PHOENIX– There has never been a major league no-hitter thrown at Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks' baseball stadium.
Boxing fans almost saw one in the heavyweight title contest between Shannon Briggs and Sergei Liakhovich, until Briggs salvaged the Showtime show with a last pitch grand slam that sent the previously jeering crowd home with a buzz.
In this case, knocking one out of the park meant a couple of huge upper deck conks that dropped Liakhovich twice in the final forty seconds. The second splatter sent Liakhovich sprawling through the strands and onto the ringside apron, where his spaghetti legs got caught beneath the canvas.
Referee Bobby Ferrara waved it off, and Briggs had broken the ballyhooed hold former soviet bloc fighters held on the four most recognized titles.
The punches that actually separated Liakhovich from his senses and WBO belt landed a fistful of wild moments before his concussive collapse. Briggs landed a good series with about a minute to go that staggered Liakhovich, then draped him across the ropes with huge thuds from both sides.
Briggs’s finishing flurry consisted of nothing more than glancing gloves and missed missles, but by then Liakhovich was out on his two left feet.
Briggs was behind 106-103 on two scorecards and 105-104 on the third when he turned things around.
“It’s been a long hard road,” said Briggs. “Life, turbulent, crazy, but I got here thanks to Don King. I tried to gun Sergei out of there by the first round. I was waiting a lot and I got tired. I’ll be honest with you, I was exhausted. He’s a tough kid, with good movement, but I didn’t really think he was winning because he was just bouncing around not really doing anything.
“I was supposed to fight Wladimir Klitschko at the Garden next Saturday. But Shelly Finkel kept lying to me for two and a half months, saying the deal was a thousand percent done. [So] we went to Don’s house and said let us in. We ate, we talked, we laughed, and he signed me on the spot. Say what you want about Don King, but he’s made another heavyweight champion. I said I’d bring the title back to America. Hopefully I’ll get the giant (Nicolai Valuev) next.”
“I don’t take anything away from him,” said Laikhovich. “I fought a stupid fight. He caught me with a good punch. I made so many mistakes. He didn’t surprise me. I know he’s an experienced guy.’
Liakhovich reportedly earned around $747,000 for the disappointment, based on foreign TV rights.
Briggs earned $400,000 but put himself squarely in front of the line for major heavyweight paydays. Among the other currently conflicted champions, Briggs’s entertaining personality and engaging wit should give the maligned division a much needed jolt.
The fight itself was a plodding prime example of big boy doldrums almost all the rest of the way. Until the fight’s stirring conclusion, the thirty-six minute scheduled duration held only about thirty-six seconds worth of action. Then, with about half a minute left on the clock, it was time for the highlight reel, quite possibly the knockout of the year.
The audience was listed at 12,000 but didn’t really appear much more than half that size.
A fine post-fight scene was held in a hot, relatively tiny room used for such occasions but turned out to be just the right intimate setting for a heartfelt discussion.
“Scott Hirsch rescued me,” said Briggs of his beaming manager. “Not just from a financial standpoint but as a friend and mentor. He came to me with different things about life, calming me down when I was ready to blow the fuse and just pack it in. I was like, this sh– ain’t working for me man, I’m gonna have to get a job.’
“We took fights for little or no money to be ready when the opportunity came,” said Hirsch. “What strikes me is how Don King has been two-hundred percent honest with us. He said what he means and he means what he says. You hear a lot of things but I believe what I see.”
It seemed like the bruised Liakhovich was really only concerned about speaking to one unpleasant subject, and he struggled to make his point with appropriate English grammar. He plainly desired to clear things up about Briggs’s pre-fight assertion he’d made racial slurs.
Briggs understood the Scottsdale based Belarusian transplant’s dilemma, and set the record straight with more amusement than guilt.
“I made all that up,” confessed Briggs. “He always treated me like a gentleman. I like them (Team Liakhovich) and wasn’t trying to offend them in any way. I had one thing in mind, to get under his skin. He lost to Maurice Harris because he got frustrated.”
King and some other USA homeboys, black and white, seemed to suppress their smirks.
“It’s the old-fashioned way of talking trash in America,” said King. “That’s one thing the foreign fighters ain’t learned yet. That vernacular is unbelievable and foreign to them.”
Briggs added apologetic props to a distinguished looking Liakhovich backer from Africa, who looked like he was trying to figure out his first Halloween party.
Liakhovich’s manager Ivaylo Gotzev raised knowing eyebrows like a guy who’s played plenty of poker or pool.
Liakhovich exchanged a glance with his wife that was part “aw shucks,” part “what the hell.”
“Losing a fight don’t mean nothing,” advised King to the couple. “Just don’t lose your wife. That’s what’s important.”
Welcome to America, bro.
The night’s biggest con job may have belonged to Briggs’s trainer Chuck MacGregor, who previously worked with Liakhovich.
“Everybody knew that Shannon had to throw all his artillery in the first or second round and try for a knockout within five rounds because if not Sergei was gonna walk to an easy victory,” said MacGregor facetiously. “We trained to stand still and counterpunch until late in the fight.”
“In the 12th round Chuck gave me a tongue lashing,” smiled Briggs. “He was like, ‘You son of a bitch. You better get your ass out there and do something because your life is going to be summed up by tonight.’ He was right.”
King is rarely at a loss for words. His sincerity is often questioned, with probable just cause. But the sad truth is, through much of his history, criticism of King comes from nothing more than the color of his skin. Unfortunately, that’s just like the reason a couple very vocal African-Americans stalked around the field area with disgust during the main event because a smaller, pale skinned pugilist was making Briggs look bad.
Simply because buttheads who talk like John Rocker are jerks doesn’t mean it’s ok for Carlos Mencia or Dave Chappelle to cash in saying the same type thing. Two wrongs and all that.
It’s been said often the only color that matters in boxing is green. What’s wrong with that?
Still, there will probably always be sorry situations like Gerry Cooney (not his fault) with “Rocky”on the cover of Time magazine before the Larry Holmes fight.
Meanwhile, a press conference filled with diversity held proud moments. Too bad some media types with little boxing background, who show up at events then criticize the game, weren’t around to see it.
Venezuelan Fernando Angulo, who lived alone in the jungle as a child, got rave reviews for his surprising, gritty stand against heavily favored Juan Diaz. A pair of international reporters with BBC voices searched for “Baby Bull” stuffed animal momentos Team Diaz had distributed.
King repeatedly squeezed one of the noisemaking toys on the podium, with a continued chuckle knowing Bulls don’t “moo,” apparently amused at the sound.
Based on witnessing a historic land rights agreement between Arizona’s Hopi and Navajo Tribes, King spoke about Native Americans with insight and compassion. Firsthand knowledge shows that hanging out on the Rez can do that for people.
When recognized by King, a member of the Russian press stood up and remarked about how he’d hoped for a different result but was impressed to visit the United States and witness such a multi-cultural gathering interact so positively.
It may be naive optimism speaking, but the scene reflected very well upon the sport.
“To see these type of evolutionary processes go on is sometimes very moving,” said King, making eye contact with much of the small assembly.
For the star-crossed New Yorker Briggs, an almost full moon shined on the infield like the end of a life journey’s rainbow.
“I don’t know where to begin,” sighed Briggs, choking up. “I put it on the line. At least I can go to my grave saying I did something with my life. My mom died on my birthday in 1996, she overdosed, man. It was heartbreaking.
“I said now my birthday is a month away, I’ve got to do this. They had the stadium roof open and my mother was looking down on me with one second left. I’m a nobody from Brownsville, but I did it. I could have fought a much better fight, but I won and I’m just happy. I want to make some money in a couple more fights, then raise my kids and be with my girl while I can still talk pretty good. I’m lucky. I’m blessed. I’m a very grateful man.”
Only in boxing.
Only in Don King’s America.