seconds, he staggered Lewis with a right hand that nearly knocked him through the ropes. Briggs, however, punched himself out as Lewis survived the round, and the defending champion wound up winning by fifth-round knockout.

After Briggs scored a first-round TKO in his next start, he boxed to a 10-round draw against Francois Botha (39-2 going in) on Aug. 7, 1999, in Atlantic City. It was a close, hard fight and both fighters were hurt, cut and battered. Briggs decked his foe in the eighth, but Botha rallied in the last two rounds. At the end, one judge had it 95-92 for Botha, while the other scorers had it 94-94.

Many think Briggs was fortunate to escape without a loss. “I did everything right for the Botha fight, but had a bad chain of events happen,’’ Briggs said. “I tore my left bicep before the fight. I had an ulcer the size of a dime in my stomach. I trained in Big Bear (Calif.) thinking the altitude would be good, but it was terrible. I could not run. It was too cold. After the second round, I was gasping for air. Botha broke my rib. Cauliflower ears, stitches over both eyes, yet I hung in for 10 rounds. I was fortunate to get a draw. Physically, he really gave me a beating. And, mentally, I was down on myself because the fight was so hard and grueling.’’

After winning his next outing, Briggs lost a shocking eight-round decision to Sedreck Fields on April 27, 2000, in New York. Briggs started well and landed the harder punches, but Fields outworked him in the late rounds. “Although I thought I won, losing to Fields was very embarrassing,” said Briggs, who came up short by the upset scores 77-75 twice and 76-76. “He had such a bad record. I came in just to knock out an opponent and make a payday.’’

Briggs won his next four starts by first-round knockout before losing a lopsided decision to Jameel McCline on April 27, 2002, in New York. McCline consistently outworked Briggs, scored a knockdown in the fifth and triumphed 99-90 on all three scorecards.  “I had a back injury but went through with the fight anyway,” said Briggs, who weighed a then-career-high 268 pounds. “I fought at maybe 30 percent.’’
Looking back, Briggs said that his whole career has been funny to him. “My career has been a great ride,” he said. “I would not change anything. I am where I am today because of it. I have what I have today because of what I have gone through. If I would have knocked out Lewis in that first or second round, I might not be here now. I might have been blown away in ashes. I would have been partying and celebrating and all that type stuff. I was young. I was not ready for it. Look at Mike Tyson: 20 years old, heavyweight champion of the world. Where is he now? Imagine being 20 years old and having $100 million? I cannot even imagine it. I like to think, where I am right now, I could control myself.

“I turned pro at 20. It has been 14 years. Foreman and Lewis tried to destroy me, but I have never been seriously hurt. I have only been knocked out twice in 52 fights. I am making money. I am having fun and enjoying my career. I got to meet all types of people. I came into boxing as a fan from the outside, watching Ali and Larry Holmes. Then, I actually got to meet and shake their hands and see that they are real people. Before, I thought they were like comic book heroes. In the ring with a Foreman, I was like, ‘this cannot be happening.’ My dad watched him. I watched him. I read everything you could read about him. I feel like I am inside a comic book now. I am still having fun.”

When he is not having fun with his boxing career, Briggs also competes in K-1 (mixed martial arts), has done some modeling and had roles in three movies. His childhood heroes were Ali and Holmes. He always admired Tyson, and always wanted to fight him, but it never happened. Briggs thought for the longest time his next start would be against IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, but the fight fell through.  “By now, everybody knows how I feel about that fight falling apart,” Briggs said. “But the bottom line is I am fighting Liakhovich for the world heavyweight title. I am ready to give my all.’’