Shannon Briggs/Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden

On March 10 at Madison Square Garden’s Theater in New York City, Shannon Briggs (48-4-1, 42 KOs), still basking in his very own Rocky/George Foreman moment, defends his WBO heavyweight title against the hard-punching silver medalist from Russia, undefeated Sultan Ibragimov (19-0-1, 16 KOs).

Wednesday afternoon’s press conference to announce the fight was at the Russian Firebird Restaurant in midtown Manhattan, last visited for the Valuev/Barrett presser, a Faberge jewel box of a bistro, where the décor—chandeliers, marble fireplaces, gold leaf, a grand piano, a statue of an armless woman on a pedestal, paintings on the walls of the winter hunt spells all things Russian all the time.

Unlike the Valuev/Barrett presser, where exotic Russian finger food was served buffet style, and where the boxing press was herded into rows of seats in the tiny banquet room on the second floor, the Briggs/Liakhovich presser, although in the same room, was a sit-down luncheon complete with table cloths and cloth napkins, harried waiters, black bread and golden butter, more cutlery and plates than you could shake a stick at, and of course the familiar Nicholas and Alexandrian ambience. And while I’m no expert, the food to my undiscerning palate was lip-smacking good, if not exactly for those who hope to live past sixty.

Because the veneer of civilization touches almost all things some of the time, even boxing, a mixed green salad with goat cheese dappled with vinaigrette started off the press conference and meal. The main course was a multiple choice consisting of Salmon Kulebiaka, which is salmon baked in a puff pastry sitting on a disk of spinach floating in a beurre blanc sauce, or Beef Stroganoff, described on the menu as Filler of Beef, Onion, Mushroom in a Veal Jus, Pearl Barley,’ or that delectable old standby, Chicken Kiev, a boneless chicken breast pounded and oiled in cold unsalted butter, before being breaded and fried to within an inch of its life.

I opted for the Salmon Kulebiaka, still somewhat wary of cloned meat, but no sooner had I finished what tasted like a formerly frozen piece of fish stuffed into something doughy nesting in a swamp of melted butter, than I was reaching for my Maalox, yearning for some vodka, and calling for the head of Joseph Stalin.

Luckily for me, it was early afternoon and the bar was closed and the 21st century and Uncle Joe is dead and gone and good riddance to bad rubbish, but very alive and very well were Brooklyn’s own Shannon Briggs and Russian’s own Sultan Ibragimov, their teams, corners, promoters, aide-de-camps, and everyone else associated with the March 10 heavyweight title bout at Madison Square Garden.

Ibragimov told the press, My English not so good. I know Shannon is a tough, strong fighter. I am ready for strong, tough fight.

Shannon Briggs is also ready for a strong, tough fight, but in the meantime he’s happy to be home. Coming home to defend my title! he said. I’m happy to be defending my title in my hometown. It’s a dream come true for me, to showcase my title at home, to be talking to you as champion rather than as an opponent.

Even though he’s not on the card, the biggest gun in the small room was Bernard Hopkins, representing Golden Boy East, who said, The heavyweight division is starting to have light and positivity. Now the division is starting to shape up. The heavyweight division has always been looked at as THE division. Shannon Briggs is a very determined and tough fighter. Sultan is an upcoming silver medalist, strong. Hopkins the old pro paused. I think I’ve changed my mind about this heavyweight stuff.