Briggs-Mercer winner could return to contention

8/27/2005 - Boxing

The old New York Lotto slogan is "All you need is a dollar and a dream."

In today's morass of a heavyweight division, the slogan might as well be "All you need is one solid victory and a dream."

Enter Shannon Briggs and Ray Mercer. They're two of the few heavyweights with name recognition -- even if neither has been particularly relevant since the 1990s.

But in this down era of heavyweights, all it could take to launch either of them into a significant fight is one notable victory. So with the goal of restoring themselves, they're taking a chance by fighting each other.

Each eyes one more shot at the prize when they met Friday night in Hollywood, Fla., in the 10-round headline fight of a four-fight card dubbed "Heavyweight Heat." Briggs scored a seventh-round knockout to establish his comeback.

"Here I am and I can be a top contender in one fight," Mercer said before Friday's bout. He has won 11 of his 13 bouts since 1996, previously losing in 2002 to Wladimir Klitschko.

Said Briggs: "I feel like you're one punch away from stardom or the bottom of the barrel. One punch, and it could happen. The winner of this fight will be talked about. Then you have to do something off that win."

Briggs (43-4-1, 37 KOs), with his notable dreadlocks, was as heralded as any heavyweight of the past 20 years. He came from the same tough Brownsville section of Brooklyn that produced Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, and his outgoing personality made him a media darling.

Briggs, 33, parlayed it into some big fights. He won a decision, although a highly controversial one, against George Foreman in Foreman's final fight in 1997. The victory landed Briggs a shot against then-champion Lennox Lewis in 1998. He hurt Lewis in the first round and put up a game effort only to be knocked out in the fifth round.

Since then, Briggs has taken a backseat to other contenders. His stock slid after a 1999 draw with Francois Botha. Then there was a shocking decision loss to journeyman Sedreck Fields in 2000 and a lopsided decision loss in 2002 to Jameel McCline, who will fight on the undercard Friday.

"Back then I was a kid, a celebrity and surrounded by all the hype," Briggs said.

"Now I am a grown man and I look at a things a lot different. I still have the big name, but I am more focused and dedicated. Before I was known for the hair and being a celebrity. Now I'm Shannon Briggs, the family man, Shannon Briggs, the hardworking fighter.

"But I still want to create excitement, a knockout. I'm not just looking to fight for the title. If it comes, so be it. I'm looking to create excitement, win, lose or draw. But I'm coming to win and I'm getting a title shot after I decapitate Ray and the next joker they put in front of me."

Mercer (34-6-1, 25 KOs), who didn't begin boxing until his early 20s, also was once one of the brightest contenders in the sport. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1988 and quickly established himself as one of the toughest heavyweights in the business. He won a version of the title and has faced many well-known opponents through the years, including Lewis, Klitschko, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison.

Now, however, Mercer is 44 and time is not on his side.

"I was the oldest member of the Olympic team and now I am one of the oldest contenders," said Mercer, who is back in boxing after a two-bout experiment on the K-1 kickboxing circuit.

"Boxing is what I know and I can still compete. I'm chasing George Foreman. He did it when he was my age. People should stop knocking me for still fighting. If you hang in there long enough, something will give. I'm in this for the long haul, for as long as I can do it."

Co-promoter Cedric Kushner is under no false illusions that the pay-per-view will draw huge numbers. But he believes it will be an entertaining show, especially with a main event of evenly matched heavyweights.

"As a promoter, the way I see it is that it is my job to make competitive matches with the fighters that are currently fighting. You can only work with what you have," Kushner said.

"What I am saying is two guys, if they are equally matched, it's a fight, and therefore entertaining from the public's perspective."

Kushner figures that the winner of Briggs-Mercer will get another significant opportunity because there is such a dearth of heavyweight talent.

"The winner of Briggs-Mercer I can absolutely see him getting a title shot against any of the champions, especially if it's Briggs," Kushner said. "I could absolutely see Shannon Briggs as a highly marketable opponent, especially for a New York fight. Briggs is very colorful and charismatic and he's still young.

"As for Mercer, at 44 it's a do-or-die situation. I think he understands that. It's an absolute crossroads fight for both of them. I love those situations because it makes it a real contest."

Friday night, it was Briggs who earned the right to take the next step.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.