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Briggs still waiting for his chance

8/24/2006 - Boxing

The phone has been ringing off the hook for Shannon Briggs. If you doubt that statement, just take a look around cyberspace at the seemingly endless stream of articles on the heavyweight contender in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, the one call that Briggs is waiting for hasn't come yet, as
there's been no confirmation yet that a Nov. 11 bout in Madison Square
Garden against IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko is a done deal.

Briggs, 34, kept a brave face on though, assuring this reporter Monday
afternoon that "everything's supposed to be done. [Klitschko adviser] Shelly
Finkel told me 1,000 percent that I had the fight, and I believe what Shelly says,
so I'm ready to rock 'n' roll. I'm training already and I'm looking forward
to being heavyweight champion of the world."

The fight should have been done weeks ago. Terms were agreed upon, but when
Oleg Maskaev threw a wrench in the works on Aug. 12 and stopped Hasim
Rahman to win the WBC version of the title, Finkel jumped into action and
offered the Nov. 11 date against Klitschko to Maskaev, throwing Briggs (47-4-1, 41 KOs) into limbo until the Staten Island resident's team made a decision on
whether they would fight again that soon.

And he's still waiting.

"It's part of the roller-coaster ride of Shannon Briggs," he admits, and if it
truly seems like this whole tug of war isn't getting to him, it's because
he's been through the ups and downs of heavyweight boxing and has still
wound up close enough to get another title shot.

How did that happen, and why do people still care?

"Because I'm ugly but I'm funny," he says, laughing. "People like that. Besides
that, who's really out there? You want to say Calvin Flop [Brock]? [Sultan]
Ibragimov? Did you see his last fight with [Ray] Austin? [A 12-round draw.] The hype is gone now."

And frankly, that's what's lost in the division today. There are some decent
fighters out there, but no personalities. That's what Briggs brings to the
table -­ personality, along with fight-ending power -- and though everyone
would probably agree that a Klitschko-Briggs bout would be a war for as long
as it lasts, there are plenty of pundits who think that beating a steady
diet of journeymen "opponents" and untested prospects shouldn't earn you a
shot at the heavyweight title.

"You're going to hear people say, 'Shannon doesn't deserve a shot,' and I'll ask
them, 'Who does?' " said Briggs. "Look at the state of the heavyweight
division and boxing -- who cares who the heavyweight champion is? I don't
care. They're making a big thing that I don't deserve a title shot. Big
deal, I want a big fight, and this is a big fight. Forget the title; this is
the No. 1 guy. I beat him and I'm the No. 1 guy, and I can go out
and promote the sport. That's what it's about. I want to be the man, and
there's big money in this sport if you promote it properly. And I'm the guy.
I know how to smile, I know how to kiss babies, I know how to walk old
people across the street. [Laughs] I know how to do all that, and I'm good
at it. There was a time when people respected and knew who the heavyweight
champion of the world was."

Now is not that time. Although Klitschko is the most talented of the four
titlists, Sergei Liakhovich has potential to do big things, Maskaev has a
punch and a good story, and Nicolay Valuev has a 7-foot gimmick and an
upside, there isn't one champion who stands out as the top dog, the guy who
can help push the sport back on the front pages. Briggs isn't surprised that
he is still in position to be relevant in the division eight years after
losing his last title shot to Lennox Lewis.

"Like Tommy Gallagher said, and it's been said before, kids don't want to
box anymore," said Briggs, a native of the same Brownsville, Brooklyn
neighborhood that was home to former world heavyweight champions Mike Tyson
and Riddick Bowe. "They'd rather go and play football or basketball. As for
me, I've always felt that I had the ability, but my mind wasn't right and
there were circumstances why I didn't develop fully. I had around 30 amateur
fights, and when I turned pro, it wasn't in the best circumstances. I wasn't
brought along properly, even as far as my style. I had a good trainer in
Teddy Atlas, but stylewise and personalitywise, it wasn't a match. Once I
lost to Darroll Wilson [in 1996], Teddy departed and I was off on my own.
Even my managerial situation was rocky for the next couple of years. I've
been really doing this on my own, so the fact that I'm here and still alive
is a testament to my mental strength and the fact that I grew up in the
game. Some of my decisions have been wrong, but at the same time, I think I
did a pretty good job to get me where I'm at now."

If you followed Briggs' career in the early days, you never would have guessed that close to 15 years after his debut that there isn't talk of Canastota and a stack of title belts piled up in his trophy room. But after the third round TKO loss to Wilson, that put an end to a 25-fight winning
streak, the darling of the New York media became Public Enemy Number One.

"After me and Teddy [Atlas] split, everyone came raining down on Shannon
Briggs," said Briggs. "Before, every writer was afraid to write something
bad about me because they thought they might get followed home and beat up.
[Laughs] But after that it was target practice and I couldn't do anything
right. It took me years on top of years to grow thick skin and it took me
many hurtful days. There were so many incidents, whether it was HBO or Larry
Merchant or someone else, where somebody would pull my name out of a hat and
say something derogatory about me. It took years, but it also built
character because I said I'm not stopping. It hurt me, but now I've got
thick skin."

Briggs would rebound from the loss, win a highly controversial 12-round
decision over George Foreman in 1997, and then get stopped in five rounds by
Lewis in an entertaining brawl that put to rest any questions about the
Brooklynite's heart.

After that loss, even though he was considered finished by the boxing
cognoscenti, he kept fighting, basically sleepwalking through wins over
journeymen, struggling in a draw with Frans Botha in 1999, and experiencing
the lowest of low points -- a 2000 decision loss to 9-9 Sedreck Fields.
Briggs did come back with four straight KO wins to get his confidence back,
but a 2002 decision loss to Jameel McCline seemed to really put the nail in
his fistic coffin.

And that was all right because the funny thing is, Briggs didn't really need
boxing. He made some money, was still seen as a celebrity in many circles,
and was dabbling in real estate and acting. It sure beat getting hit in the head
for a living. He wouldn't go, though.

"I'm good at it," he admits. "You do what you're really good at. I do real
estate and I act also, but no one's calling me from Hollywood to give me a
$10- to $20-million payday in movies, so this is what I truly believe I was born
to do. It's always been there for me, it's always been great for me as far
as that it got me out of Brownsville, out of Brooklyn, and it allows me to
have a family now and live in a million-dollar home. Boxing's been good to
me. I'm not going to turn my back on boxing and boxing hasn't turned its back
on me yet. I'm not beat up, mentally I'm OK and I can still put a sentence
together [laughs], so I'm doing good."

Putting Briggs back in the title picture was going to be some task, though,
especially with the critics poised to jab him at every turn.

"This comeback, if you want to call it that, has been a three- to four-year
process," said Briggs, who has won 11 straight since the loss to McCline. "I
had to fight in K-1 in Japan to make a living between fighting and doing
commercial work over there, and it's been a roller coaster in a sense, but
it's been a smooth one. I did what I had to on the side to finance this
comeback."

As he explains it, before hooking up with new manager Scott Hirsch a year
ago, no one wanted to touch Shannon Briggs. But instead of sitting home,
getting fat and waiting for the phone to ring, he took matters into his own
hands.

"I was making no money," he admits. "In the last 11 fights, I only made
money on two paydays. I fought basically nine fights for free. Nobody wanted
to pay to see Shannon Briggs. So I would say 'Let me pay to get on the card,'
or, 'Let me get on the card and I'll pay for my own opponent -- airfare and
everything.' And this is what I needed."

He's right. The opponents are far from a Murderer's Row (maybe Murdered Row
would be more of an apt description), but with those 11 fights, Briggs
stayed busy and kept his name in the public's eye. Beating Dickie Ryan,
Demetrice King and a badly faded Ray Mercer won't get you any fighter of
the year awards, but for a 34-year-old heavyweight, staying sharp in five
knockouts over questionable opposition in the last 12 months is more
important than fighting twice and hoping for a big fight.

It's worked, and Shannon Briggs is now a phone call away from his big fight,
the one he's been waiting for his entire career -- a heavyweight championship
fight in Madison Square Garden, just a train ride away from the old
neighborhood. And regardless of whether you agree with how the challenger
got here, Briggs and Klitschko will produce fireworks and make you actually
want to see a heavyweight title fight again.

You know Briggs is ready.

"I'm going for the knockout in the first round, I'm going for the knockout
in the second round, and two through 12 I'll be going for the knockout," he
said. "That's my goal. I want to decapitate this dude. He's the champion and
I'm not, and I need that spot. No guy with a Ph.D. is going to beat me. [Laughs]
No way possible."