By Geoffrey Ciani: When HBO aired its “Night of the Young Heavyweights” on March 15, 1996, two fighters emerged as standouts: Andrew Golota and David Tua. Golota relentlessly battered Emanuel Steward protégée ‘Doc’ Nicholson for eight rounds until the bout was mercifully stopped and Tua nearly decapitated poor John Ruiz a mere 19 seconds into their scheduled twelve-rounder. With these noteworthy victories, it appeared that Golota and Tua both had bright futures in the sport. Neither would go on to win a championship, however.
Ironically, two losers from that same night would go on to win portions of the heavyweight crown. After being stopped in embarrassing fashion by Tua, few figured John Ruiz would ever amount to anything, but with a lot of hard work and a little help from Don King, Ruiz would become WBA champion when he beat an aging Evander Holyfield.
The other fighter who would eventually win a championship was
Shannon Briggs, who was stopped in just three rounds by Darroll Wilson. HBO’s “Night of the Young Heavyweights” would be only the first time that Briggs had been incorrectly written off.
After losing to Wilson, Briggs managed to string together five consecutive victories, including a controversial decision against 48 year old “Big” George Foreman. With that victory, Briggs would land the biggest fight of his career: A WBC title bout against reigning champion, Lennox Lewis. This was Lewis’s first bout after his one round destruction of Golota, which of course, came right after Golota had twice battered Riddick Bowe, before he inexplicably succumbed to low blows resulting in disqualification losses. Lewis’s destruction of Golota had finally secured some much deserved respect for the champion. How would Briggs stand up against that?
Few people could have anticipated what transpired in the Lewis-Briggs bout. Briggs came out like a ball of fire, and had Lewis badly hurt in the opening frame. Aware of the pain he caused Lewis, Briggs immediately jumped on him and began wailing away like a madman with a machete. It appeared that it would only be a matter of time before Briggs chopped down Lewis, but unfortunately for Briggs, this was not to be. Lewis remained cool and collected, regained his composure, and ultimately dropped Briggs three times before the bout was halted in the fifth. The punches Lewis landed on Briggs looked borderline murderous, and there was no shame in losing to an elite heavyweight like Lennox.
Although he’d lost to Lewis, Briggs made a brave account of himself and it appeared he’d remain in the heavyweight mix, but unbeknownst to all—he had become unmotivated. In his next bout, he knocked out an overmatched Marcus Rhode in one, and in his following bout, he drew against “The White Buffalo”, Francois Botha. Briggs was a much more talented fighter than Botha, so this bout should have sent off red flags regarding Briggs’s commitment to the sport. But if that didn’t do it, surely his subsequent loss to Sedreck Fields would!
When Briggs was slated to fight the unheralded Fields in an eight round bout back in April 2000, people just figured this was part of the course to build his confidence back up. After all, Fields entered this fight with a record of 9-9 and was hardly considered a threat to an A-level talent like Briggs. Be that as it may, the inexplicable happened: Briggs lost a decision to Fields and it became “obvious” that his days as a legitimate heavyweight contender were over. This would be the second time that Briggs would be incorrectly written off.
After his loss to Fields, Briggs once again hit the comeback trail, managing another five consecutive victories, setting the stage for a bout with exciting young prospect, Jameel McCline. McCline made waves in the division when he stopped Michael Grant with the first punch he threw. He then went on to beat the respectable ‘Goofi’ Whitikar, who was just coming off a win against Oleg Maskaev. Surely, it appeared that this was Briggs’s last chance to redeem his career. Briggs attempted to intimidate McCline and impose his will on him, but it didn’t work. McCline outworked and out-hustled Briggs en route to a one-sided unanimous victory. This was the third time Briggs was written off, and surely, three strikes means your out. Or does it?
Well, one of the beautiful things about boxing is it takes just one fight to change one’s image, and despite the common belief that he was damaged goods, Briggs had other plans. Taking a year off after the loss to McCline, Briggs once again jumped into comeback mode, hoping to salvage something of the remainder of his career. He put together eleven consecutive victories, all but one which came by way of knockout. This would set the stage for another title opportunity for Briggs. After IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko dropped Briggs in favor of Calvin Brock, Briggs secured a title bout with WBO champion, Serguei Lyakhovich.
Lyakhovich was the latest part of the former Soviet invasion. He defeated Lamon Brewster to win the WBO championship belt back when some considered Brewster to be the division’s top dog. With victory, all four heavyweight champions were from the former Soviet Union: Lyakhovich held the WBO, Wladimir Klitschko the IBF, Oleg Maskaev the WBC, and Nicolay Valuev had the WBA. With all portions of the heavyweight throne in the hands of former-Soviets, it appeared that the historic dominance of American heavyweights had ended.
Enter, Shannon Briggs!
Having already blown the biggest opportunities in his career, few expected Briggs to bring much to the table against the hungry young Lyakhovich. Briggs, however, was determined to make the best of his second title shot, and that he did. Throughout the contest, despite being badly winded, Briggs forced Lyakhovich to respect his power preventing the younger fighter from opening up. This paved the way for a dramatic twelfth round knockout where Briggs literally sent Lyakovich flying out of the ring.
That the most unlikely of American heavyweights would put an end to the former-Soviet monopoly was an absolute marvel!
That leads us to present day, where Shannon Briggs is slated to face another member from the former Soviet invasion. That fighter goes by the name of Sultan Ibragimov, whose record stands at 19-0-1. Ibragimov’s biggest win was against Whitikar, whom he stopped in seven rounds in December 2005. In his most recent contest, he drew with Ray Austin. Ibragimov is a determined young fighter who has the skills to make things very difficult for the American champion.
Will Ibragimov be able to defeat Briggs and re-establish the former Soviet monopoly over the heavyweight division? Or does Shannon Briggs have what it takes to fend him off, securing himself asAmerica’s Last Line of Defense?
This article was also published at East Side Boxing