Brooklyn is in the house, which isn’t the only reason I like Shannon Briggs despite his being the biggest waste of over-rated talent perhaps in heavyweight history.
Briggs is one of the most likeable, personable chess-playing fighters who ever slept on a Brooklyn subway station. He worked to put his mom through rehab and, according to his first pro trainer Teddy Atlas, proudly wore the nomenclature of "future world champion" as if he did not need any further titles.
Now, here he is, after all these years of wandering in the boxing desert, about to make the first defense of a real (well, sort of) world heavyweight championship. Fighting almost within his own long reach down the coast in Atlantic City, he’s a 2-1 underdog to a 32-year-old Russian left-hander who was knocked down and held to a draw by the infamous Ray Austin.
You remember Ray Austin. He’s the guy who was destroyed in two rounds by Wladimir Klitschko in one of HBO’s most criticized mismatches. Yet, in an IBF "eliminator" that should have ousted both contestants, he dropped Sultan Ibragimov in the tenth round and got out with a draw. When the Russian opted to go after Briggs’s WBObscene title, he got his come-uppance against Dr. Steelhammer, or whatever he’s calling himself.
Ibragimov is not to be confused with Timor Ibragimov, a worthless cousin who could barely raise a sweat in losing to Calvin Brock and Tony Thompson. This Ibragimov was a -215 favorite against a man who held a victory, no matter how spurious, against so-called linear champion George Foreman.
As my daughter said when I mentioned I was going to be writing about Briggs, "Where’s he been hiding?"
After losing to Jameel McCline back in 2002, Briggs scurried under some rocks. He’d emerge now and then to knock off some stiff, but if anyone put the lights on, he’d head for the cracks.
Yet here he is, the WBO champion, in a long line that has contributed such stalwarts as Francesco Damiani, Herbie Hide and the two most recent examples — Lamon Brewster and Sergei Liahkovich. Somehow, Briggs was given a shot at Liahkovich last November, performing down to his fan club’s worst expectation for 11 rounds and more than two and a half minutes.
Trailing on all three official cards in one of the dullest fights of recent "memory" (except it was totally forgettable), Briggs scored a literal last-second knockout at 2:59 of the 12th round by sending Liahkovich flying from the ring.
Good for him, I thought, and maybe even for boxing. It would be nice to have at least one heavyweight champion who could carry the stars and stripes. Briggs was born not with a silver spoon but a golden tongue in his mouth. He is bright, good-natured, funny and fun. He also has trouble breathing. So of course he starts his improbable reign by coming down with pneumonia and having to postpone his date with the Sultan of What.
Briggs was a decorated amateur, but he was held out of the 1992 Olympic Trials, officially because of an injury. Unofficially, I think his connections were afraid he’d be embarrassed in the Games by Cuba’s Felix Savon. He was treated gingerly when he turned pro, winning 10 of his first 12 bouts by first-round knockouts. But, on a 1996 HBO program featuring young talent, he fell on his face.
Briggs ascertained the softest part of the canvas in the third round against the forgettable Darroll Wilson. He blamed asthma; couldn’t breathe. Two years later in a real title fight, he wobbled Lennox Lewis in the opening round. That forever cemented his reputation of having irrefutable talent. The champ then tore him apart in the fifth.
Okay, he got a lucky draw with Francois Botha in 1999. He was gasping when he lost an eight-round decision to Sedreck Fields in 2000 and showed little against McCline in 2002.
I always thought his punching power was good, not great. He’s a big man (6-4, 268) against Liahkovich with an 80-inch reach and early in his career was surprisingly agile. He’s got a good jab, his chin isn’t bad and yet, he’s a 2-1 dog in his home country against someone who looks very ordinary to me.
Yes, he scored the last-second knockout of Liahkovich, but that didn’t show any great stamina since he hardly used any energy for the first 11-plus rounds. Ibragimov figures to put pressure on him from the start. I guess that’s why the "smart" money has made Briggs such a nice price.
I’m very tempted. Yes, partly because I’m not sure anyone who struggled with Ray Austin or allowed Zuri Lawrence to hang around until the 11th round deserves such favoritism. But mostly, it is an act of faith that the man from the same neighborhood as Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe can do the job and catch the Sultan of Not early.
I haven’t been wrong all week.