Briggs' first heavyweight title defense canceled

Originally Published: February 13, 2007
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Shannon Briggs, suffering from a form of pneumonia, withdrew from his mandatory heavyweight title defense against Sultan Ibragimov on Monday.

Shannon Briggs
Briggs

"I'm not doing too good," a tired-sounding Briggs told ESPN.com. "To me, this was almost $2 million. I'm sick about it. I'm destroyed over this. It was an easy payday for me. Hopefully, we can push it back to May or June and I will be better."

Briggs, who also has had a career-long battle with asthma, was to make his first title defense against Ibragimov (19-0-1, 16 KOs) on March 10 on HBO at New York's Madison Square Garden Theater. Now, he will be out of action for three to four months, according to his Miami-based personal physician, Dr. Islon Woolf.

Woolf said he diagnosed Briggs with aspiration pneumonia during a CAT scan a few days ago. Aspiration pneumonia is the inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes due to the inhalation of food particles or fluids into the lungs.

"It's very serious," said Woolf, who said he also referred Briggs to a lung specialist. "Plus, he has chronic asthma. That hasn't helped. He couldn't make it though one round if he had to box today. He will need to rest for a few weeks and probably can't fight for three or four months."

Briggs said he had been in bed for the past few days, and he sounded like it.

"I was going to make like $1.8 million for the fight, including about $500,000 in endorsements. I was going to look like a NASCAR driver with my trunks," he said. "So it hurts me to lose it. I'm 35 and I fought sick my whole career with my asthma. I know you don't want to hear it, but Muhammad Ali didn't fight with asthma, Mike Tyson didn't fight with asthma. I have fought with asthma my whole career and was able to win a championship. But this pneumonia is worse and my health is more important than my wealth."

He said he had been feeling weak in the gym for the past 2 weeks.

"I had a lot of shortness of breath in everything I was doing -- running, sparring, whatever," Briggs said. "I thought it was my asthma, so I upped my dose of medication. But it wasn't getting better, so I went to the doctor and he diagnosed me. He gave me a lung test and said my lung power had decreased by 11 percent since my last fight."

Briggs (48-4-1, 42 KOs), of Brooklyn, won his belt via dramatic 12th-round knockout of Sergei Liakhovich on Nov. 4 in Phoenix and was looking forward to defending his title in New York, his hometown.

"We contemplated fighting. I wanted to fight," said Briggs, who said he was instructed not to train for at least three weeks. "To me this fight was a joke. How did he even become my mandatory? Off a draw with Ray Austin? OK, but it was an easy payday. But we came to the realization that it wasn't the smartest thing to do. Me losing to Ibragimov because of illness, people don't want to hear about that."

Although Briggs-Ibragimov is off, HBO will still televise Wladimir Klitschko defending his version of the heavyweight title against mandatory challenger Austin in Germany on March 10.

The network planned to air Klitschko-Austin live at 4:45 p.m. and then replay it in prime time with live coverage of Briggs-Ibragimov. Although the Briggs-Ibragimov is off, HBO may add a second fight to the Klitschko-Austin undercard to give it a doubleheader, but no decision has been made yet.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.