Last November Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs upset the odds and shook the heavyweight division with a come-from-behind, last second (literally) victory over Sergei Liakhovich to take the WBO Heavyweight title. With the win Briggs became the sole American champion in the heavyweight ranks, and it remains that way today.

Now, moving ahead to his first title defense in March, the 35-year-old Briggs looks again to be battling another tough European as he meets Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The fact that Ibragimov, fresh off a Draw against Ray Austin in his last bout, is the top-rated contender for Briggs to face is more of a reflection on the state of the heavyweight division than it is on Ibragimov as a fighter. So it isn’t surprising that Sultanahmed – his full birth name – gets the nod here for a title shot. What is downright shocking though is that he has been made a solid betting favorite to beat Briggs!

Anyone who witnessed Shannon Briggs twelve-round chess match with the “White Wolf” Liakhovich can understand why there may be a tepid response to Briggs. But one cannot forget how very impressive indeed that Liakhovich looked in claming the title in the first place, a twelve-round decision over Lamon Brewtser. Brewster himself was frighteningly impressive in defending the WBO title that he won against our current consensus champion Wladimir Klitschko. Brewster took just 52 seconds to knock Andrew Golota from whatever senses he had left, and then dropped Luan Krasniqi several times on his way to a TKO 9 win in Germany.

Those results made Liakhovich’s big win over Brewster that much bigger, and Briggs then went on to stop the “White Wolf.” While the Brooklyn, New York native was behind on the cards at the time of the stoppage, it was by a slim margin (103-106, 103-106, 104-105). Shannon Briggs has always had incredible power and when he can get his entire 270-pound frame behind a knuckle biscuit the results can be devastating. Just ask former champion Liakhovich or the 42 opponents the Brooklyn brawler has stopped in his 48 victories.

So why did Sultan Ibragimov open up as a -240 betting favorite to beat Briggs? Honestly, I don’t know. As a result, I think there is great value in taking the +200 that bettors can get with Briggs. Risking $100 to profit $200 is a solid proposition even if this bout were to take place at a neutral location and there was no champion. When you add that Briggs is the defending champion and fighting in his home town, a bet on the New Yorker just makes sense and cents. As a matter of fact, I think that getting any bet in at +150 or higher is a sound wager on Briggs. To me this is a 50-50 fight.

For what it’s worth, it is my opinion that Liakhovich was a more difficult opponent for Briggs because of his better use of the jab and movement, and Liakhovich was the same -240 favorite as Ibragimov, made by the people who set the betting lines.

Independent ratings are unanimous in listing Shannon Briggs ahead of Sultan Ibragimov.

I would suggest that the top heavyweights today are, in some semblance of order:
1. Wladimir Klitschko
2. Samuel Peter
3. Nicolay Valuev
4. Shannon Briggs
5. Oleg Maskaev
6. Ruslan Chagaev
7. Lamon Brewster
8. Sergei Liakhovich
9. Calvin Brock

. . . and then Sultan Ibragimov, James Toney, Chris Byrd and John Ruiz fall into line somewhere. It’s not an exact science, but coming to the conclusion that Shannon Briggs is ahead of Sultan Ibragimov seems unanimous.

When I saw Ibragimov, 19-0-1 with 16 KO, in his bout with Ray Austin I felt the scoring in the end was a true reflection of how the fight went. Ibragimov looked better early, Austin later, and that too seems to be supported by the fact that Austin was down in the fourth round, while Ibragimov tasted the canvas in round ten of the twelve round bout. The scores of 115-111 Sultan, 114-112 Austin and 113-113 translated into a justified Draw in the IBF title eliminator.

The former Russian Olympic Silver medalist is a 31-year-old southpaw who stands 6’2” and generally weighs in the neighborhood of 225-230 pounds. His undefeated record lists ‘name’ victories over Zuri Lawrence (TKO 11), Friday Ahunanya (TD 9) and Lance Whitaker (TKO 7). The Draw with Austin was his lone fight in 2006, it took place in July, so he will have been inactive for almost eight months when he finally squares off against Briggs in the WBO Heavyweight title fight. That break represents the longest period of inactivity for Sultan, the cousin of fellow heavyweight Timor. The one bout in 2006 was rare for the banger who fought five times in each of 2005, 2004 and 2002 – he had four bouts in 2003.

If Ibragimov’s inactivity relative to what he had been used to is what caused him to fade against Austin, coming off his longest stretch without a fight may impede him against Briggs too. Shannon has shown us that “The Cannon” can fire late, and Austin proved that Sultan can be swatted down deep into bouts. The question to be asked of Briggs then is whether or not he will let his hands go more often then he did against Liahkovich, a case where Briggs looked to be waiting for the precise moment to land the perfect punch.

I do expect both Briggs and Ibragimov to be easier to find than their previous opponents. Austin used his jab and the ring to pick his spots against Sultan, while Liakhovich popped the jab while Briggs waited and waited to get in range and unload the perfect punch. It took him 35 minutes and 59 seconds to do so, but he did it.

Ray Austin was able to drop Ibragimov with his right, Brigg’s big punch, and while Shannon was ineffective with the jab against the orthodox Liakhovich, it may be a non-issue against the lefty Ibragimov as the right hand is a better weapon when facing a lefty. In the fourth round of their bout Austin tagged Sultan with a right cross, but when Russian went to the canvas it was ruled a slip as their feet were tangled at the time of the blow. Ibragimov continued to devour counters from the cagey Austin and it caught up with him as another right cross-left hook put Ibragimov down face first in the tenth round.

I haven’t seen anything in Sultan Ibragimov to suggest he should be favored against WBO Heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs, so for my money, Briggs is the play.

(For entertainment purposes only)