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Liakovich/Briggs: ‘Tis The Season

BY Michael Woods ON September 17, 2006
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It’s a good thing the waiters had removed the steak knives before the meeting of the Shelly Finkel fan club convened at Gallagher’s Steak House in Manhattan on Monday afternoon, because you could picture someone grabbing a utensil and heading off to track down ole Shelly.

Well, not just “someone.”

Don King and Shannon Briggs led the verbal assault on the veteran manager, who drew the ire of the promoter and the Brownsville, Brooklyn heavyweight for what they deem to be unfair and unseemly practices in negotiating his client Wladimir Klitschko’s next fight.

The press conference was arranged to call attention to Sergei Liakhovich’s WBO title defense, which comes on Nov. 4 in Phoenix against the 34-year-old power puncher, Briggs. But as with any King-led convention, there were digressions aplenty.

First, the media, happily sated with hearty fare, topped by a sweet capper of cheesecake, were treated to a video montage of Don King’s greatest hits. Essentially, for anyone that didn’t know, or needed reminding, King is the PT Barnum of his arena, he says, and he makes buttloads of money for himself, his fighters and his business partners. “Don King is a starmaker,” the narrator proclaimed. We saw an A to Z compilation of King’s heavyweight charges…wait, make that A to Y, as everyone from Ali to Jimmy Young who has signed on King’s dotted line in the last four decades was seen briefly. Yes, David Bey and Friday Ahunanya made the cut…

“Just the facts, no hyperbole,” King promised, with his hand nowhere near any Bible, as he kicked off the proceedings.

There was in fact a theme to the PC, and no, it wasn’t trash Shelly Finkel until his ears are ringing. Instead, we saw video of President Reagan imploring Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall during his famous speech June 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate. What, you may rightly ask, does this have to do with the Nov. 4 WBO title fight, Liakhovich’s first defense after beating Lamon Brewster for the belt, to be shown on Showtime?

Plenty, actually. The Wall did indeed crumble in 1989, and as the Communist Bloc splintered, opportunities for enterprising people, like the Liakhovichs, arose. The dominoes fell as the Wall did, and in 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved, and republics were allowed to flourish as sovereign nations and territories. The spirit of glasnost seeped into the world of boxing, and we see the result of that today, with a native of Belarus (a Soviet republic) standing atop the WBO’s ranking ladder. Two Kazahkstan-born champs and a Russian one can also attest to the spirit of glasnost in the fight game…

King said he was suffering from a kidney stone as he was locking down the Liakhovich/Briggs deal, but doing the deal removed pain better than a Vicodin could. But, he said, Finkel did his damnedest to muddy the mix. King says he offered Liakhovich for Wladimir but Finkel wasn’t into it. Instead, Finkel told MSG that he had Briggs signed, sealed and delivered to fight Klitschko. That, Garden officials would know, would help the gate and be a hot NYC event. However, King said, Finkel “outdid Goebbels” with that bit of negotiation, as he was also trying to get Maskaev to fight Wladimir in the fall instead of taking an easy mandatory, or skipping right to Sam Peter, and thus hadn’t locked down the promised hometowner.

King took the media on a recent history lesson, relating how Klaus Peter Kohl wanted an easy fight for Wladimir Klitschko and King suggested Corrie Sanders, who King found on an African golf course. We all know how “easy” that one tuned out to be…

Long story shortened, King reminded all that Brewster KO’d Golota, who he said beat Byrd and Ruiz, though the judges in each case determined otherwise, and that Liakhovich looked so impressive in working over Brewster.

So, all in all, King said, Wlad ain’t all that, and Sergei is the man.

“The White Wolf is now the baddest champion out there,” King said. “Wlad is very handsome, a very nice guy, weak heart, soft chin. You can’t change that unless you get Dr. Baker to do a transplant.”

(Now, I think King referenced Doc Baker from Little House on the Prairie, but I could be really, really wrong.)

Then, King lauded Briggs for being a dangerous hitter, using Manny Steward’s assessment when Steward was building hype for Wlad/Briggs, before that imploded.

Briggs, who has been training in Colorado, took the podium. He thanked the usual suspects and gave his case for deserving this shot.

“Sergei’s going against a guy who has more experience,” he said. “I’m hungry, I’m stronger. Standing next to him, my blood is boiling. I’m back. I’m 34, I’m more experienced, like Tyson I’m a late bloomer.”

“Sergei looks beautiful in that blue suit, we’ll have to bury his ass in it,” Briggs cracked.

Liakhovich held his composure when Briggs tried to rattle him.

“Watch those eyes,” he warned. “I will slap the [crap] out of you. I’m known for that.”

Then, Briggs got out the long knives, for Finkel.

“In my opinion,” said Briggs, who has seen his share of courtroom skirmishes, and is wise to legalese and libel law, “Shelly is a scumbag. He used my name to go the Garden. It feels good to finally have a promoter behind me. Shelly did me dirty, basically. He shagged me. He had me sitting at home waiting for a fax for two months. He said, ‘The fight is yours.’ [Which was bull.]”

(NOTE: I will try to get a response from Finkel today, as deadline didn’t allow that yesterday, in order to give him a fair platform to defend himself)

Briggs, who has won 11 straight fights to middling opposition since losing at the MSG Theater in 2002 to Jameel McCline, reminded or informed those who didn’t know that his upbringing in Brooklyn, to put it succinctly, sucked. He slept in shelters and on the subway at times, as his mom had difficulty with substance abuse, and his dad was a no-show from early on.

“I’m 260 pounds of muscle,” he said. “Nothing’s gonna stop this now. It’s personal.”

I wouldn’t try to goad Shannon onto a scale and test that 260 pound assertion.

I’m hoping he gets into the 250s for Sergei, who is fairly agile, and owns a better chin than Wlad.

I say, let this be the start of a late game renaissance for Briggs, who would like to be included in that Brownsville pantheon, with Tyson, Bowe and Eddie Gregory.

That he’s even doing this anymore is a credit to him, for it would have been all too easy to wallow in despair, and take solace in any number of diabolical chemical combinations to salve the physic trauma that such an upbringing gives birth to. He could’ve gotten lost in a needle and a spoon or the pipe to tamp down on those rude memories, but he didn’t.

Does he eat too much and perform too little road work for some people’s liking, for one competing at a world-class level? Perhaps so.

But that he’s even present in the arena is worth a lot, and truly, do you have a whole handful of deserving folks who would be better suited for a crack at Liakhovich? I’m waiting…

No, time and the scale are not on Shannon Briggs’ side, but I confess to be leaning his way.

He’s a middle age man in a sport that is built for the springy fast twitch muscles of twentysomethings.

He doesn’t allow scales in his house.

His dad jetted from the scene early on, mom did drugs and died, clean, in 1996, while his stepdad died in jail. He’s packed a lifetime worth of misery in two decades of living.

Wouldn’t it be a kick to see Shannon Briggs rip one of those title belts out of Eastern Euro hands?

“Mr. Briggs,” I can hear President Ronald Reagan say, “tear down that Liakhovich!”

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