Shannon Briggs: The Once Golden Prospect

BY Benn Schulberg ON August 24, 2005
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There are those fighters who enter the professional ranks with stellar credentials and actually live up to their hype (Mayweather, De La Hoya, etc.), and then there are those whose anticipated stardom fizzles out. The latter is the case of heavyweight Shannon Briggs (42-4-1, 36 KOs), whose record is a bit misleading considering his most notable win was against an old George Foreman who outclassed him and really deserved the decision in 1997. His most memorable moment in the ring was staggering Lennox Lewis in the second round of their WBC championship fight in 1998, only to be knocked out three rounds later. This is a fighter who lost to Sedreck Fields in 2000, whose record was 9-9 at the time, and whose last eight wins have come against opponents who have a combined 59 losses. Is Briggs washed up or can he jumpstart a disappointing career?

On Saturday, August 26, the now-fringe contender Briggs will face-off against “Merciless” Ray Mercer in the headliner of the Showtime pay-per-view event called “Heavyweight Heat.” The Florida heat may be stifling, but there’s nothing hot about these two heavyweights. If the Florida State Athletic Commission had any mercy for the merciless one, they would retire this aged horse before any more damage is done.

Yet the stage is set at the Hard Rock Live Arena, located at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida (maybe the only place on earth who wants to see this fight), for one of these fighters to prolong their careers with a victory.

Shannon Briggs is a big, physically strong fighter with a punch, but he’s not a great fighter or even a good one at this point. In fact, he’s been more successful as a model and actor with those golden dreadlocks than as a legitimate heavyweight contender. Beating Mercer, a 44-year-old with damaged credentials, does nothing to improve Briggs’ stature in the division. A win will sustain his fringe contender status, but at this point, beating no-names and journeymen pushes his career backward rather than forward.

A constant problem for Briggs’ throughout his career has been his lackluster conditioning and “lazy” preparation. Briggs’ conditioning may be a factor in this fight considering his past history and his aging body.

“I’m older now. I’m thirty-three now and I have been doing a lot of movies, so I have gained a lot of weight.”

I wonder whether that Hollywood swagger will carry over into this fight. Briggs clearly won’t be able to act his way to a victory when he steps inside the ring. He can no longer gain confidence from all the hype about his boxing skills because that buzz died out a long time ago. Briggs is now more of a promising journeyman than a promising contender. Still, as he insists, the door is still open.

“I still offer a lot of excitement and in a Shannon Briggs fight I put it all on the line every time.” (Does that hold true for the loss to Sedrick Fields?) “I still have my name and people in and out of boxing are still supportive of me and want to see me come back and become champion.”

Briggs’ inaugural showing in K-1 kickboxing in 2003 signifies where his boxing career seems to be going. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there haven’t been too many legitimate heavyweight contenders over the years heading to Japan to compete in professional kickboxing to make an extra buck. Ray Mercer is a member of the K-1 club himself, so maybe it’s fitting that these two fighters are facing off.

The heavyweight division, despite its sad state, is still filled with a pot of gold. The heavyweight “mystique,” that magical aura that champions like Louis and Ali had may not be present, but the big paydays are still up for grabs – and Briggs seems determined to grab it before time runs out.

“The heavyweight division is wide open right now and there’s a lot of money to be made. I look forward to being in the mix.”

With Mercer’s granite chin, there’s no telling what will happen to Shannon Briggs. He’s shown us that he can beat below average opponents of late, but he’s still a high risk to those betting on his victory. In his last “big” fight, he lost a decision to Jameel McCline, and before that he had a draw with Frans Botha, which he didn’t deserve.

So who wins in this battle of former contenders? We’ll find out soon enough, but clearly the boxing fans that are looking for an exciting, action-packed fight will be the big losers in this one. Mercer brings his experience, his chin, and his old, tired body into the ring against Briggs, who is a younger, less beat-up fighter at age 33, and likely the bigger puncher.

Ten years ago, Shannon Briggs was an emerging star amongst the heavyweights. Charismatic, articulate, and physically talented, he seemed to combine the perfect package necessary to reach the heavyweight throne. He would sign his autograph, “Future Champ,” and he was hyped to become just that. But just like so many fighters before him, he never allowed his talent to fully blossom, falling victim to life’s distractions. He wanted to act, he wanted to model, he wanted to enjoy life, but it never seemed like he wanted to put in the effort needed to become an outstanding fighter. The excuses are all there; the managerial problems, the legal problems, the training problems, the lack of quality sparring partners. It’s time for Briggs to either finally live up to his hype or fade away into the sunset. If he can reach down and find that fire that’s been eluding him throughout his career, then he may be able to climb his way up an inflated division full of beatable names.

Time will tell, but time is not on Briggs’ side. He’s been fighting professionally for thirteen years and doesn’t have much to show for it. If he wants to create any sort of legacy for himself he better do it soon before he becomes just another opponent like Ray Mercer.

The man with golden locks needs a golden performance on August 26th to show the boxing world that he is for real. Briggs can’t afford a loss or a lackluster win, because in order to be a major player again he must convince us with a resounding victory that he may actually have the credentials to be a champion. After thirteen years, we’re still waiting to see those credentials that have eluded him throughout his career.

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