By Arne K. Lang
Persistence appears to have paid off for Shannon Briggs – not in a big way – but in a way that sends the message that he is still a relevant player in the heavyweight sweepstakes. After crashing every boxing confab in London over the past two weeks, stealing some of the limelight from the principals with his oafish (albeit, shrewdly calculated) antics, Briggs has landed a spot on the undercard of the David Haye-Arnold Gjergjaj bout at the O2 Arena on May 21. Moreover, Haye – who acts as his own manager and promoter – has indicated that he wants to fight Briggs next after first knocking off the obscure Gjergjaj, an outcome widely considered a foregone conclusion.
Briggs and Haye first clashed on March 30 when Briggs invaded Haye’s press conference to announce the Gjergjaj fight. Shortly thereafter, Briggs reportedly went and passed the medical exams required for licensing by the British Boxing Board of Control. He and Haye clashed again on April 8 at the weigh-in for the Joshua-Martin fight, after which Haye declared that Briggs was a “complete moron” who had earned the privilege of tasting his power.
Twenty-four years have elapsed since Briggs made his pro debut. Some would say that a person of his vintage is by definition a moron by choosing to stay in an occupation where taking punches is part of the job description. However, one can easily build a case that Shannon Briggs, 59-6-1 (52 KOs), is a worthy opponent for David Haye and others of Haye’s stature.
Briggs has made short work of most of his opponents. In more than half of his fights, 36 in all, Briggs has dismissed his foe in the opening round. The upshot is that he has fought only 225 rounds during the course of his entire professional career. To put this perspective, Evander Holyfield fought 499 rounds in ten fewer pro fights before calling it quits.
Another fact in Briggs’ favor is that he is trimmer now than he was way back in 2007 when he lost his WBA title to Sultan Ibragimov. In that fight, he carried 273 pounds. In his most recent bout, on September 5 of last year, he tipped the scales at 251 ½ pounds.
The rejoinder is that Briggs’ record is deceiving and that most of his long fights were dull. Combing down the list of those 36 first round knockouts, one is hard-pressed to find a recognizable name. His signature triumph, an unpopular 12-round decision over 48-year-old George Foreman, was achieved in a match without an indelible moment. And while it is likely true that he has taken fewer punches than any accomplished boxer with a similar number of fights, his 2010 match with Vitali Klitschko was the equivalent of several hard fights wrapped into one – the sort of fight that may hasten the onset of neurological problems as he drifts into old age. Briggs showed great heart in lasting the distance vs. Klitschko, but the terrible beating that he absorbed landed him in the hospital. What followed was a 42-month layoff.
One of the first American athletes to wear his hair in dreadlocks, Shannon Briggs has led an interesting life. Perhaps someday his adventures will be captured in the pages of a book.
During his career he has fought in 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Panama, and Germany. He has fought in venues as small as the Friar Tuck Inn in Catskill, New York, and venues as large as RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. Some of those bouts were instructive in exposing the shameless machinations of the alphabet soup bandits. Briggs’ 2014 match at the Ring of Dreams Boxing Gym in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he was matched against Cory Phelps, a no-name boxer from Kentucky, was sanctioned by the WBC for the interim Latino heavyweight title.
Briggs’ opponent on the May 21 show has yet to be determined. There is some speculation that he won’t fight at all and there has also been speculation that he will supplant Arnold Gjergjaj if advance ticket sales are slow. At the moment, the best guess sees him opposing Sam Sexton. The 31-year-old Sexton (22-3, 8 KOs) is a former British Empire heavyweight champion but it speaks volumes that his last seven bouts were scheduled for only six rounds.